Background (First Anglo Gurkha war 1814-1816)

In 1803 Gurkha forces invaded neighbouring kingdoms of Garhwal and Kumaun. They occupied both these kingdoms after defeating the ruler of Garhwal i.e Pradyumna shah in the battle of Khudbuda fought in 1803 AD. The son of Pradyumna shah or crowned prince of Garhwal Sudarshan shah survived the battle and fled towards Haridwar where he purchased some property and started living as a refugee.

After occupying both Kumaun and Garhwal kingdoms the Gorkha forces further extended their occupation and after defeating petty kings of Himachal region took control of regions as far as river satluj in west. Apart from victories in Garhwal Kumaun and Punjab hills the Gurkha forces invaded further in the eastern tarai regions near Gorakhpur which brought them in direct contact with the territories under British occupation .

This advance of Gorkha forces alarmed British and they started planning to contain this new threat from north. In the meanwhile the refugee Raja of Garhwal asked for British help to gain back control of his lost kingdom. Britishers assured him of help only on one condition i.e if he promised to give them half of his kingdom in the return of British help. Which Sudarshan shah the crowned prince, agreed to , as he wanted to expel Gorkhas from Garhwal who in 12 years of their misrule had ravaged the prosperity of his kingdom. 

The planning for war against Gorkhas was done under Governer general Lord Hastings. The initial misadventures by British forces at Gorakhpur resulted in failures. So a new strategy was planned to launch a large scale offensive and it was decided that British forces would attack from 5 areas on Gorkha positions ,extending from river Sutlej in Punjab to river kosi in Bihar.

The first battle of this war was fought at Dehradun. This was the battle that made Britishers realise that Gorkhas were a hardy race with great martial instinct and it was not easy to subdue them. Instead keeping them as friendly neighbours was a much better deal as the British could use their brave men for accomplishing their imperial missions all over the world. 

Balbhadra Kunwar at Nalapani kalanga
Hero of Battle of Kalanga- Balbhadra Kunwar

Anyway before realising this British had to fight a series of tough battles against Gurkhas. The most fierce fight of Anglo Gurkha war (1814-1816 AD) took place at Kalanga near Dehradun. The kalanga was the topmost hill of the Naalapani region near Dehradun where Gurkhas under their commander Balbhadra Kunwar had organised their defence meanwhile the British forces stationed at Saharanpur began their march towards Dehradun after getting the direct orders from Governor general lord Hastings for launching an offensive on Gurkha positions in various Dehradun.

Invasion of Dehradun by British forces.

The company's 4rth army-unit under Major-General Robert Rollo Gillespie marched on Dehradun. Gillespie sent most of his unit a little in advance. The detachment was commanded by Colonel Sebright Mowby and entered Dehradun on 24th October,1814.

The next morning Mowby laid siege to the Nepalese stronghold at Kalanga fort situated above the Naalapani springs , some 3.5 miles beyond Dehradun. He had shelled the stronghold for a week before the Governor General Lord Hastings formally declared war against Nepal on 1st November, 1814.

Kalanga fort and Gorkha defence

As stated above the Kalanga was the topmost hill of the Naalapani region (above sehastrdhara) which was nothing more than a primitive fortification . The in-charge of this defence was Balbhadra Kunwar nephew of celebrated Nepali warrior Amar Singh Thapa. He hastily improvised kalanga top and raised fortification wall to defend against British incursions. The walls of fort were mere barricades of logs of forest timber, re-inforced by heavy stones locally collected by the Gorkhas men and women under the personal guidance of Balbhadra , who had established his headquarters at kalanga . Even the barricades wall of the fort were incomplete when he got news of Col. Mowby's arrival at Dehradun . He had only 300 men , the other inmates of the fort being women and children , the lot numbering about 600 in all. Some of the men were expert archers and were armed with bows and arrows.

Col reached near Kalanga a little before the nightfall . He didn't expect a handful of men, some of them armed with primitive weapons , would have the courage or spirit to resist a for e about ten times stronger in numbers and arms. So, the same night he sent a letter by a special messenger to Balbhadra Kunwar calling upon him to surrender the fort to the English. Balbhadra read the letter and instantly tore it up,throwing the pieces at the messenger. He sent through the same messenger an oral challenge to col. Mowby, daring him to come immediately with his English forces and fight for the "fort".

The next morning Kalanga was bombarded from every available direction by Col.Mowby the defenders replied with a hail of bullets and arrows, many of which found their mark. Soon Col. Mowby realised that capture of Kalanga fort was not going to be an easy task. He informed his senior General Gillespie at Saharanpur some 45 miles away from Dehradun and very next day Gen Gillespie arrived at Naalapani to aid the English forces against Gorkhas.

He spent three days in studying the rough terrain and evolving a fresh line of attack. He divided his entire unit into 5 detachments . Four were detailed to attack the fort simultaneously from four directions and the fifth was held in reserve. On the 4rth day after the arrival of major general Gillespie, the fort was heavily bombarded and the four detachments advanced to take the fort by a simultaneous assault delivered from all points of the compass. A sizeable part of the defender's tiny force of 300 had been killed and disabled by that time but the shooting from the fort continued unabated and all the assaults were repeatedly repulsed with heavy losses.

The defenders were gallantly supported by their women who stood on the walls fully exposed, shoulder to shoulder with their men, and whilst the latter were firing guns and shooting arrows the women were raining stones and rolling down big boulders on the invader's heads as soon as the latter appeared within striking distance. 

According to Captain Eden Vansittart (in his Notes on nepal

The woman could be plainly seen doing it throughout the veritable hail-storm of bullets and gunshots. Intermingled bodies of both men and women later discovered in the ruins of the walls of the deserted fort bore mute testimony to the part played by the brave Gorkha women in fearlessly fighting the invaders.

The assaults were made again and again, day after day but were repulsed every time. Goaded by the repeated failures Major-General R. R. Gillespe personally led three companies of white soldiers to storm the gate of the fort. The gorkhas had mounted a cannon on the top of the gate, the most vulnerable spot in the 'walls of the fort'. Its fire Swept the approach to the gate, but the gallant Gillespie braved it and continue to advance waving to his soldiers with his drawn sword. Then a stray bullet hit him and he fell down dead.

According to Guiness book of military blunders Ch-2 The Rash by author Geoffrey Regan 

'Every soldier actuated by the principle of cool and deliberate valour will always have the advantage over wild and precipitate courage'. These sensible words could serve as advice as much today as in 1814, when they were given by Genreal Robert Rollo Gillespie to his troops at the siege of Kalanga fort in Dehradun. Unfortunately, Gillespie did not practise what he preached and his own rashness brought disaster on himself and his troops.


Col. Sebright Mowby, who, after Gillespie's death , once again took over the command of the besieging force, considered it wiser to retire to a safe distance and send for help from Delhi. On arrival of the reinforcements of infantry and artillery from Delhi, the assaults on the fort was resumed on 25th November 1840. But these achieved nothing and the storming parties were repulsed and had to retreat every time. The siege was, however, continued and Kalanga was subjected to heavy bombardment round-the-clock.

But even with hundreds dead and dying all around them and with death raining from the skies, all the time, the gallant Gorkhas now reduced to a pitiful 70, led by the indomitable Balbhadra Kunwar, never thought of saving themselves by an ignominious surrender. They carried on the struggle as spiritedly as ever, till fate dealt them a cruel blow. They had run through their store of water and there were no means of replenishing it as the spring from which they drew water were now in English hands. They had held out against fearful odds in numbers and weapons but could not hope to go on doing it for more than a few days without a drop of water, and with the wounded, the women and the children suffering horribly and raving widely for it. In this desperate situation Balbhadra Kunwar, preferring death to surrender, decided to fight his way out through the besieging force.

Early in the morning on 30th November 1814 the gunfire and the flight of arrows from the fort suddenly ceased. A few minutes after the gates swung open and out of it emerged Balbhadra Kunwar, naked sword in hand, head held high in pride. He was followed by the defenders, men and women, armed with drawn swords, shouldered guns, and their celebrated traditional khukris swinging from their belts. Unhurriedly, in measured steps, they marched through the besiegers, went to the water springs, quench their thirst and disappeared in the neighbouring hills.

Battle of nalapani
A gorkha troop

In his Memoirs of Dehradun G.R.C Williams writes..

Such was the conclusion of the defence of Kalanga, a feat of arms worthy of the best days of chivalry, conducted with a heroism almost sufficient to palliate the disgrace of our own reverses.

The Britishers were much impressed by the bravery shown by the Gurkha leader and they called him Gorkha leonidas the English did something more which is really rare if ever done by an aggressor for an adversary who had discomfited him. 

They raised an unassuming memorial on the bank of the nearby rispana river which appears to this day the inscription 

as a tribute of respect for our gallant adversary Balbhadra Kunwar and his brave gorkhas.


Balbhadra Kunwar memorial
Memorials at Nalapani one to commemorate British Victory another one to honour Balbhadra Kunwar and his fellow Gorkhas. 

In this battle Balbhadra and his 600 Gorkhas repulsed two assaults, inflicting on the British division a loss of 31 officers and 718 men killed, wounded, and missing, including General Gillespie. 

In the words of Captain Eden Vansittart

The defence of this fort repelled a whole division for over one month. On the fall of the fort it was at once occupied by the British Troops, and there indeed the desperate courage and bloody resistance the gorkhas had opposed to means so overwhelming were mournfully and horribly apparent. The whole area of the fort was a slaughter house strewed with the bodies of the dead and wounded. 


Balbhadra Kunwar Memorial
Plaque installed by ASI to honour the Kalanga Warriors.

The determined resolution of the little party that held this small post garnered them universal admiration. Apart from courage and valour the Gorkhas also showed their humane part in the thick of the battle. The Kalanga garrison will forever be marked for their unsubdued courage, and the generous spirit of  courtesy with which they treated their enemy. 

East India Company soldier
A soldier of Bengal native Infantry who took part in Anglo Gorkha war 1814-1816 AD. 

Captain Eden Vansittart further states.. 

They fought us in fair conflict like men, and in the intervals of actual combat showed us a liberal courtesy worthy of a more enlightened people, so far from insulting the bodies of the dead and wounded, they permitted them to remain untouched till carried away, and none were stripped even . 


Several other battles were fought during the Anglo Gurkha war 1814-1816 AD which ended with Treaty of Sugauli 1816 AD. According to the Treaty of Sugauli the Gorkhas had to give up their claim on the territories towards west of Kaali river and this treaty established the present boundary line of modern state of Nepal.

The Britishers fullfilled their promise by giving half of Garhwal kingdom to Sudarshan shah heir of Pradyumna shah . This part was called Tehri garhwal and rest of the part which was kept under British administration was called British Garhwal. Local People of Garhwal and Kumaun  also stood up and rebelled against Gorkhas whome they would see as a curse imposed upon themselves. Gradually the remaining Gorkha leadership in Garhwal and Kumaun hills also departed .

Balbhadra Kunwar survived the war. His military generalship was recognised by legendary king of Punjab Maharaja Ranjit Singh who appointed him as his general of newly constituted Lahure regiments which consisted of entirely gorkhali troops in Punjabi army. He died while serving in the Punjabi forces during a battle fought between Afghan and Sikh armies in the year 1822 AD. at naushera Peshawar region Afghanistan.


  1. Notes on Nepal by Captain Eden Vansittart
  2. Memoirs of Dehradun by G. R. C. Williams
  3. The Guinness Book of military blunders by Geoffrey Regan


  1. Salute to the bravery of Balbhadra Kunwar and the British for giving the honour and respect ✊ to a worthy adversary

    1. True what a man and Britishers always respected brave adversaries.They also praised Rani Lakshmi bai for giving them a tough time in Jhansi,Kalpi and Gwalior .


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