Nepal-Tibet War of 1856 – Jang Bahadur Rana’s Greatest Glory

After Gagan Singh’s murder, the executions carried out ensured that Jang Bahadur Rana is literally the only person standing to be appointed the Mukhtiyar. He made himself the virtual ruler of Nepal and instead of the traditional policy of balancing Nepal against China, he decided to openly side the British. So, he starts this by cancelling the five year mission to China in 1847. But to mollify opposition and to gain first hand information over the Taiping Rebellion, he sent the next mission of 1852. The head of the mission, Gambhir Singh and his second in command both died in Beijing and the mission, under Bhim Sen Rana, returned back through a different route, through Kham, as the rebellion alarmingly spread closer. The mission returned in 1854 and Jang Bahadur invented indignities committed against the mission in Kham as a grouse for invading Tibet.

The political scenario was thus – Qing Empire is facing existential threat due to Taiping Rebellion, Britain is tied in Crimea War, the Panchen Lama passed away in 1852 and the Dalai Lama is still a child. The regent, Yeshi Gyasto Rating is not strong enough and the terms of Dalai Lama’s officials and the Kashag(the ruling council of Tibet) are not cordial. Besides this, the Tibetans were ready to throw off the Chinese yoke if Qing Empire collapses. He started arming Nepal under the pretext that China solicited help to crush the rebellion. But, when the embassy returned back, he informed the British of his intentions to invade Tibet citing the treatment of the Nepali mission and of Nepali traders in Lhasa, expulsion of Nepali representative from Lhasa, increasing the custom duties and a boundary dispute in Kuti area.Tibet addressed all these but Nepal went ahead with the aggression unless it satisfied the terms Nepal put – 10 million rupees as damages, surrender of Taklakot area and all lands in Kuti and Kerong below the Bhairab Langur range. Tibet was given time till 17 April 1855 to answer. Since Jang Bahadur was already bent on war, the mission by Palden Dondup, the treasurer of Lhasa’s mission to Khatmandu failed.

Nepal crossed the border at multiple points between Walungchung and Talkakot and in the first engagement which happened at Chusan, Jang Bahadur’s brother Dhir Shamsher defeated a Tibetan force and then advanced till Suna Gompa after taking Kuti. His other brother, Bam Bahadur, leading the main Nepali army took Kerong, defeated a Tibetan force at Kukurghat and took Dzongka after a nine day siege.

The Amban at Lhasa and Kalon Shatra, the head of the governing council asked for cessation of hostilities which Jang Bahadur was ready going by the enormous cost of the campaign. It is interesting to note that Kalon Shatra ordered not to resist for Kuti and Kerong to avoid casualties and looting. But, Tibet suddenly changed the stand and sent a powerful force on Dzongka which forced Katmandu’s hand.

In the peace negotiations between Subha Siddhiman, Jang Bahadur’s envoy and Palden Dondup, Tibet agreed to pay 233,000 silver rupees but rejected any demands for surrender of territory but Nepal would not budge. Subsequent talks failed again, opening up hostilities by September. By this time all Nepal was against the war.

Tibet attacked both Kuti and Dzongka on 5th November timing it with winter snowfall. Kuti fell and the garrison fled back to Nepal. Dzongka was put under siege, with complete communication cut with Nepal. By December, Dhir Shamsher advanced again against Kuti while a brother-in-law of Jang Bahadur who burnt Kuti to ground and retired back into Nepal, Sanak King Khatri advanced on Dzongka. Sanak Singh was not able to break the siege and due to the ensuing stalemate, talks started again.

Tibetan contingent contained Palden Dondup and Kalon Shatra’s son while the King of Bhutan came to the border to have talks with Jagat Shamsher, another brother of Jang Bahadur. A token tribute was agreed upon and all territorial demands were dropped. Since Nepal felt these terms are not sufficient, Kalon Shatra himself came to Katmandu to finalise the same terms. A treaty was finalised with the effect that Tibet will be a formal vassal to Nepal but the Amban decided to throw a spanner. Nepal gave an year ultimatum to accept the treaty.

The Amban’s arguments were mainly two – when Tibet is already a vassal of China, how can it be of Nepal? The clause for mutual assistance in case of aggression by any other entity, which technically, can extend to China. The changes introduced were, a preamble variously read as The Chinese Emperor will be respected to The Chinese Emperor will be obeyed and a modification to the effect that Nepal will intervene in any aggression on Tibet except from China, which the Tibetans interpreted differently. The treaty was a personal success for Jang Bahadur and helped consolidate his position even further. In Tibet, the authorities understood that the Chinese power is over and started acting belligerently. It did everything to subvert Chinese authority except formal expulsion of the Amban. There followed a power struggle in Tibet where Kalon Shatra was exiled by the Regent in 1858 but bounced back by 1862 to take full control of the country under the title Desi Shatra.

The treaty in full.

Translation of the Nepalese version of the text of the Treaty of Chaitra Sudi 3, 1912 [V.E.], i.e., March 1856

The Bhardars (Nobles) of Gorkha Government and those of the Government of Bhot (Tibet) have by our own free will decided to sign this document. If war commences on account of the fact that one party to this treaty breaks the ahad (agreement), then the violator of the ahad will have sinned against God. We have signed this ahad with God as a witness.

Clauses of the Treaty

1. Pratham Kura (Article One): The Government of Bhot is to give to the Gorkha Government a salami of rupees 10,000 annually.

2. Doshro Kura (Article Two): Gorkha is to render assistance to Tibet, as far as possible, if she is invaded by a foreign power.

3. Teshro Kuro (Article Three): Bhot is not to impose jagat mahasul (custom duties) that had been hitherto levied upon the Gorkha subjects throughout the territory of Tibet.

4. Chouthon Kura (Article Four): The Government of Gorkha is to withdraw its troops from the occupied territories of Kuti and Kerong and Jhung and return to the Tibetans the sepoys, sheep, and yaks captured during the war, when the conditions of the treaty were fulfilled. The Tibetans, in return, are also to give back to the Gorkhali cannons and also the Sikh prisoners-of war who had been captured in 1841 in the war between Bhot and the Dogra ruler.

5. Panchoun Kura (Article Five): Gorkha is permitted to station a Bhardar (envoy) in Tibet, instead of a Nayak that had been stationed there previously.

6. Chhaithoun Kura (Article Six): Gorkha is allowed to keep their kothis (trade-marts) in Lhasa with the right to trade in jewels, ornaments, grains, and clothes.

7. Satoun Kura (Article Seven): The Gorkha Bhardar in Bhot is authorized to settle disputes between the Gorkha subjects and the Gorkha Kashmiris. But the disputes between the Gorkha subjects and the Bhotes are to be settled by the representatives of both Governments. The Nepalese Bhardar was prohibited from settling disputes between the Bhotes.

8. Athoun Kura (Article Eight): Gorkha and Bhote Governments are henceforth to return the criminals that escaped into each other’s territory.

9. Nawoan Kura (Article Nine): The life and property of the Gorkha merchants were to be protected by the Government Bhot. If the Bhote looter cannot restore the looted articles of the Gorkhalis the Bhot Government would compensate for the loot. The Gorkha Government was to act in a similar fashion and protect the property of the Bhotes in the country of the Gorkha.

10. Dasaun Kura (Article Ten): The Gorkha and Bhote Governments are to protect the life and property of those subjects who had helped the enemy during the war.


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