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The battle for influence on the ‘Roof of the World’

Posted in Famous battles, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 28 February 2013

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This edited article about Tibet originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 166 published on 20 March 1965.

Younghusband in Gyangtse, picture, image, illustration

Lt-Col Younghusband encounters fierce resistance as he leads the final assault on Gyangtse in Tibet by Pat Nicolle

In war and peace, Tibet has always been a country with a strange, mystic air. Its very position on a high plateau in Central Asia has earned it the title “The Roof Of The World.”

Bordered by India and China, it has for centuries had covetous eyes on its territory, and during the eighteenth century many different influences were at work.

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan chief, began trade negotiations with the British East India Company. But then a British general was discovered to be aiding invaders from Nepal, and relations were broken off.

In the nineteenth century Tibet and China were supposed to have come to terms over border disputes, but no real agreement was reached.

At the turn of the century it was discovered that the Lama was in direct touch with the Czar of Russia, and at the prospect of that great country coming into the picture the Indian Government despatched a mission with military support in order to reach an understanding with Tibet. It failed, and a full-scale military operation was the result.

The troops, under the command of Lt.-Col. (later Sir Francis) Younghusband surged forward, and one of the most striking of their battlegrounds was the great fort at Gyangtse. Tibetans on its craggy heights defied the attackers for two whole months.

It fell to the Ghurka troops to achieve the final victory. Shellfire had made a breach in the wall defences and the time came to climb up the steep rock face. This was done so swiftly that the Tibetans were unable to load their guns in time, and in the face of a storm of rifle and shell fire all they could do was to throw stones at the invaders.

Our illustration shows the final assault. The Tibetan on the right is putting up a last desperate resistance with a jingal, a weapon about eight feet long firing a ball weighing anything up to three pounds.

Peace was made on the understanding that Tibet was not to be ceded or leased to any foreign power.

Tibet’s chequered history still went on. China again invaded, was thrown out. But in 1950 the final invasion by Communist troops was effective.

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