First Gorkha Invasion of Garhwal And Events Of The Years 1790 To 1803 CE.

The royal dynasties of Garhwal and Kumaon with both having a history of ruling for more than 900 years enjoyed a remarkable distinction of being among the few longest ruling ancient dynasties of North India . But their uninterrupted rule suffered a setback in year 1790 AD when Nepali army under its General Kazi amar singh thapa and his son Bhim Singh Thapa invaded Kumaon with a purpose to extend the borders and assimilate these hill kingdoms within Gurkha empire. 

By 1790 AD they had already captured Kumaon and their further advance in garhwali territory was prevented due to the tough fight given by Garhwalis at two places. First was led by Aswal faction of Garhwalis at Langurgarhi fortress (Today's Lansdowne). Another staunch resistance to Gorkha forces was given by the hardy men of Panwar clan at the fortress of Lohba garhi(Gairsen) near Rama Ganga river. While Gurkha army laid the siege of both these fortresses the Garhwali Garrison inside them remained undeterred and fought gallantly to push back the raiding gurkha army. 

Gorkha rule in Garhwal
19th Century representation of Srinagar Garhwal's Capital (image credit - British library Wikimedia commons)

Despite being fewer in numbers in both these places and with limited ammunition, supplies, for one whole year the Garhwalis kept repelling Gurkha attacks.

In 1792 AD gurkha army had to back off  due to an imminent Chinese invasion at their north east border. However this was a temporary retreat but to avoid further aggression from Gorkhas reigning king of Garhwal Pradyuman shah agreed for paying an annual tribute of Rs 25000 to gurkha generals. This agreement was respected by Garhwalis but Gorkhas kept raiding the border areas of Garhwal burning their villages and crops and often arresting garhwali civilians and selling them as slaves in tarai region.

In response to frequent Gorkha incursions near the border,the Garhwalis did not always allow these raids to pass unpunished. Reprisals were made and a border warfare ensued most of the time resulting in cruelty and blood-thirsty revenge.From 1791 to 1803 despite of the truce several fresh attempts were made by gurkha troops to invade Garhwal but all proved fruitless.

Final breakthrough and Gurkha invasion of 1803. 

In 1803 after getting rid of all the domestic compulsion Gorkha generals with all their prominent war veterans pushed their well equipped army for a final assault over Garhwal. Langoorgarhi defense was finally breached and the whole garrison inside the fortress perished fighting against the invaders. Garrison of Lohba garhi fortress also faced the similar fate.

While the garhwali forces perished at borders the situation was grim in Garhwal's royal court.
According to Captain T.Hardwicke of British Indian Army who was at that time in Garhwal's royal court at Srinagar:-
The Raja Pradyumn shah appeared then to be about 27 years of age , in stature something under the middle size, of slender make regular features but effeminate. His brother Prakram Shah was a stouter and more manly person. The other one Pritam shah was still 19 and had more resemblance to Raja in make,features and voice . All wore muslin jamahs with coloured turbans and wastebands but none wore jewellery or other decorations. Pradyumn shah's appearance did not belie his character mild and effeminate to a degree he did not grasp the nature of the danger to which he was exposed and portants had already paralysed his superstitious mind and warned him that his last time had come. The priests of Paliyagadh near Jamuna had foretold the gorkhali conquest and death of pradyumn shah at dehradun . The  very same time a strong earthquake hit his capital rendering his palace uninhabitable . The shocks continued for several days , and it is said many ancient streams ran dry. The king in this condition chose to leave for a dehradun  via barahat with his remaining army and no significant resistance was offered to the invading army .


Battle of Khudbuda 1804

King Pradyuman was pursued by the victorious Gorkhas and by october  1803 AD they captured dehradun. The king sought refuge in near by plains . There he was helped by Gujjar ruler of Landhoura Ramadayal singh in raising a strong army of 8000 and buying weapons.

Gorkha rule in Garhwal
Assembly of gorkha troops near Dehradun  (photo credits-rarebooksocietyofindia)

With this new army the king entered Dehradun, resolved to make one final attempt to recover his lost kingdom. There he was challenged  by Gurkha army at the battlefield of Khudbuda and in an intense fighting he was hit by a bullet of a gurkha marksman on his forehead and perished with most of his garhwali nobles. His brother pritam shah was taken prisoner and sent to Nepal. Parakram shah escaped to Kangra seeking refuge from its ruler sansar chand. The son of Pradhuman shah ,Sudarshan shah escaped to British territory in Haridwar.

1804 Garhwal under Gorkha occupation  

In 1804 Garhwal fully came under the occupation of Gurkhas . Many gurkha commander were given the command of  garhwal from 1803-1815 prominent names among them were Hastidal sah and Sardar Bhakti Thapa.

In those days dehradun being a fertile valley was a prominent rice producing region and most of its farmers and residents were quite rich. Their prosperity was the reason that Sikhs of Ponta and Muslim Rohillas from saharanpur would frequently raid this region. 

The Gurkhas arranged for the secure borders of Garhwal specially  the ones with plains near Dehradun. Raids from saharnpur and  Punjab(ponta) were brought to an abrupt termination by proclaiming a threat of burning one village of raiders for each raid they conduct. Once a band of sikh soldiers challenged the gurkha authority and set up a govt in defiance,sacked a village,carrying away several women and driving away cattles. On receiving this intelligence of outrage the Gurkha commandant sent two hundred fully armed men in pursuit of the marauders, sourrounded their village and set it on fire . 

Every men women or child trying to escape was massacred in cold blood except some few women who were taken prisoner because of their beauty. This incident gave a clear message to marauders to stay away from doon and mend their ways thus for 12 years Dehradun remained safe from onslaught of Sikhs from punjab and muslims commanders from saharanpur. However there were a lot of sufferings that Garhwalis had to face under 12 years of Gorkha rule which still people in garhwal talk about with great pain.

Gorkha atrocities and Garhwali Suffering 

The Gorkha rule in garhwal was one of the most cruel episode of Garhwali history. Througout in their past they were never subjected to such tyranny and humilation that the garhwalis had to suffer during the Gorkha rule. The following  independent sources shows the amount of atrocities that were inflicted on the people of garhwal during those 12 dreadful years. 

A british army officer Captain F.V. Raper who visited Garhwal in 1805 AD. during Gurkha rule made following observations.
The people are most vehement in their complaints against the gorkhalis of whom they stand in the utmost dread but most of them appear to be in despair beyond belief,it is doubtful that a spirit of resistance or independence could be excited amongst them.The Villages in Garhwal afford a striking proof of the destruction caused by the Gorkhalis, uncultivated fields,ruined and deserted huts, present themselves in every direction,Temples lands alone are well-tilled. The dun was ruined by  the gorkhalis it produced 1/4th of the revenue that was once realized by the Garhwali kings.

A Scottish traveller James Baillie Fraser who visited Dehradun in 1813 wrote in his memoir:-
The Gurkhalis ruled Garhwal with a rod of iron and the country fell in lamentable decay. Its villages become deserted , its agriculture ruined and its population decreased beyond computation. It is said that 2 lakh of people were sold as slaves while few families of consequence remained in the country , but to avoid the severity of tyranny they went into banishment or were forcibly driven away by their tyrants.

He further mentions about the slave business that was conducted near haridwar

At the foot of  the pass leading to Har ki paidi is a gorkhali post, to which slaves are brought down from the hills ans exposed for sale. These poor souls of both sexes from 3 to 30 years of age are sold in Haridwar at from rupees ten to rupees hundred to rupees fifty each. The delinquents were imposed with fine arbitrarily by gorkha offcials and if unable to pay the delinquent along with his whole family was sold as slave in market.
 Even then their were some mild rulers like Hastidal thapa, Ranjor singh thapa but the officers at the executive level were much severe.

Garhwali people history
A native of Garhwal- a painting by Gertrude Ellen Burrard 1908 (photo credits- Rarebooksocietyofindia)

According  to J.B.Fraser

The gorkhas were really tough as a rulers .Their manners as conquerors were rough as they despised the people they had conquered. The Gurkhas reserved their most exquisite savagery for garhwal while treating kumaon with mildness ans something approaching justice.

this might look exaggerated but the overall assessment says that  Gorkha rule was an extreme tyranny over peace loving Garhwali people..still in many Garhwali households those from old generations often recite such horrible stories of Gorkha raj . 

Anglo Gurkha wars,British victory and end of Gorkha tyranny in Garhwal.

Till 1813 Gorkhalis had started intruding British Indian territories in Gorakhpur and elsewhere that made Lord hastings to declare war on Gorkha ruler. British Indian army was sent to all the regions that shared borders with Gorkhas and simultaneous offensive were lauched from dehradun almora gorakhpur etc. and after initial setbacks were able to drove gurkhas back from Sutluj river in Punjab to the Kali river near pithoragarh. The defeat of Gorkhas at several positions instilled a confidence among Garhwali people . 

During one such reverse a garhwali crowd charged the fort of Lohba(Gairsain) and brutually killed the Nepalis garrison inside .

The events of disastrous defeat of Gorkhas and their retreat was described by Scottish traveller J.B.Fraser in following words.
Gorkhalis had appointed various revenue posts for extracting tribute from zamindars and in several cases when zamindar was unable to pay the desired amount they would take his daughter in lieu of money. When power of Gurkhalis was broken and their troops taken prisoner and scattered these gorkhali officials decided to settle and live a domesticated life in garhwal rather than risking their life by going back through the hostile villages and towns. Those who weren't married took the favor of zamindars whom they had known or might have obliged  in some way in past during their rule. In any case whoever stayed was either killed or stripped from his property even their clothes were taken away and many of them died in the cold weather. Those who were wounded were not given any treatment by local people and many escaped in jungles where they died a lonely death. Sometimes even the zamindars took their daughters back and let them die in neglect. Those who able to reach Nepal were lucky rest who survived in Garhwal died in utter poverty and neglect.

Finally the dreadful times that Garhwal had to face for 12 long years came to an end and its people took a sigh of relief after expelling their conquerors. The Garhwal was later divided into two regions one was put under british control and was called British Garhwal while a small portion in north west called Tehri garhwal was given to the son of Pradhuman shah , Sudarshan shah who was living in utter poverty in haridwar, to rule as a vassal prince of British Indian empire. 

However the favour that British did by helping Garhwalis in reclaiming their motherland was later handsomely paid back by brave Garhwalis in the coming years in the form of sacrifices that they made in the battle grounds of Afghanistan, Europe, Africa and Asia minor while fighting for the British crown during the first and second world war.


1. Garhwal Ancient and Modern, Rai Pati ram Bahadur

2. The Himalayan Gazetteer  Vol -2 , Part-2 , Edwin T. Atkinson

3. Garhwal ka Itihas Pt. Harikrishna raturi

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