Overview for A Man of the Frontier: S.W. Laden La (1876-1936)
Sonam Wangfel Laden La was a unique personality on the India Tibet frontier during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Born into a Sikkimese Lama family, long established in Darjeeling, he was initially educated in the Nyingmapa Buddhist tradition as a novice monk in Pemayangtse Monastery. He was then sent to Darjeeling, to be educated by Christian Jesuit priests, alongside British boys. At the same time he lived at Ghum Monastery in Darjeeling, where he learned the Gelugpa Buddhist traditions. After a short time working in the Tibetan Section of the Bengal Secretariat Press, he joined the Imperial Police, as the first local boy in Darjeeling to be accorded officer rank. This education in two cultures, European and Tibetan, was probably a conscious effort by the British administrators to create a man who could not only be a local community leader in Darjeeling, but who could also act as an intermediary between the British India and the Tibetans across the Himalayas; a man who could help break down the barriers in Trans Himalayan communication that had existed throughout the nineteenth century. Several scholars have identified Laden la as a important subject for study, but have been hampered by a lack of original material. Deki Rhodes, as the granddaughter of S.W. Laden La, and her husband Nicholas Rhodes, have had access to many family papers, and have written this short biography of their grandfather. Much new historical material is brought to light, and some unpublished family photographs are used, making this little book an important contribution to the studies of both the development of the Darjeeling District, and of the relations between Tibet and British-India during the early part of the twentieth century.