Bakhtiyar Khalji's Tibet campaign

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Bakhtiyar Khalji's Tibet campaign
Bakhtiyar Khalji led his army through harsh terrain into the cultivated valley of mainland Tibet, where he met fierce resistance and a guerrilla uprising
Result Decisive Tibetan victory

Delhi Sultanate Flag (catalan atlas).png Delhi Sultanate

Tibetan snow leopard.svg Tibetan chiefdoms
Commanders and leaders
Bakhtiyar Khalji Tibetan chiefs
10,000 (approx.)[1] Unknown
Casualties and losses
Several thousand; cavalry reduced to a few hundred Unknown

Bakhtiyar Khalji, the Muslim conqueror of Bengal under the Delhi Sultanate, launched a campaign to invade Tibet in the 13th century.[2] He was motivated by a desire to control the lucrative trade between Tibet and India. The expedition went up to the Chumbi Valley after crossing Sikkim and Bhutan, but he was defeated by the Tibetans and forced into retreat. His failure is regarded as a "disaster".


The Muslims conquered Bengal after overthrowing the Sena dynasty in Gaur between 1198 and 1202. Bakhtiyar Khalji, the Governor of Bengal, subsequently became obsessed with ambitions of conquering Tibet. Bengal had traditional trade routes through Tibet to parts of China and Southeast Asia, which were home to gold and silver mines.[3] Tibet was also a source of horses.[4] Capturing Tibet would have allowed Bengal to control the northern Silk Road between China and Europe. The planned invasion also coincided with the Era of Fragmentation and the collapse of the Tibetan Empire.

The expedition was aided by Ali Mech, leader of the Mech tribe in the foothills of India. He was a recent convert to Islam, and he helped the expedition by acting as a guide for them.[5]


Khalji led the expeditionary force of 10,000 horsemen from Gaur and marched northwards along the Brahmaputra River.[6] He went through the territory of Kamarupa in the sub-alpine Himalayan hills, where his army crossed an ancient stone bridge on the Teesta River. Khalji courted the support the king of Kamarupa, who allowed Bengali forces to pass through his territory. The expedition marched through what is today Sikkim and Bhutan and reached the Chumbi Valley in Tibet proper. The sultanate forces began plundering villages in the valley.

The invasion sparked a Tibetan uprising. Khalji ordered his forces to retreat, but all along the mountainous escape route, the Muslim army was attacked by Tibetan guerrilla forces. The invasion army was routed. There were further losses for the Muslim army as the Kamarupa kingdom blocked passage through the earlier Teesta bridge. Accounts speak of Khalji returning to Bengal with only a few hundred horsemen.[7][8]


There are two accounts of what happened to Bakhtiyar Khalji following the Tibetan debacle. One account speaks of him dying from ill health and injury during this retreat to Bengal.[9] Another account notes that he was assassinated by Ali Mardan Khalji after returning to Devkot in Bengal.[7] Another version of events has him being killed by the rulers of Assam.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Debajyoti Burman (1947). Indo-Muslim Relations: A Study in Historical Background. Jugabani Sahitya Chakra. p. 67.
  2. ^ Khan, Muhammad Mojlum (21 October 2013). The Muslim Heritage of Bengal: The Lives, Thoughts and Achievements of Great Muslim Scholars, Writers and Reformers of Bangladesh and West Bengal. Kube Publishing Ltd. p. 19. ISBN 9781847740625.
  3. ^ Farooqui Salma Ahmed (2011). A Comprehensive History of Medieval India: Twelfth to the Mid-Eighteenth Century. Pearson Education India. p. 53. ISBN 978-81-317-3202-1.
  4. ^ P. K. Mishra (1999). Studies in Hindu and Buddhist Art. Abhinav Publications. p. 101. ISBN 978-81-7017-368-7.
  5. ^ Siddiq, Mohammad Yusuf (2015). Epigraphy and Islamic Culture: Inscriptions of the Early Muslim Rulers of Bengal (1205–1494). Routledge. p. 36. ISBN 9781317587460.
  6. ^ Elverskog, Johan (6 June 2011). Buddhism and Islam on the Silk Road. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 130. ISBN 978-0812205312.
  7. ^ a b Nitish K. Sengupta (1 January 2011). Land of Two Rivers: A History of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib. Penguin Books India. pp. 63–64. ISBN 978-0-14-341678-4.
  8. ^ William John Gill; Henry Yule (9 September 2010). The River of Golden Sand: The Narrative of a Journey Through China and Eastern Tibet to Burmah. Cambridge University Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-108-01953-8.
  9. ^ "Bakhtiyar Khalji - Banglapedia".
  10. ^ Bhattacherje, S. B. (1 May 2009). Encyclopaedia of Indian Events & Dates. Sterling Publishers Pvt. Ltd. pp. A39. ISBN 9788120740747.