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First Nepal - Tibet War - 1788 AD

Tibet was a good market for Nepalese traders since ancient times and Nepal had always maintained good relations with Tibet. King Ansubarma gave his daughter Bhrikuti in marriage to King Tsrangchongyampo. Many Nepalese merchants and officials also married Tibetan girls. For Nepal, the relationship was profitable. Tibet herself had no mint and Nepalese silver coins were the currency of Tibet as well.

The relations started turning sour after the Malla rulers started to mint impure silver coins just before their downfall. The Tibetans demanded that the coins be replaced by pure silver ones. When Prithvi Narayan Shah took over, he found that it would be a great loss to him if he conceded to the Tibetan demands. The case remained unsolved due to his untimely demise. Queen Mother Rajendra Laxmi, the Regent of minor King Rana Bahadur Shah, inherited the coinage problem which reached the culminating point in 1788 AD. Another sore point in Nepal-Tibet relations was Nepals decision to provide refuge to Syamarpa Lama with his 14 Tibetan followers. He had fled from Tibet to Nepal on religious and political grounds. Yet another cause for conflict was the low quality salt being provided by Tibetans to Nepal. All salt came from Tibet in those days. Tibet ignored the Nepalese ultimatums and that prompted the preparations for war. Nepal was soon preparing to launch multi-directional attacks.

1. Kerung Axis: Kaji Balbhadra Shah was the main Commander of the offensive attack from Kerung axis. Kaji Kirtimansingh Basnyat, Sardar Amarsingh Thapa and Bhotu Pandey were the subordinate commanders under him. Approximately 6,000 troops and 3,200 porters were despatched for this operation. Their main objective was to capture Dirgacha through Kerung. The march of the troops was delayed because Balbhadra Shah became seriously ill. They crossed Kerung on 20th July, 1788 and captured Jhunga on the 3rd of August 1788. Bhotu Pandey was captured by the Tibetans. The Nepalese troops were reinforced with 2,000 more troops and Bhotu Pandey was freed from the Tibetans on 14th October, 1788.

2. Kuti Axis(I) : Shree Krishna Shah was the Commander and Kaji Ranajit Pandey, Sardar Parath Bhandari, Captain Harsa Panta, Captain Naharsingh Basnyat and Captain Shiva Narayan Khatri were the subordinate commanders under him. About 5,800 soldiers and 3,000 porters were allotted for the offensive operation. Later on, Kaji Abhimansingh Basnyat and Ranajit Kunwar also joined this offensive. The Dalai Lama was taken by surprise and to protect his sovereignty, he initiated a parallel approach whereby he asked military help from Sovan Shahi, the King of Jumla in West Nepal, and requested him to launch guerrilla activities and revolt against the Nepalese Army in and around Jumla. Sovan Shahi did revolt at Humla and captured some fortresses. The Dalai Lama also asked for military help from the Chinese Emperor. Additionally, he himself and Panchen Lama of Dirgacha wrote a secret letter to the East India Company seeking military assistance.

The Tibetans also initiated propaganda about having constructed a new road through the Tigri valley and establishing a post at the front. They also rumoured that they had assembled an Army of 1,25,000 men. But the Tibetans could get nothing from Jumla, China or the East India Company.

3. Kuti Axis (II):Kaji Damodar Pandey was leading his troops with subordinate commanders Bom Shah, Dev Dutta Thapa and others. He was given about 4,000 troops and his objective was to capture Dirgacha via the Kuti axis.

4. The Battles Nepalese troops, having crossed the Himalayas captured Chhochyang and Kuti in June 1788 and Sikarjong on 3rd August, 1788, in spite of many difficult logistic limitations. Later, Bahadur Shah was able to provide some reinforcements and improve some logistics arrangements. Still that was not enough and progress was slow. When the Nepalese were about to capture Dirgacha via both Kuti and Kerung, the Tibetans started to make compromises with Nepalese commanders. Bahadur Shah started negotiations, ultimately arriving at a solution. Prisoners were handed back to the Tibetans. Tibet was ready to pay tributes to the tune of Rs. 50,000 in silver coins per annum to Nepal and a treaty was signed on 2nd June 1789 in Kerung. The treaty is called the Treaty of Kerung by historians.

Rasuwa Gadhi and Timure were the firm bases in the first Nepal-Tibet war. Syabru Besi and Rasuwa Gadhi were Strategic points in this war. Likewise, Listi and Duguna villages were the main bases for offensive operations against Tibet. They were the forward most dumping places of the Nepalese Army. Although Rasuwa Gadhi and Duguna Gadhi Fortresses were not constructed at the time, the places themselves were important because of their military significance.




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