“My Friend, I enclose a copy of ‘List of Leading Men in Bhutan,” which may kindly be returned duly corrected up to date.”  On 24 May 1939, the British Political Officer in Sikkim wrote to the Gongzim of Second King of Bhutan.  

Numbered 8 (2)-P/39, the Political Officer, Sir B.J. Gould’s (1883-1956) letter was written from Gangtok. Five months later, the officer follows up with another letter dated 3 November. In the letter, he reminds his friend Gongzim Sonam Tobgay Dorji 1896-1953) to return the list after making the necessary correction.

On 6 November 1939, the Gongzim sends his reply vide letter No. 179, “I have the honour to inform you that I have sent the list to His Highness [His Majesty] the Maharaja of Bhutan for correction. I have not received it back yet. I will send it to you as soon as I receive it.”

Details of this correspondence are contained in File No 12 of 40, 1940 of Darbar office, Kalimpong with the title, “Leading Men in Bhutan 1939”. 

The list is neatly typed in two-page foolscap paper.  On top of the page, the word, “confidential,’ has been stamped. Sir Gould’s, “List of Leading men in Bhutan revised up to the 30th September 1941,” has 27 names but 13 (8-20) are missing. 

The 14 names are reproduced as is: 

1. Choki Geehhen, Lango Trum: Born about 1878 in Tamji, Bumthang. Is a nephew of the late Byagar Jongpon Ugyen. He accompanied the Paro Penlop to Paro in 1918. Was made Lango Trum in 1926.

2. Chhosup Dorji Gnoyrchhen: Born about 1888 in Chhungshekha. Was an ordinary household servant of the late Maharaja and for his faithful services was made Gnoyrechen of Wangdiphudang.

3. Daga Dorji, Lingsi Jongpen: Born about 1894 in Nebye village in Paro. Formerly a follower of the late Paro Penlop and latterly of the late Maharaja who appointed him Lingsi Jongpen.

4. Dawa Geechhen, Punakha Gnoyrchen: Born about 1881 in Kama Thangsa. Was a personal servant of the late Maharaja. Held the post of officiating Thingbu Zimpon for 7 years and was appointed Punakha Gnoyrechen in 1941.

5. Depola, Tashigong Jongpon: Born about 1888 in Tashigong. Is a son of the late Tashigong Jongpen. Was a monk and lived in Lhasa for several years. On the death of his father, he returned home and was made the Jongpen of Tashigong. Reputed to be a very brave and sociable person.

6. Domchung, Gasap Jongsup: Born about 1891 in Wong Byamesa, Thingbu. Is a son of the late Punakha Jongpen, Wengsha. Was a personal servant of the late Maharaja and is now the officiating Jongsup of Gasap.

7. Dorji, Cheyrib Jongpon: Born about 1876 in Galip, Wangdiphudang. 

21. Rinjidorji, Daga Jongpon: Born about 1886 in Dagana. Is son of late Daga Zimpon. Was a personal servant of the late Maharaja. Served as Punakha Zimpon for some years and was appointed Dagana Jongpon in 1941.

22. Sangye, Tongsa Zimpon: Born in 1883 in Ada. Was officiating Sha trum for several years. On the death of his brother, he succeeded him in officer as Tongsa Zimpon.

23. Shoong [Zhung] Tapon: Born about 1885 in Waaheb Sha in Wangdiphudang. Is a nephew of the late Donyer Deb Shachu of Wangdiphudang. Was the Gorab of Wangdiphudang for many years and was made Tapon of Wangdihudang in 1941.

24. Sonam Tobgey Dorji. (Vide previous list).

25. Talap, Wangdiphudang Donyer: Born about 1866 in Bap Wong, Thingbu. Was the Gnoyer of Wangdiphudang for 21 years and later was made Donyer of Wangdiphudang.

26. Tanding Penjyer, Paro Zimpon: Born about 1895 in Bongdey, Paro. Is a son of the late Paro Zim Nongmu Shamu Gechhen. Was formerly a Tungyik (clerk) to the present Paro Penlop. Is a capable person and when in 1926 the late Paro Zimpon Namgye was made Paro Donyer he took his place as Paro Zimpon.

27. Tshring [Tshering]  Wangchuk, Drugay Jongpon: Born about 1879 in Chhali in Shongar. Was from his childhood a personal servant of the late Paro Penlop with whom he came to Paro in 1918. Was Gnoyor for 3 years Paro Donyer for 5 years and was appointed Drugay Jongpon in 1926.

Interestingly, the above list was not the first. There were two lists before it; 1933 and 1920. Currently held by the British Library, the 1933 list is catalogued as Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. Titled, “List of Chiefs and Leading Families-1933,” it was printed in Calcutta by Govt of India [Political Officer, Gangtok],” and has a note, “genealogical table Confidential.”

Out of the 26 pages, Bhutan features only in two pages with Sikkim and Tibet getting more coverage. The list has nine leading men of Bhutan with the same individuals, as in the 1920 edition with an addition of Kunzang Thinley, who had evidently died between the editions.   This leads us to believe that either there were no new leaders appointed or the political officers were were not able to update the list.

The 1920 list was reproduced in the book, “Chiefs and Leading Families in Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet.” The list has names of 10 leading men in Bhutan which is reproduced as follows: 

1. Chang-Penjo (Tsewang Paljor): Born about 1840. Is a Sha-cho-pa by birth and caste. Was formerly Zhung Dro-nyer or State Chamberlain, which office was conferred on him as a reward for his service to the party of the ruling chief. He has now retired from active work and is not much of importance politically.

2. Chir- Penju (Tsering Paljor): Born about 1901. The grandson of the ruling chief by his elder daughter Ahjee Panden. Appointed Paro Penlop in 1918. 

3. Kunzang Tinle: Born about 1860. Is a cousin of the ruling chief. At present Timbu Jongpen. He was formerly Lhuntsi Jongpen and in that capacity came down as Bhutan Envoy to receive the annual subsidy some time in 1884-85. About this time, the party of Sir Ugyen Wangchuk succeeded in obtaining the upper hand in Bhutan. Being delayed at Buxa Duar for some time, Kunzang Tinle cultivated friendly relations with then Maharaja of Cooch Behar, a friendship which lasted for many years. In 1904 he visited Tuna to present Bhutan at the request of the British Commissioner and it was, he who expressed his willingness to provide the land for a road down the Ammo Chu Valley to the plains, if necessary, in the interest of the British. He married the sister of the late Dharma Raja of Bhutan and has a son who is an incarnate lama in the Gang-teng monastery. Is a man of great influence but now takes little part in public affairs. 

4. Kunzang Tsering: Born about 1857. Appointed Zhung Dro-nyer (State Chamberlain) in 1910. Is an old and faithful adherent of Sir Ugyen Wangchuck’s party. Was formerly Kyap-cha Penlop and later Deb Zimpon (State Treasurer). He visited Buxa Duar on several occasions to receive the annual subsidy. A reserved and silent personage and politically unimportant.

5. Ling-Shi Jongpen: Age and personal name unknown. Visited the Hot Springs of Khamby in Tibet in the summer of 1918. A pleasant and courteous gentleman of the old school.

6. Palden Wangchuk: Born about 1843. An old and faithful adherent of Sir Ugyen Wangchuk’s party. Was appointed Punakha Jongpen some years ago. Is now in feeble health and rarely leaves his rooms.

7. Samden Dorji: Born about 1859. Is a Wang by caste and birth. Is Ta-tsang Khenpo or Chief Abbot. During the intervals between the successive incarnations of the Dharma Raja he keeps the seal and is the supreme head of the Lamas and clerical officials in Bhutan, a position of great importance.

8. Sonam Tobgay Dorji: born in 1898. Is the only son of the late Raja Ugyen Dorji. Was educated at St. Pauls’s School, Darjeeling. Was appointed Ha Trungpa (Jongpen of Ha) in 1911. In 1916, he was appointed as Agent to His Highness the Maharaja and also Deb Zimpon (State Treasurer) in place of late father. He is also the Assistant for Bhutan to the Political Officer in Sikkim. In April, 1918, he married Maharaj Kumar Choni Wangmo La, the only surviving sister of His Highness the Maharaja of Sikkim. He resides at Kalimpong in winter and at Ha, Bhutan in summer.

9. Tom Chung: (Lit. little bear. Possible not his real name). Born about 1870. Is a Sha-cho-pa by birth and caste. A connection of Sir Ugyen Wangchuk whom he accompanied to Lhasa in 1903-04 and to Calcutta in 1905-06.  He is simple and humorous, gigantic in person and nice in manners. He was appointed Jongpen of Wangdu Potrang (a Jong to the east of Punakha). Owing to a current belief that a fatality attends the Jongpens of this Jong, he declined the post, preferring to continue as Dro-nyer (steward) of the Jong. He is in constant attendance of Sir Ugyen Wangchuk and enjoyed the income and privileges of the Wangdu Potrang Jongpen.

10. Tinle Gyatso: Born about 1860. Is Lhuntse Jongpon. He accompanied the late Mr. J.C. White during this tour through Bhutan to Tibet and rendered the party all possible assistance and service. Little has been heard of him of recent years.

The book states that the number of leading men in Bhutan of whom much is known is small. Contrary to the custom in Tibet, personal names are fairly generally used among the higher officials and, as transferred from one office to another, are not uncommon. It also states that the names of the 10 men were listed in alphabetical order of their personal names and not under those of their estates or offices. Some of the names have spelling in brackets. This was to indicates the pronunciation of the name in Tibetan, of which the spoken language of Bhutan is a dialect. 

The list of Leading Men of Bhutan was not prepared scientifically nor was it detailed. It was the product of years of compilation by various British official with assistance from Bhutanese officials. The list was mainly for use by the British officials over the years and to keep decision makers in Delhi informed but today is serves as an important record for us. 

Contributed by 

Tshering Tashi