Join our Mailing List

"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Beautiful princess subsumed by world power politics

December 19, 2008

The Age
December 18, 2008
 
 
COOCOOLA PRINCESS OF SIKKIM
6-9-1924 — 2-12-2008
 
PRINCESS Coocoola, the beautiful widow of a Tibetan governor and a champion of the distinct culture of the tiny northern Indian state of Sikkim, has died, aged 84.
 
Combining oriental charm and Western sophistication, she relayed messages to the outside world as the Chinese invasion of Tibet began in 1950, then devoted 10 years to running a rehabilitation centre for Tibetan refugees in Sikkim.
 
Twenty-five years later, after New Delhi sent in troops and Sikkim became the 22nd Indian state, she played an active role in trying to retain its separate political status and unique character, giving a news conference in Hong Kong to protest against its loss of independence.
 
Acting as the hostess for her brother, the Chogyal (king) of Sikkim, at state functions until he married his American wife, she travelled widely to lobby in New Delhi, and mixed with the likes of John Kenneth Galbraith and Senator Edward Kennedy in Washington.
 
When the Indian prime minister Pandit Nehru offered her a pension, she turned it down and asked instead for trading rights. She worked from a single room in Calcutta with her younger sister, Kula, importing turquoise from Iran. Later she joined the boards of a company that produced jewels for watches, and of the State Bank of Sikkim.
 
Princess Pema Tsedeun Yapshi Pheunkhang Lacham Kusho (known as Coocoola) was the daughter of Sir Tashi Namgyal, the 11th Chogyal, and the granddaughter of a Tibetan general.
 
She was born at Darjeeling when the Himalayan kingdom, established in the 1640s, was a British protectorate.
 
Young Coocoola was educated by the nuns of St Joseph's convent at Kalimpong, a hill station near Darjeeling. Later, the Tibetan Pheunkhang family asked for a Sikkimese princess to marry their 23-year-old eldest son. Her father did not force her to accept, and she asked to go to university first. On being pressed by the Tibetans, she accepted Sey Kusho Gompo Tsering Yapshi Pheunkhang, the governor of the Tibetan city of Gyantse and a son of one of the four ministers of Tibet. But she broke precedent by declining to marry both the bridegroom and his brother, as was the custom.
 
In his book Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer hailed her as the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and more interesting than her husband: "She possessed the indescribable charm of Asian women and the stamp of age-old oriental culture. At the same time, she was clever, well-educated, and thoroughly modern. In conversation she was the equal of the most intelligent woman you would be likely to meet in a European salon. She was interested in politics, culture and all that was happening in the world. She often talked about equal rights for women — but Tibet has a long way to go before reaching that point."
 
Another visitor compared her with an exotic butterfly, saying her qualities showed in the quizzical way she looked up through her long lashes, and in the slow manner in which she exhaled her cigarette smoke or murmured a few words in her low, clear, musical voice.
 
In her last years she lived in a modest cottage near Gangtok, keeping up with events in Sikkim and world politics.
 
Princess Coocoola was widowed in 1973, and is survived by three children.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank