The Brave Shen Pa
In the beginning of December 1841 at an altitude of over 14000 ft on the Tibetan Plateau with the temperatures well below freezing he got the news that a large contingent of the Imperial Chinese Army consisting of more than 10,000 soldiers along with their Tibetan allies was coming for him and stop his whirlwind advance. He had already faced smaller contingents and had already snatched, the Imperial Chinese Banner, the Mantalai Standard from them in an encounter. That had given them a measure of this man.
In a fashion typical to him and only him he must have weighed the odds. His Troops, about 3000 in number, were out of supplies, hungry, suffering badly from the intense Cold to the point that they had sawed off the butts of their Guns to burn them for warmth. He had already added more than 150,000 sq km of territory to his King’s domain and fought and come up on top in extremely difficult situations like taking his Army up the Umasi La at the onset of Winter. He had captured the holiest of the holy, the Kailash Parbat and Mansrover for his King. No King would want more.
But not him. He had promised Lhasa. And Lhasa he would deliver. The Western Tibetan Kingdom including Rudok, Guge, Purang and Spiti were already under his wing. He was in Tirathpuri by the Satluj when he got the news of the advance. He despatched a small band of advanced troops under Nono Sonam to lead the initial forays into the rival Army. His men were massacred but Nono Sonam managed to escape and get back. Next a bigger band of around 600 men under Ghulam Khan and Nono Sonam were despatched to check the advance of the adversary. They fought well and they fought hard but they were routed by overwhelming number of the opposing force. Both Ghulam Khan and Nono Sonam were taken prisoners.
When he had started on his Trans Himalayan Expeditions he was accompanied by the following 12 Officers who led his Army and now after 7 years of Campaigns in the highest Himalayas and now just a couple of them were alive :
Mian Rai Singh
Mehta Basti Ram
Mirza Rasool Beg
Rana Zalim Singh
Abdul Razak Singh Mankotia
Sardar Uttam Singh
Wazir Khwaja Bhanjal
Sardar Samad Khan
Syed Madin Shah
Out of all these Officers only probably Col Mehta Basti Ram of Kishtwar would die of old age. All of them were completely dedicated to him.
He decided to act in the only way of defence he knew. Attack. On the 10th of December with the remnants of his Army he decided to fall upon the oncoming Army though he knew the odds were stacked up against him. Heavily. But the “Shen - Pa” as their adversaries called them fell upon them with all the ferocity they were well known for. The Shen - Pas first attack on the Chinese / Tibetan Army has been described as “lightning fury” by a noted historian. Hell was unleashed in the biting cold between the two Armies engaged in Battle at over 4800 m above sea level.
The a fierce Battle ensued for two days. On the 12th December he himself decided to lead a charge on the enemy positions with his last best men left. While leading the charge with his signature fury he got a bullet in his thigh and fell off his Horse. Seeing him fall immediately he was surrounded by enemy soldiers. He was down but not out and he drew his sword. He dealt terrific blows to anyone who came close. Eventually a Horseman thrust his Lance at him and it went through his Chest. He fell. Dead.
His men now panicked and fled in all directions and were cut down by the enemy. Around 600 to 700 were taken prisoners. Col Mehta Bast Ram who was holding the Fort at Taklakot also decided to withdraw and crossed over into Almora. They were defeated. And he was dead.
But now the victors had a new problem. His body. They held him in reverential awe as the bravest of the Shen-pas. They cut off his head and carried it off to Lhasa as a Trophy. It was apparently entombed in a stupa. Parts of his remains were taken to the Simbiling and the Sakya Monasteries. All other remains were scattered so that this feared Shen - Pa might not rise again to do what he did. A Stupa was built to him somewhere around Mansrover. It stands there to this day.
Many engagements and Battles were fought thereupon between the same adversaries and finally Peace was reached with the signing of the Treaty of Chushul. And Col Mehta Basti became the First Governor of Ladakh.
In The History of Western Tibet by Rev.A.H. Francke who was a Moravian Missionary in Ladakh mentions that the Ladakhi's sing a poignant song of His wife, whom they believe to have accompanied her husband to Ladakh, and who had to return alone across the Zoji Pass. In this song Urdu words are mixed in a quaint way with the Tibetan:
I do not wish to eat bread received from the sinful Northerners, I do not wish to drink water received from the sinful Northerners
Amidst the inhabitants of this land I have no friends and relations, In the Northern Plain I have no brothers and friends
In the place of friends and relations I had only You
In the place of brothers and friends I had only You
And it was only You who made me a despised widow
And it was only You who made his Queen a despised widow
When arriving on the Zoji Pass, my fatherland can be seen
When arriving on the Zoji Pass, Lahore and the Panjab can be seen
Although I can see my Fatherland, I shall not arrive there
Although I can see my Fatherland, Your Queen will not arrive there......
His name was General Zorawar Singh Kahluria.
Pic below of a replica of the Mantalai Standard that was snatched from the Chinese Imperial Army by the General and his men at display at the Fort named after him. Pic from April 2018. Leh, Ladakh.