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JUNG BAHADUR AND THE WINDS OF WAR

The Chinese army with their numerical superiority and a vast arsenal of weaponry were routing the Gorkhali troops facing them in the Tibetan plateau. The Gorkhali army fought on bravely but they had to retreat by the hour and by the day until they withdrew to the Nepalese border. Yet, the Chinese onslaught continued through Kerung and Kuti passes into Nepal, an unstoppable juggernaut that was now poised to take Kathmandu Valley itself! Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana tossed and turned in his bed, mumbling to himself gibberish only he understood in his fitful sleep. He woke up all clammy from his nightmare, his bhoto soaking wet at his chest and opened his eyes. He was greatly relieved to find himself in his safe bed, his favorite concubine curled in blissful sleep beside him; the Chinese invasion of Nepal had retreated into the deep recesses of his mind.

Jung experienced this dream once in a while; so firmly had the Chinese military action rattled the foundation of Nepalese statehood in 1792 A.D. that no ruler even after all these years was able to forget the deep trauma suffered by Nepal in the second Gorkhali war with Tibet. A vast number of Chinese troops had come as close as 5 km to the north of Kathmandu Valley having captured Trishuli Bazaar before peace was negotiated under whose terms Nepal recognized the suzerainty of the Qing emperor Qongling by agreeing to send to Peiping an embassy with tribute once every five years. The Second Tibet War would be the undoing of Regent Bahadur Shah, the great warrior and hero who had expanded the Kingdom of Nepal from the River Sutlej in the west to the River Teesta in the east. Shortly thereafter the young king Rana Bahadur Shah, having come of age to assume state power, imprisoned his uncle where the old broken man was left to die an ignominious death.

Prime Minister Jung Bahadur had these nightmares more frequently now. The Tibetans had once again failed to pay tribute to the Nepalese king and further rubbing salt on the wound they had attacked Nepalese traders and ransacked their trade posts at the Barkhor Bazaar in Lhasa. Jung knew that he had to act resolutely to bring the Tibetans to their senses and force them to respect the old Treaty of Betrawoti signed with Nepal. But was a military campaign an option? Would China again come to the rescue of the Tibetans as it did in 1792? Would British India aid Jung in his endeavour? Jung Bahadur Rana was ever restless. He needed to talk to his brothers; they would shoulder some of his burden.

Circumstances in China had changed since the powerful emperors of the Qing Dynasty enjoyed near celestial powers in the Middle Kingdom. The Taiping Rebellion of 1850 A.D. was playing havoc with the old ensconced way of life at the Qing Courts. Earlier the loss of the First Opium War to Britain had greatly humiliated the Qing Emperor Xianfeng and his prestige had slid. China was no longer in a position to protect Tibet; there were more pressing areas where the bulk of the Chinese military was deployed. Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana's spies had reported to him all these watershed events of the mid-nineteenth century China from its listening post in Calcutta. Jung needed to take the momentous decision to go to war very soon.

That decision was made in March 1855 when Jung Bahadur formally declared war on Tibet. His brothers were all united in this enterprise; General Bom Bahadur Rana and General Dhir Shumsher Rana leading the two frontal attacks on Kerung and Kuti while General Jagat Shumsher Rana was not far behind with huge reinforcement of troops and cannons. General Dhir penetrated deep into Tibet and captured the strong fortress at Sona Gompa, now known as the Sakya Monastery, after some of the heaviest fighting of the war. The Chinese helped mediate the peace by sending a Tibetan delegation to Kathmandu in August 1855 and another meeting took place at Xegar Dzong in Tibet but to no avail. The Tibetans would not yet agree to the Nepalese terms. The peace delegation was only a red herring as secretly the Tibetans were preparing for battle.

In November the Tibetans launched a ferocious counterattack on the Nepalese troops at Kuti and caught them by surprise. The Tibetans had the advantage of offense as well as the inclement winter weather they were more suited to fight in. Heavy snowfall over the mountain passes meant slow retreat for the Nepalese troops. However General Dhir Shumsher quickly retrenched his troops and pushed forward once again overcoming the odds. The great determination of the Nepalese troops has been extolled in countless jhyaure folk songs since. Finally the Tibetans lost the stomach to fight and sued for peace.


Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana was in a cheerful mood as he surveyed the shamiyana tent erected on the grounds of his Thapathali Durbar in Kathmandu to welcome the Tibetan delegation. He called his two married wives to inspect the scene from the balcony of his palace. The chilly January ground frost had started to melt and the late feeble sun was peeking over the lifting fog when the fearsome looking Tibetan delegation representing the 11th Dalai Lama Khedrup Gyatso, the mere 16 year old spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet, arrived in full and most colorful regalia for the event. The nightmares would finally stop tormenting Jung's sleep; he had managed to force the Tibetans to sign a new treaty with better terms for Nepal than the last Treaty of Betrawoti. The Treaty of Thapathali was signed by both the warring parties in January 1856 A.D. ending the Third Tibet War. In August of that year King Surendra Bikram Shah conferred the hereditary title of Maharajah of Kaski and Lamjung on Jung Bahadur. The king gave him the power of life and death, making war and peace, a full control over all the state departments and to have succession of prime ministership with the title of Maharajah bestowed upon his family in perpetuity.

Comments

  1. JB then issued medal commemorating the victory with his name on one side and "Bhot phatte" written on the otherside. To my knowledge, this is the first medal on war victory by Nepal, a collector's delight now. Dr Ashok Rana

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  2. Not sure whether it was the war itself or the love-crazed King Rana Bahadur which proved to be the great Bahadur Shah's undoing. The Nepali army was attacking Kangra when Tibet attacked Nepal and Nepal's western expansion had to be postponed. Meanwhile, Rana Bahadur was besotted by and had married a brahmin widow from whom Griban Yuddha was born. Bahadur Shah had to be cast aside at all cost to ensure that Griban Yuddha was declared the crown prince, since Rana Bahadur had older sons.

    "All is fair in love and war" - how unfortunate for Nepal to have lost Bahadur Shah in so untimely and ungainly a fashion.

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  3. With the British on his side and giving him intelligence report, I would not be surprised if they had actually goaded him to attack Tibet.The British wanted to test the Tibetian army strength as they were planning and eventually did send British troops to Tibet.

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  4. Horatio has raised an interesting point. The year of Bahadur Shah's death and King Rana Bahadur Shah's marriage to Kantabati the Tirhut Brahmin girl is recorded as 1797 A.D. Was this just a coincidence? Some historical sources say that the king afer coming to power in 1794 at the age of 20 wanted to increase state revenues by increasing taxes, which Bahadur Shah opposed. Bahadur Shah was asked to produce the financial accounts of the Tibet campaign and he was imprisoned for misappropriation of funds in 1797. Bahadur Shah's opposition to the king's marriage to Kantabati was most probably the final nail on his coffin.

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