One of the most successful British India government’s initiatives to keep Bhutan away from the ambit of Chinese influence was to start trade fairs in a number of places within the Duars bordering Southern Bhutan - principal among them were Darranga, Subankhala, Charigaon, Udalguri and Mongoldoi. These annual events attracted Drukpas from Bhutan, Khampas from Tibet, Monpas from Tawang, and Manipuris from the North-East, among others.
These annual trade fairs also served to keep open the trade routes to Tibet for the British colonizers. To a large part, their commercial interests prevented them from harboring colonial designs on Bhutan. It is clear that British Indian administration attached great importance to Bhutan’s role as a dependable ally, rather than as a renegade tributary state.
Trade figures of some of the goods traded by Bhutan, and their corresponding values, during these fairs in 1875, were as follows:
Another amazing thing is that we sold onions – I was under the impression that onions were a recent phenomenon that did not feature in the Bhutanese diet before the 19th century. Another shocker – we exported chilies – we now import them.