Battle of Bhaktapur
|The Battle of Bhaktapur|
|Part of the Gorkhali conquest of Nepal|
Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the royal palace complex, in 1854.
|Casualties and losses|
501 houses set on fire
The Battle of Bhaktapur was the final campaign in the Gorkha conquest of Nepal. It took place in Bhaktapur in 1769, and resulted in the victory of the Gorkhali king Prithvi Narayan Shah, giving him control of the entire Kathmandu Valley and adjoining areas.
Bhaktapur (alternative names: Khwopa Desa ख्वप देस, Bhadgaon) was one of the three capital cities in the Malla confederacy of Nepal, the other two being Kathmandu and Lalitpur. The eastern boundary of the kingdom of Bhaktapur extended to a distance of five-six days' journey to the east. The city contained 12,000 households.
The Gorkhalis desired the Kathmandu Valley due to its rich culture, trade, industry and agriculture. In 1736, the Gorkhali king Nara Bhupal Shah launched an attack on Nuwakot, a border town and fort in the northwest of the valley, and was roundly defeated. His son Prithvi Narayan Shah became king in 1742 and resumed the campaign.
As Shah knew he would not be able to take over the valley by force, he decided to impose an embargo with a view to starve it. His forces occupied strategic passes in the surrounding hills, and strangled the vibrant trade between Tibet and India that passed through the valley. Blockade runners found with salt or cotton on them were hung on the road.
In 1744, the Gorkhalis took Nuwakot on the trans-Himalayan trade route. In 1762 and 1763, they overran Makwanpur and Dhulikhel respectively, surrounding the Kathmandu Valley from the west, south and east.
In a bid to cause a famine, Shah prevented any grain from passing into the valley, and blockade runners were hung from the trees on the roads. The prolonged siege forced the king of Kathmandu to appeal to the British East India Company for help. In August 1767, Captain George Kinloch led a British force towards the valley to rescue its beleaguered inhabitants. He reached within 75 km of Kathmandu and captured the forts at Sindhuli and Hariharpur, but was forced to retreat after supplies ran out and his troops mutinied.
The final battle
Wearing down the Newars with a continuous embargo and propaganda campaign, Shah captured Kirtipur, Kathmandu and Lalitpur in succession. He then marched upon Bhaktapur in 1769. The kings of Kathmandu and Lalitpur, Jaya Prakash Malla and Tej Narasingh Malla, had sought refuge in Bhaktapur after losing their kingdoms. The three kings joined forces to do battle with the Gorkhali army, but they were defeated, again due to betrayal by the nobles.
The soldiers of the treacherous nobles opened the city gates and let the Gorkhalis in. Shah's troops possessed muskets, in addition to swords and bows and arrows. There was fierce fighting in front of the palace, but the invaders finally broke through the gates.
According to the journal kept at the monastery of Jana Baha, Kathmandu, Shah's troops captured Bhaktapur on the night of November 25, 1769. They killed 2,001 people and set 501 houses on fire.
King Ranajit Malla of Bhaktapur was so distressed that he was driven to compose a lament filled with regret at having trusted the Gorkhali king. According to eyewitnesses, Malla wept uncontrollably when he paused at the hilltop of Chandragiri on the valley rim for one last look at his former kingdom. From Chandragiri, the route descends south and exits the valley to continue on to India.
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