Second Nepal - Tibet War - 1792 AD
The Tibetans had signed the Kerung treaty because they had no other option then. The Dalai Lama had not been able to get timely help, so he was, for the moment, ready to pay the Rs 50,000 per year tribute to come out of his difficulties. The amount was paid that year but not the next year. Nepal took it as an insult. Bahadur Shah started preparing for the next battle with Tibet.
1. Kerung Axis:Kaji Abhimansingh Basnyat was appointed the Commander of Kerung front and Captain Kalu Pandey, Sardar Jasawanta Bhandari and Sardar Ranajit Kunwar were his subordinate commanders. Their tasks were to capture Jhunga initially and link up with Kaji Damodar Pandey to capture Dirgacha.
2. Kuti Axis:Kaji Damodar Pandey was the Commander of this axis. Kaji Davdutta Thapa, Captain Bom shah, Kaji Jaharsingh Basnyat, Sardar Pratiman Rana Magar, Taksari Narsingh Gurung were initially his subordinate commanders. Their task was to capture the Kuti area and join Kaji Abhimansingh Basnyat to capture Dirgacha.
3. Kharta Axis: Kaji Kirtimansingh Basnyat was the overall Commander and Subba Puran Shahi, Subba Padamsingh Basnyat and Subba Madho Shahi were his subordinate commanders. They were supposed to capture Kharta initially and link up with Damodar Pandey in Kuti to capture Dirgacha. His troops were to advance via Chainpur, now in Sankhuwasabha district.
4. The Battle: Rasuwa Gadhi and Timure were vital for reinforcement and logistic support. A fortress was there since the Malla period. Similarly, Listi and Duguna villages were the nearest points for logistic back-up. Nepalese troops would later resist the Sino-Tibetan offensive from here as it was useful for defensive battles.
All the commanders succeded in their missions in general. Dirgacha fell and the Lamas retreated. Nepalese commanders demanded 50 dharni (120 Kg) of gold and 100 thousand rupees from the Tibetan authority in Dirgacha. The Lamas refused to pay leading the Nepalese troops to plunder Dirgacha. After the Nepalese troops returned to Nepal, the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Ambans forwarded a complaint to the Chinese Emperor about the Nepalese invasion, seeking military help from China.
The Nepalese were rejoicing at the conclusion of this successful offensive against Tibet. Bahadur Shah became even more popular in Nepal and he was hailed as a worthy son of a worthy father. The honeymoon ended with news that a vast Chinese Army had reached Lhasa to help Tibet against Nepal on 8th March 1792. Nepal was finding that it was using up a lot of the scarce national resources on military campaigns- the unification battles, the earlier Nepal - Tibet war and against the impending war against Sino-Tibetan joint forces.
Fukagn An, alias Thung Thang Chan Chun, was the main Commander of the Sino-Tibetan joint forces. One report suggests that he was leading approximately 11,000 Chinese plus 3,000 Tibetan troops. They had 3,000 troops in reserve. By that time, Tibet had also prepared 10,000 local troops under Kalong Hor Khang. So, the total strength of the enemy was approximately 17,000. Another report said that the invading joint forces including irregulars totaled 60,000 to 70,000.
The Chinese troops were deployed along three different axes to launch their attack against Nepal. The first would advance through Kuti, i.e. Lhasa–Kuti–Duguna–Listi–Jalbire–Chautara– Indrawoti River– Devpur–Naladum and Kathmandu. The second would advance through Lhasa– Kerung–Rasuwa Gadhi– Betrawoti– Nuwakot and Kathmandu. The third would take the route from Lhasa through Kharta–Chainpur–Kathmandu.
The third advance through Kharta consisted of a small group of about 3000 soldiers. But they had trouble arranging logistic support from Tibet and knew that the local Kirants of Chainpur area would not support them. So, they withdrew their troops prematurely.
Consequently, the Chinese commander decided to launch his attacks from the two main axes: Kuti axis under the command of Cheng-Tse and Kerung Axis. The Kerung axis was divided into two parts one headed by Fukang-An and the other by Kalong Horkand. For the Nepalese, the plan had to be like trying to plug a dam that had burst from a considerable height. Some Nepalese troops were already positioned in different fortresses of Tibet under Tula Ram Pandey, Shatru Bhanjan Malla. Uddav Khawas etc. Damodar Pandey was appointed the Overall Commander against the Chinese offensive.
The joint enemy force attacked Nepal at a difficult time. Most of the Nepalese troops were engaged in the Western unification campaigns. On top of that, they were busy crushing revolts launched in Achham, Doti and Jumla. Only a limited number of surplus soldiers were available to fight against the Chinese invaders. Nonetheless, Betrawoti-Nuwakot was fixed as the last line of defense and the major defensive battle would be fought from that position. Troops and commanders were called in from Kumaun and Gadhwal to fight against the Sino-Tibetan forces. Some troops were sent to take up defensive positions in Kirat and Morang areas.
The battle in Kuti and Khasa started with small confrontations. The Nepalese had good defensive positions in Duguna and Listi areas. The Chinese Army entered the Kerung front, defended by Satru Bhanjan Malla, Subedar Talaram and Udhaun Khawas with a small number of troops. Tula Ram Pandey was shot dead at the gate of the exterior fortress and Satrubhanjan was badly wounded. The battle ensued for five days and all the fortresses of Kerung were lost to the Chinese. In the initial battle on the Kerung front, about 400 Chinese soldiers and 200 Nepalese lost their lives.
The Nepalese army retreated to Rasuwa Gadhi from the Kerung front for delaying action. The tactic was to hold the enemy's heavy thrust for a few hours and retreat. Syabru Besi was the next delaying position after Rasuwa Gadhi. Bhaskar Rana Magar and Subedar Agbal joined the Srinath Battalion in Syabru Besi and they were also reinforced from Kathmandu. The Nepalese troops held its place for about 18 hours. They then successfully broke contact and retreated to Ramche. By this time hundreds from both sides had lost their lives.
A small battle took place in Ramche from where Kaji Damodar Pandey took over. The Nepalese again fell back to Gunche but it was too narrow a place to come into contact with the enemy forcing the Nepalese to retreat to Dhaibung for the major defensive -offensive battle. It was a well chosen position. The Chinese had held the battle initative up to Ramche. By the time the actual defensive battle was started, the Nepalese Army had secured good defensive positions in Dudha Thumka, Dhaibung and Gerkhu areas and stretched the Chinese uncomfortably. A strong force was deployed in Betrawoti. Trisuli Bazar was also occupied and other Nuwakot villages were vacated to protect the civilians in the vital grounds of defensive battles.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, Kaji Amar Singh Thapa gave up the year long conquest at Langur Gadhi in the Godhwal and released his troops for the defense of the motherland. The soldiers had to cover a distance of more then 1,000 km from this western outpost to reach Nuwakot. They made it in about a month by traveling some 30 km per day. Some of them joined the Nuwakot defenses while others remained as reserves in Kathmandu.
By this time, the Nepalese troops had retreated about 85 km from their initial defense position in Kerung. A linear defence was set up along the Betrawoti river. The Dudhe Thumka hill was a ground of tactical importance and a strong position was held by the Nepalese here. It would be diffcult for the Chinese to launch an uphill attack. One battalion plus Chinese troops did march to capture Dudhe umka but could not do so. A big flood in the furious Betrawoti on 20th August 1792 washed away many Chinese troops. The Betrawoti bridge was destroyed by the Nepalese before it fell into enemy hands. The Chinese could only use a handling rope of the bridge to cross the river.
The enemy troops marched to capture the Gerkhu ridge. This would have been a good firm base for them to launch downhill assaults on Nuwakot and Trishuli Bazar. Earlier successes had made them underestimate the Nepalese troops to the extent of launching a daylight uphill assault. But the Nepalese launched counter attacks from many flanks. A large number of Nepalese troops attacked the enemy with only Khukuris from flank and rear positions. The attrition was overwhelming, forcing the enemy to take flight. The turning point of the battle and the war came here and led to the overextended Chinese dropping their insistence to negotiate only after Nuwakot fell. Fu Kang An wanted to negotiate in Nuwakot and was keen to preserve his troops. Nepal had been saved but it had been a close call and Nepal ended up paying tributes to the Chinese Emperor. The last battle was fought on 5th October 1792. The Treaty of Betrawoti was concluded and the war was over.
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