Monday, December 28, 2020

Bhutanese Mail Route Of Yore: Yatung–Nathula Pass-Sikkim-Kalimpong

One reader commented as follows, on my last blog titled Postage Stamps Without Postal Service:

The blue rubber stamp on the invitation card is intriguing. In the center is Phuntsholing Bhutan, but on the outer circle, it reads P.O. Dalsingpara, district Jalpaiguri. Is it because there was no post office in Phuntsholing and that the mails came via Dalsingpara PO.

The reader is right – we used the closest Indian Post office to deliver/receive our mails. However, to me the blue rubber stamp is not so much of a confusion – what is, is the black round stamp that cancels the postage stamp on the Invitation Card. If you take a closer look at it, the postmark date is indicated as 10 October, 1962 – which is the day the Bhutan Postal Service was launched in Phuentsholing by the SDO (Sub-Divisional Officer). From the round seal, it can be seen that the organization that looked after the postal service those days was called Post & Telegraph Service. What is puzzling is that the cancellation stamp shows Rinpung Dzong (Paro). How could it have been post-marked in Rinpung Dzong, on the same day of the inauguration? Even if we accept that the Invitation Cards were posted from Ringpung Dzong, the date should be few days, if not few weeks, before 10th October, 1962. Remember, motor road construction in Bhutan started for the first time in 1961 - from Phuentsholing towards Thimphu.

Confusing dates and postmarks

Bhutan used the nearest Indian post offices for receiving and sending our international mails. Dalsingpara in Jalpaiguri is just across the border from Phuentsholing town – so we used the Indian post office there. It is for that reason that the blue rubber stamp on the Invitation Cards shows the return address as P O Dalsingpara District Jalpaiguri.

When there was no motor road access to the Southern borders, Bhutan use to route our mails overland to Bhutan House, Kalimpong and use the route: Tibet Yatung–Nathula Pass-Sikkim-Kalimpong and finally from Bhutan House to destinations around the world. It is also possible that we may have used runners to deliver and collect mails through the Pasakha/Soembekha route - but I doubt it because it would have been the longer route. The earliest Revenue Stamps were used for the purpose – but upon the mail arriving at Tibet Yatung, the covers were required to be slapped with additional postage stamps of China and/or India – for onward journey to Kalimpong. Who did that and how they were paid for is still a mystery. And, even why additional stamps were needed to be slapped is a mystery – unless our Revenue Stamps were not recognized for use as postage stamps – outside the Bhutanese territorial boundaries.

The cover shown with an additional Chinese Postage Stamp affixed at Yatung, Tibet-China, in addition to our Revenue Stamp

The cover shown with an additional Indian Postage Stamp affixed at Yatung, Tibet-China, in addition to our Revenue Stamp

Translation of Lunar year to Gregorian year, month and date

Looks like during the mid 1950’s, Rinpung or Paro was the place of action for mailing services – most covers are marked from Rinpung Dzong. Ofcourse internal mails were also exchanged from other Dzongkhags such as Shongar (Mongar), Bumthang, Trashigang, Trongsa, Wangduephodrang, Thimphu etc. The following cover tells a very interesting tale of the route and journey of a mail dispatched from Trashigang to Thimphu.

Journey of an internal mail - from Trashigang to Thimphu

The postmarks show the following dates:

Trashigang           Fire-Bird     5th month   5th Day       02.07.1957

Shongar (Mongar)     Fire-Bird     5th month   9th Day       06.07.1957

Bumthang           Fire-Bird     5th month   16th Day     12.07.1957

Trongsa                   Fire-Bird     5th month   18th Day     15.07.1957

Wangduephodrang   Fire-Bird     5th month   25th Day      22.07.1957


From the above, you can see how many days a mail took from one point to the next.

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