Chamba today is a quaint little district of Himachal Pradesh known more for its Hill Station of Dalhousie than anything else.
However the Kingdom of Chamba in its time was a powerful Kingdom which held sway in large part of one of the most unvisited and unexplored parts of the Western Himalayas including Lahaul, Bahderwah, Padder and Zanskar. All these regions are still largely unexplored and the Chambyalis were the Masters of all these regions at a point in history.
For Lahaul they were always in a power struggle with the Kulu State and they even met at Battle right on the Rohtang Pass as well. Rohtang kinda was the point where Kullu met Lahoul and kinda touched Chamba as well. Both Chamba and Kulu were in a constant state of rivalry over Lahaul. Though it was mostly the Kulu state which held onto Lahaul after the disintegration of the Ladakhi Kingdom.
The King Chattar Singh of Chamba attacked Padder in the middle of the 18th century and established Chamba Rule over the Padder region in Kishtwar. After being victorious Chattar Singh established a Fort there known as Chattar Garh. Padder continued to be under the control of Chamba till 1836.
In the early 1800’s Ratnu Thakur, the top official of the Chamba King, undertook an expedition to Zanskar and made it a tributary of Chamba as well. The King of Zanskar agreed to pay an annual tribute to Kingdom of Chamba.
It was around this time that my favorite historical character, the Sher e Punjab was on the rise and all the Hill Rajas including the Rajas of Chamba had no option but to accept the Sikh Emperor as their overlord. The Emperor deposed most of the Hill Rajas but he had a soft corner for Chamba as the main Wazir, Wazir Nathu, had played a positive role in the negotiations with Raja Sansar Chand of Kangra in 1809 and had as per some reports saved the life of the Emperor himself by providing him a horse in the 1817 Campaign in Kashmir.
Around the same time happened the invasion of Ladakh by the indomitable General Zorarwar Singh. While on his back from the first campaign in Ladakh on reaching Kishtwar, the General heard of an uprising in Ladakh. He rushed back to Ladakh, but this time taking the shortest route through Paddar via Umasi La Pass into Zanskar and onto Leh to put down the uprising.
A detachment of his Army under Wazir Lakhpat Rai and Col. Mehta Basti Ram was sent to subdue the Zanskaris which they did and stationed some Dogra soldiers there as well. And thence they returned to Jammu via Paddar but stationed a few Dogra troops in Paddar as well.
As General Zorarwar Singh was tending the affairs in Ladakh and Baltistan the Zanskaris rose up in revolt and put the Dogra garisson to the sword. The news of this reached Paddar and the overzelaous Ratnu Thakur decided to use this oppurtunity to attack the Dogra soldiers stationed in Paddar. Some were killed and others were taken as prisoners to Chamba.
The General got the news in Ladakh and was visibly incensed at this attack on his soldiers in what he considered friendly territory. Well those of you are aware of the kind of man General Zorawar Singh Kahluria was know what was coming next.
The General with a detachment of his Army invaded Paddar vis the Bhot Nullah from Zanskar. The whole Fort and town of Chattar Garh was destroyed and it was renamed Gulabgarh in the name of Raja Gulab Singh. Meanwhile on hearing the news of Zorawar’s approach Ratnu Thakur fled to Chamba. After claiming Padder Zorarwar Singh decided to make a push for Chamba
The Chamba Rajas knew that facing the battle hardened Dogras of the General would be quite a task made a representation to Raja Gulab Singh denying any involvement in the unfortunate incidents that took place in Padder and put the blame squarely on Ratnu Thakur. Consequently Ratnu Thakur was despatched to Jammu by the Chamba Rajas where he was imprisoned by Raja Gulab Singh. But this was not the last of Ratnu Thakur. After a few years news came to Raja Gulab Singh that Ratnu Thakur in the prison had shaved his head and his beard. Raja Gulab Singh sent for Ratnu Thakur and asked him why he did so ? My King has died and I as a loyal subject owe him this, Ratnu answered. The King of Chamba, Chattar Singh had passed away a few days back. Raja Gulab Singh was impressed with his sense of loyalty and decided to free him and even bestowed upon him a Jagir in Kishtwar.
However by 1841 the Sher-e-Punjab, indomitable General and the Wazir had passed away and the Sikh kingdom was in dissaray. The Chamba Rajas were now without a protector and the field was now open. However the Sikh Armies finally met the British Army in 1845 and in the consequence of their defeat Chamba was now ceded to the British. In the meantime Raja Gulab Singh had already taken Badarwah in the meanwhile and installed Raja Prakram Singh (who incidentaly was the son of Raja Zorwar Singh who was the nominal Raja of Badarwah being made so by his brother Raja Chattar Singh, the Ruler of Chamba). However Chamba still mantained its claim over Badarwah.
In the after math the British signed a treaty with the Raja of Gulab Singh under which all the territory to the North of the Ravi to the the Indus and beyond was given to Raja Gulab in lieu of Rupees Seventy Five Lakhs he paid as war indemnity on part of the defeated Sikh armies.
Thus even most of Chamba, which lay beyond the Ravi became a part of the new state of Jammu and Kashmir with Gulab Singh as its Maharaja. But then the Wazir Bhaga, another able Wazir from the family of Wazir Nathu, intervened and asked the British to take them under their wings instead of becoming a part of Jammu and Kashmir. Chamba Kingdom had to give up its claim on Badarwah and all other territories beyond it which became a part of Jammu and Kashmir. And the Chamba Kingdom promised to pay a tribute of Rs.12,000 per annum to the British plus Dalhousie was leased out to the British in perpetuaty as a Hill Station where the troops could get some R&R.
Subsequently in 1947 Chamba State became a part of Punjab Hill States and later an important part of Himachal Pradesh.
Coming back to where we started, Dalhousie, the most well known place in Chamba nowadays, the tales bravery, conquest and subterfuge all but forgotten.
A view of the Pir Panjals looking out of Dalhousie.
If only these Mountains could speak, the tales they would tell would truly be extra-ordinary.
Pic from October 2016, Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh