Friday, November 18, 2011

AC3PT - King Palden Thondup Namgyal, Chogyal Of Sikkim (sk)

Three of my readers - Passu, Sangay and Penstar - who read my last post titled "Wireless Full of Wires" and wanted to know more about the distress call sent out by the late Palden Thondup Namgyal, Chogyal of Sikkim, over his Ham radio. Instead of responding to them in the form of a comment, I would like to post my reply as a separate post, so that others may get to read it. Here it is:

I bet that there were others around the world who heard Palden Thondup Namgyal, Chogyal of Sikkim when he sent out that distress call. But I know of only one person who exchanged words with him on that fateful day. His name was: Horst Geerken, a telecommunications engineer working for the German firm Telefunken. At that time, he was based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Although the Chogyal’s radio was silenced shortly thereafter by the invading forces, a friend of Horst Geerken was listening in on the conversation taking place between the Chogyal and Geerken. He was a Swedish journalist. He informed the press agencies in Sweden, Indonesia, Germany and Singapore. The next day the papers in those countries released the news of Sikkim’s annexation.

Two years after the annexation of Sikkim, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal sent a letter of thanks to Geerkin - thanking him for his help during his moment of distress. The King wrote that his radio equipment was taken away from him. His Majesty Palden Thondup Namgyal invited Geerken to his Palace in Sikkim, provided that the Indian authorities gave him permission.

Geerken tried three times to enter Sikkim to meet the Chogyal - all three times he was refused permission. Finally, after twenty years of the demise of the Chogyal, Geerken managed to visit Sikkim in 2002. By than the radio antenna that must have been strung over the Palace roofs which helped him to put out the distress call on the 9th April, 1975, were no more.

For the first time and the last time, I saw His Majesty Palden Thondup Namgyal, the Chogyal of Sikkim, during the coronation of His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo in June, 1974. I was then 18 years old. I was on coronation duty at the Motithang Hotel - I manned the Bank of Bhutan’s cash counter installed at the hotel - to cater to the local currency needs of the visiting dignitaries to the coronation.

Less than a year later, in April of 1975, Palden Thondup Namgyal was put under house arrest and his Kingdom taken away from him. He went Silent Key on 29th January, 1982 in New York, USA. He died of cancer.


  1. Thank you for that poignant story...

    I did not know that there is a thriving albeit small Ham Radio community in Bhutan. That's great.. We are so dependent on modern telecommunication technology and rarely pause to think that all of what we do is so dependent on major infrastructure.. Good to see that you guys are keeping up this purist tradition.

  2. Wow, that's interestingly sad. Thanks for the information, I am falling in love with this radio already, though Facebook and Blog can do much better. The ability of this radio to reach out when nothing else works gets me curious.
    Do you use yours sometimes?

  3. A nice piece of history. Thanks Yeshey.

  4. Hi anujkp,

    Welcome back .. you have been missing for a while 


    No, I do not use it any more. I gave it up after too much demand was made on me by amateurs around the world. Because Bhutan was so rare, I would get hundreds of email every day requesting me to come on line at so and so band and so and so time. Given that amateurs are located at different time zones around the world, I would end up operating radio at all odd hours. At times, I ended up on the wireless set for upto 9 hours at a stretch. It was just too much … my work suffered and I was physically discomforted. The amateurs around the world needed my QSO in their log book but that was becoming too costly for me … they needed my call since Bhutan those days was ranked as the #2 rarest country in the world – after North Korea.

    So I finally hung up boots.

    But I still host visiting Hams – in fact, only last week, two Norwegian Hams was in the country for Ham radio. During their 9 days of operation from Paro Nak-Sel Hotel, they logged more than 10,000 calls to all corners of the world. Before that there were 9 Americans who also operated from Paro (5 of them operated) – they made some 15,000 contacts – collectively. They came to Bhutan to be able to participate in the World’s most important global Ham Contest that lasted 48 hours.