read 59 min
Map from Western Tibet and The British Borderland: The Sacred country of Hindus and Buddhists, by CA Sherring, Pub, London, Edward Arnold, 1906

“The Gorkha War, resulting in the acquisition of Kumaon and Garhwal, brought for the first time, British territory into direct contact with that under the sovereignty of the Chinese emperor. As was the case in that portion of Tibet made familiar by the journeys of Bogle and Turner, Western Tibet extended its influence beyond its boundaries. Thus the Western Himalayan hill states possessed old and complex ties with Lhasa. Of the new territories under British control, Kumaon and part of Garhwal were annexed outright, while Tehri-Garhwal and the states around Simla and along the Sutlej valley, later classified as the Simla Hill states, remained under their local chiefs as protected states, of which the most important was Bashahr on the Sutlej, with its capital at Rampur. Beyond the Sutlej and outside British control, though now adjacent to British territory, lay the kingdom of Ladakh with its dependencies of Lahul and Spiti, which bounded the Tibetan border from the Himalayas to the Karakoram and formed a buffer between Lhasa and the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu states of Kashmir and the Punjab.” [From: British India and Tibet 1766-1910, by A Lamb, p. 43] 


On June 11, 2020, Nepal’s prime minister, Mr KP Oli, while addressing the House of Representatives, claimed that, “It was only after India stationed its troops in Kalapani that we could not go to Kalapani, Limpiyadhura, or Lipulekh.” He added that his government would reclaim these areas on the basis of evidence and historical facts. [The Himalayan Times: “PM Oli stirs nationalist sentiments to hide govt failure.”] On June 13, 2020, the House of Representatives unanimously endorsed the constitution amendment bill to pave the way for replacing Nepal’s map in the national emblem with the country’s new political and administrative map that includes Kalapani, Lipu Lekh and Limpiyadhura. Almost immediately, the official spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) was widely quoted as saying: “The artificial enlargement of claims is not based on historical fact or evidence and is not tenable.”

In my article “The Indian check posts, Lipu Lekh and Kalapani,” published in December 2015, I argued that under the terms of the Sugauli Treaty, signed by both parties at the end of the Anglo-Nepal War, 1814-1816, Nepal had strong claims to Kalapani and to shared access to Lipu Lekh, though both claims had been weakened by over 150 years of silence, amounting to acquiescence, by the rulers of Nepal in different incarnations. In contrast to this official silence from Kathmandu, India, from the date of its independence, as the British had done earlier, acted on the basis that the trail to Lipu Lekh fell exclusively within its territory and that control and ownership of the pass was a matter exclusively between it and China. There is ample proof that China accepted this last premise from numerous trade agreements which the two countries signed without consulting Nepal. I listed these in my last article.

I was aware of the existence of the Limpiyadhura dimension from reading Buddhi Narayan Shrestha’s book Border Management of Nepal, published in 2003, but it was not an issue which dominated discussion at the time. The focus then was on Kalapani and Lipu Lekh. In short, Limpiyadhura was not mainstream. How it suddenly emerged to dominate the dispute is not pertinent to this article, but it has prompted me to write this new article. Both PM Oli and the spokesman for India’s MEA claimed that the historical facts were on their side. This article is my attempt to contribute to an understanding of them.  

I was tempted to title this article as Part 2 to my previous one, but since all the issues discussed in it ultimately stem from the outcome of the Anglo-Nepal War, known at the time in British circles as The Gorkha War, I decided that the chosen title was appropriate. The East India Company, the agent of British power in India, saw Gorkha’s rapid expansion, particularly into the areas of Garhwal and Kumaon in the west, as a threat to its own commercial interests. A new Governor General, the Marquis of Hastings, also known as Lord Moira, was quickly convinced that Gorkha needed putting in its place and that place was the hills. The plains were to be exclusively British. This would also have the advantage of permanently weakening Gorkha, by denying it the revenue from the plains that it needed not just for expansion but also to maintain itself in its enlarged size as a unitary state. This intent was embodied in a unilaterally derived Principle of Limitation, which Gorkha was ‘invited’ to accept. It was, in effect, an ultimatum, and its rejection in word and deed inevitably led to war. There was another powerful motive which grew in strength during the period of planning for the war. It is stated clearly in the first sentence of the quotation below the map above. It will be discussed further in the article.

Hostilities commenced in October 1814. Gorkha was defeated and a draft treaty was initialled at Sugauli, Bihar, on September 2, 1815. Among other demands, this required Nepal to give up all territories west and east of its present-day borders. After some initial hesitation to accept the dictated terms, Nepal signed the treaty on March 16, 1816. The issues highlighted in the four parts of this article (The Kalapani checkpost; The Byansi of Kumaon and Nepal; Fixing the line of the frontier; and A missed opportunity to right an historical wrong) are all linked to the western border of Nepal as laid down in the Treaty of Sugauli. 

Part 1: The Kalapani checkpost

For those looking for unanimity of view, the good news is that the industrious effort of one Nepali researcher has yielded new and conclusive information on the provenance and date of when Indian security forces first occupied Kalapani. For many years, received wisdom on this stemmed from Buddhi Narayan Shrestha’s unsourced and much-repeated assertion that it was first occupied by Indian Army soldiers forced to retire from Lipu Lekh after heavy attacks by the Chinese army during the Indo-China War in November 1962. I pointed out that this made no sense in the context of that war. This explanation is still regularly quoted, though less so than in the past. Other explanations have emerged, which could best be described as highly speculative. 

In his book, Buddhi Narayan Shrestha helpfully lists the location of each of the Indian checkposts deployed in Nepal and the passes that they were deployed to cover. Significantly, Lipu Lekh and Kalapani are missing from the list. Shrestha also correctly states that, as agreed with Nepal, each checkpost had a Nepal Army protection party deployed with it. In my earlier article, I quoted from a number of Nepali sources which indicated that Kalapani had been occupied before November 1962 and that the authorities in Kathmandu were made aware of this fact. I also gave a summary of an extract from Sydney Wignall’s book Spy on the Roof of the World, in which he describes how in 1955 he was persuaded to travel into Tibet to spy for the Indians under cover of leading a mountaineering expedition. Before departing from England, he was advised by his Indian handler to return over the Lipu Lekh Pass into India as the Urai Lekh Pass would be difficult after October and the Seti Gorge was far from safe even in summer. He was told, “Whatever happens we will have men stationed on the Indian side of the Lipu Lekh.” He was also told that moves were afoot for India to participate in forming Nepal’s foreign policy and to place Indian Army detachments at key strategic places close to the Nepal-Tibet border. In Delhi, he was told that India was getting intelligence from an agent in Taklakot “who is posing as an Indian trader, and continually crosses and recrosses the Lipu Lekh between India and Tibet.”

This clear indication of an Indian security presence close to Lipu Lekh as early as 1955 echoes the date quoted by an Indian writer in an article in the Institute of Peace and Conflict:  “Official sources in India claim that the administrative and revenue records dating back to 1830s (available with the UP state government), show that Kalapani area has traditionally been administered as part of Pithoragarh district. A State Police post was established by the state government at the now disputed site in 1956 and operated from here till 1979. Since 1979, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have been manning a post for surveillance over the area.”  

His first claim will be examined later, but we now have proof of the accuracy of the second claim through the diligence and resourcefulness of Santosh Khaderi, a Nepali who works in Abu Dhabi. This article in the Nepali Times, dated July 27, 2020, headed, “Adventures of a lone archivist,” alerted me to his sterling work. It tells his remarkable story extremely well. 

These words immediately leapt from the page: “Khaderi has also dug up reports, filed by the Indian military, about patrols to Kalapani in 1959 that prove that the Indian Army already had bases there.”  His excellent article in the Annapurna Post gives details from the file he unearthed, together with images of key pages. 

I am most grateful to Santosh Khaderi for sharing the file with me. The context for the detail in it is well explained in a few pages from a book written by BN Mullik, the all-powerful head of India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) from 1950 to 1964, called My Years with Nehru: The Chinese Betrayal. He makes it clear that the IB had no doubts that China would soon militarily overrun the whole of Tibet and close up to the borders of India. On the deployment of frontier checkposts, he writes that when the scheme for frontier checkposts across India’s northern border had been accepted, he also impressed on the government that no security measures for northern India could be anything near perfect unless the passes between Tibet on one side and Bhutan and Nepal on the other were properly guarded. [p. 123] This was the origin of the proposal to deploy the 18 checkposts in Nepal, as listed by Buddhi Narayan Shrestha. Like him, Mullik says that the proposal to deploy the checkposts was agreed by the Nepal government and that they were to be manned jointly by Indian and Nepali staff. 

What quickly becomes clear from Mullik’s text is that deploying the checkposts across the long and remote areas of India’s northern frontier presented many more difficulties than locating a much smaller number of checkposts in Nepal. For Nepal, a significant factor was that India could use, in the first instance, highly trained soldiers who could operate radios and were used to surviving in remote and exposed locations. This is the prime reason why the checkposts in Nepal were deployed relatively quickly, over the period 1952-54. For the Indian frontier posts, the deployment took much longer as the IB had to work through state police forces whose personnel were untrained for the tasks envisaged.

This extract from Mullik highlights some of these difficulties. It also details the timeframes for the deployments:  [Note: UP, or Uttar Pradesh, is immediately west of Nepal and is the focus for this part of the article.]

“….The checkposts themselves were established one after the other beginning from 1950. As we went into the field, and progressed towards the frontier, we discovered many unguarded passes, routes and tracks. So our commitments went on increasing year after year. The following account would give a fair idea of the increasing workload that we had to undertake during this decade.

In 1949 the IB had no staff on the northern frontier. In 1950, the first post was opened in Leh and the staff consisted of only four. The scheme, which was sanctioned by the government in 1950, consisted of 21 checkposts, excluding the one already established in Ladakh, and these were all set up by the beginning of 1951. Some further increases were made after the receipt of the Himmatsinghji Committee Report, and by the end of 1952, 30 checkposts were in operation in the frontier, of which 7 were in Ladakh, 4 in Punjab-Himachal Pradesh, 6 in UP, 5 in Sikkim and 8 in NEFA. The total staff employed numbered 108, almost entirely drawn from the State Police except in the case of Sikkim where the staff was provided by the IB.  By the end of 1954, whereas the number of checkposts remained practically stationary in other areas, in UP the number went up from 6 to 14. As many deficiencies were made up, the total staff employed increased to 229. 

It was only in 1956 that staff which the IB had commenced recruiting directly from 1951-52 started becoming available, and a bigger change over from the State Police to the IB in the manning of the post started at this time. Whereas by 1958 the IB took over the entire work in Ladakh, Sikkim and in NEFA, it was in no position yet to take over the work in the rest of the frontier till after 1960 and the State Police continued to function in Uttar Pradesh. In fact even after 1964, State Police continued to function in Uttar Pradesh … In 1956, only two posts were added in Himachal Pradesh, otherwise the number remained the same in other places. However the deficiencies were further made up with the availability of IB staff and the total number of those employed rose to 378. In 1958, 14 posts were added in NEFA bringing the total to 22. In other states there was no change. The total staff employed rose to 650. Also, for the first time wireless communication was established for the Sikkim posts; the others were still depending on couriers. 

A large expansion took place after 1959 when the Chinese started showing aggressive intent, and by 1960 the total number of posts had risen to 67 – 9 in Ladakh, 9 in Himachal Pradesh, 17 in UP, 10 in Sikkim and 22 in NEFA, the total staff employed being 1334. Readjustments and further strengthening were taking place all through this troublesome period and by 1962 the number of posts had risen to 77 employing 1590 personnel. Wireless communications are also provided for the posts in Ladakh and a few posts in NEFA. With more staff becoming available and with further threats looming across the frontier, there were further increases in NEFA where by the end of 1964 there were 33 posts, and in Sikkim there were 12 and the total staff employed was 2154. There have been further increases since then but it is unnecessary to go into their details in his book. Also, by the end of 1962, over fifty per cent of the posts had been provided with telecommunications and by the end of 1964 the provision was almost one hundred per cent. Before 1962 the wireless sets were old and breakdowns were frequent. Only when foreign assistance become available after 1962 was it possible to change over to modern sets in the majority of the posts.”  

The focus for this part of the article, Uttar Pradesh, was created on April 1, 1937, as the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, during British rule. It was renamed Uttar Pradesh in 1950, giving it the acronym UP, with Lucknow as its capital. On November 9, 2000, a new state, Uttarakhand, was carved from the state’s Himalayan hill region. From Mullik, we know that seven checkposts were established to cover the passes linking UP to Tibet by 1953, and we know a lot more about the details of checkposts in UP and of the passes that were deployed to cover, from the file unearthed by Khaderi. The two images below highlight the main UP passes mentioned in the file. Both are taken from Alastair Lamb’s book Tibet, China & India 1914 – 1950: A History of Imperial Diplomacy.

The file from the Indian Archives covers the activities of three recently strengthened Border Companies of the State Police deployed in the following sectors of UP to cover the key passes highlighted in the sketch maps above: Uttarkashi Sector (Tehri Garhwal), Joshimath Sector (Pauri Garhwal), and Arkot Sector (Almora).  

The Uttarkashi Sector detachments were based in Pulam Sumda, Nelang, and Harsil. As the sketch map indicates, the border in this area of Sang-Nelang-Pulam Sumda is still the subject of dispute between India and China. 

The Joshimath Sector covered the Johar Valley and the passes in the still-disputed area of Barahoti. The Company Headquarters was at Joshimath, with remote detachments at Timmersain, Sangchmala, Lapthal, and Topidunga. The Niti Pass was on an historic trade route but has remained closed since the 1962 Indo-China War. 

In the Arkot  Sector, the company headquarters was based in Arkot, which is adjacent to the Mahakali River just south of Darchula. A detachment was based in Gunji and a checkpost in Kalapani to cover the Lipu Lekh Pass. Reconnaissance visits to Lipu Lekh are recorded, as is the fact that in 1959, for the first time, the detachment at Gunji and personnel from the Kalapani checkpost spent the winter in Garbyang.

Map from  

Extracts from the file, with an emphasis on the Arkot company activities, are given below for readers to judge for themselves. I have highlighted what I believe to be the key points. In the first quarterly report, in the second paragraph, it states that: “The relief of the company, which had remained for four years on the border, by a trained and properly refitted company , was completed in January 1959.” This is clear evidence that Kalapani was first occupied by India’s State Police in 1955, perhaps even a year earlier, and that this occupation was part of the initial deployment of multiple checkposts across India’s northern frontier. There was never a connection with the Indian checkposts deployed in Nepal, each of which, it is again worth emphasising, had a Nepal Army section deployed with it for protection. The command and control arrangements were also entirely different. Further confirmation of a 1954/55 date is given in the final paragraph of the first quarterly report, which records that: “Two coys had returned to Bn HQ after a protracted stay of four to five years on the border.”

The report on the fourth quarter highlights how the army temporarily took over control of the border to supervise the influx of refugees following the Tibetan uprising and the flight of the Dalai Lama, and the role the State Police companies played in escorting and guarding the refugees and their camps.

Finally, on checkpoints, it is worth referring again to Mullik’s description of how they expanded not just in number but, most notably, in the number of people deployed in each, starting with just four personnel in the mid-1950s. By 1960, based on Mullik’s numbers, the number in each could have risen to between 15 and 20. This raises the question of when India decided to turn the Kalapani checkpost into a mini army camp. We know from Wignall’s book that in 1955 he alerted the Indians to a large Chinese Army presence with a significant headquarters in Taklakot, which is a short distance from Lipu Lekh. At a later stage, perhaps after the end of the Indo-China War, in November 1962, which generated a long freeze in diplomatic relations, India judged that a strong security presence should be built up at Kalapani to balance the Chinese military presence in Taklakot and to also give it an edge in intelligence gathering.

Part 2: The Byansi of Kumaon and Nepal

Background – Gorkhas on Lipu Lekh

All of the above highlight how, after 1947, independent India dominated this area of Uttar Pradesh, as the East India Company and the British Crown had done before. There is no indication of any Nepali presence or influence in any of the events described above or those that follow in this section.

The idea for the heading of this part of the article came from these lines in Alastair Lamb’s monumental book Tibet, China and British India 1914-1950 :

“The final group of passes, of which the Lipu Lekh was the most important, but in which the Dharma Pass may well be included, also saw the trans-border extension of the Tibetan administration in the form of both taxation of the local Bhotias, here often referred to as a Skokas, and interference with British travellers to prevent them from crossing into Tibet. The villain, in British eyes, in this case was the Dzongpon of Taklakot [a far more formidable figure than his opposite number at Daba]. His activities on what might be considered the British side of the border were commented upon by Major-General G.L. Channer, commander of the Rohilkhand Division, in 1894, after he had visited this tract in search of Ovis ammon. [Note: Argali, the largest of the world’s sheep]. The result of such a high military opinion was the temporary posting of a Gurkha detachment just south of the Lipu Lekh Pass [evidently with the active cooperation of the Deputy Commissioner, Almora T.U. Stuart.] In 1897 the traveller A.H. Savage Lander, whose experiences of Tibetan justice were far from happy, reported that the Taklakot Dzongpon was still taxing the Bhotiya on the southern [Indian] side of both the Dharma and Lipu Lekh passes.”[p. 380]

The reference for this information is given as The Northern Frontier of India. Central and Western Sectors, by SC Bajpai [pp. 29-30]. Consulting it revealed that in 1888, the Tibetans had established a small custom post near the Niti Pass, at Barahoti, in Garhwal. The initial British inclination was to let it stand, but the Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne, thought otherwise, so Lord Roberts, the Commander-in-Chief, was asked to take the action necessary to get the Tibetans to leave the territory. The first and third Gorkha battalions, under Major C Pulley, were immediately sent to the area and when this force approached Barahoti, the Tibetans ran away.

The situation in Kumaon at the time is described as follows:

“During the same time as that made at Barahoti, Tibetans made encroachments in Kumaon. The Tibetan officer [Jongpen] was in the habit of stopping travellers and sending down his men into British territory. People from Taklakot were regularly using roads in British territory whereas British European subjects were subject to harsh treatment. Wood and fuel was freely taken out of British territory. The Rest Houses and Dharmasalas were smashed by the Tibetans. There was no British agent at Garbhyang to listen to the disputes or to supervise the area. Major-General G.L. Channar, Commander, Rohilkhand Division, who had been to Mansarowar Lake in 1894 brought the matter to the notice of the government.  He suggested the appointment of a native Mukhtiar (Agent) at Garbhyang for forwarding complaints regarding disputes and the destruction of property. Channer asked the Government that the Jongpen should be informed that as the Tibetans freely used the roads in British territory, Englishmen should also be allowed access to the lake and Kailash for sports. He demanded the deputation of a party of Gorkha rifles under a British officer to Darchula. It was with great difficulty that T.U. Stuart, the deputy commissioner of Almorah, could meet him and impress upon him the wrongs done by the people of the area. He succeeded in bringing him round to his viewpoint. At the same time, Lieutenant  E.E. Bliss was asked to move to Darchula with a detachment of 1st and 3rd Gorkha Rifles. The administration of the area was reorganised and tightened. Khadg Bahadur Pal and Parmanand were appointed as Mukhtiyar and Peskar with certain powers at Garbhyang and Pithoragarh.” [pp. 29-30]

A clear explanation for these events is given in Christoph Bergman’s article “Confluent territories and overlapping sovereignties: Britain’s nineteenth century Indian empire in the Kumaon Himalaya.”

When Britain annexed the province of Kumaon at the end of the Anglo-Nepal War, it was given the legal status of a Non-Regulation Province. To quote Bergmann, “In some places, in order to effectively deal with changing local contexts, the colonial government suspended the full application of imperial law, complex bureaucratic procedures and separation of powers. Non-Regulation provinces such as Kumaon were ministered not by the rule of law but rather by ‘discretion or executive interposition’. In practical terms this meant that the commissioners of such provinces were much more powerful than their counterparts in the regulated areas.”

These looser arrangements were particularly suited to the conditions of life and trade in the high Himalayan valleys of Kumaon and elsewhere which were inhabited by trans-Himalayan traders who traditionally paid taxes on land to Tibetan authorities, in addition to the taxes they paid for being allowed to trade in Tibet. Bergmann explains that the British tolerated such practices for some time so as not to disrupt commerce across the high mountain passes.

The British referred to the trans-Himalayan traders as “Bhotiyas”, a term that was later applied to a great variety of groups. In Kumaon today, there are four such Bhotiya groups who live in the four high valleys of Johar, Darma, Chaudans, and Byans. Each speak their own distinctive language, and the last three named above collectively identify themselves as “Rang.” For reasons which will be explained later, since the end of the Anglo-Nepal War, in 1817, two of the Byansi villages, Changru and Tinkar, have been in Nepal, although their links with the Byansi villages in India have always remained extremely strong.

Lipu Lekh falls in the territory of the Byansi, and Major General Channer personally witnessed, while trekking through their territory on his way to crossing Lipu Lekh into Tibet, what he considered to be the indignity of British subjects paying taxes on British land to a foreign power. He took grave exception to it and accused the Byansi of undermining the British empire’s territorial sovereignty in Kumaon. They were also accused of conspiring to oppose British plans for bringing the trans-Himalayan trade under the full control of the empire. As so often happens, holding forth about a problem is easy – doing something about it proved to be extremely problematic.

A long series of moves and countermoves ensued between the British on the one hand and the traders and Tibetan officials on the other. At one stage, the British put forward what they thought was a reasonable compromise, which involved a ban on the collection of any foreign dues within British territory but allowed the Bhotiyas to pay whatever they liked in Tibet itself. Since the Tibetans could still elicit any foregone tax on their side of the border, the continuity of commerce was considered highly likely. What happened next is best understood by quoting from Bergmann’s text:

“Only a few weeks after this order had been issued, the Tibetan authorities closed the Lipu Lekh without further ado and pushed trade via a neighbouring pass in far western Nepal. [Presumably the Tinkar Pass]. The peshkar [A local official with judicial power appointed by the British] reported that neither the jongpen [The senior Tibetan official in an area] nor the Bhotiyas were reconciled with the idea of resolving tax related activities solely in Tibet ….

.… The jongpen therefore simply encouraged the Bhotiyas to pay their dues in neighbouring settlements in Nepal or at largely uncontrolled high pastures and in camping grounds in their own valleys. Traders welcomed these opportunities since it allowed them to continue visiting the trade marts on the Tibetan plateau. Moreover Tibetan officials informed the peskhar that those traders who did not pay their dues would later have to pay two or three times as much .… The Lieutenant Governor of the North Western Provinces rejected the use of military force and instead put forward another proposal with which both the Tibetan authorities and the Bhotiyas were happy to comply. This provided for the maintenance of the old Tibetan system, the collection of dues on British territory, with the exception of it being officially redefined as not including land revenue and as supervised by the political peskhar. Subsequently trade not only resumed but also flourished as demonstrated by a near doubling of imported wool between 1897 and 1900.”

Thus were the senior officials of a great imperial power made to bend to the will of Tibetan officials and Bhotiya traders.

Given the focus of this article, it is worth repeating again that as the section on the Kalapani checkpoint showed that this area of UP was dominated by independent India, the above section shows the same degree of previous domination by the East India Company, and later, the British Crown, with no indication of any Nepali presence or influence.

Highlighted are three villages lying north of the river which flows down from Limpiyadhura in the area now claimed by Nepal. [Map from:]
The separation of the Byansi

The previous section gives pertinent background on the focus of this article, as three of the Byansi villages, Gunji, Kuti, and Nabi, are located in the territory newly claimed by Nepal.   Indeed, the mid-19th century forbears of the residents of the three villages were almost certainly among the people who so gravely offended Major General Channer and worked with their Tibetan contacts to thwart British plans for greater control of their dealings with the Tibetans. Nepal is claiming these villages by virtue of them lying north of the river which runs down from Limpiyadhura. Nepal argues that the Sugauli Treaty fixed this river as the new frontier between the East India Company and Nepal. As will be seen later, there is strong contemporaneous evidence that the East India Company, the victorious party to the conflict, and the party that drafted the Sugauli Treaty, and dictated its terms, decreed that the river which flows down from Lipu Lekh was to be the frontier, and that Nepal accepted this.

Part of Survey of India map issued in 1850 showing in red the international boundary decreed by the Sugauli Treaty

In circumstances which will be analysed later, this boundary resulted in two of the Byansi villages of Changru and Tinkar [bottom centre] being cut off from the rest of the community, by an international border. Before the Gorkha conquest of Kumaon in 1791, the area around Changru and Tinkar was considered an integral part of Kumaon, distinct from the kingdoms of Doti and Jumla.

RS Tolia’s book British Kumaon – Garhwal, An Administrative History of a Non-Regulation Hill Province is littered with references to contemporaneous letters and documents from the Uttar Pradesh State Archives in Lucknow. When the zamindars of Byanse were informed of the decision to separate Changru and Tinkar from the rest of the Byansi villages, Tolia records that, “the zamindars pleaded, through a petition, that the remaining six villages, viz., Budhi, Garbyang, Nabi, Rongkali, Gunji and Kuti were entirely dependent on the agricultural production of these two villages and they would be forced to desert these villages in the event of their transfer. They even suggested that they would be forced to divert their entire trade to the Doti marts in Nepal.” [p. 81] This is an accurate summary of an English translation of a  letter dated March 8, 1817, which the zamindars of Pergunnah Byas sent to GW Trail. It is very clear from the letter that the inhabitants of the six named Byanse villages relied almost entirely on the produce of the land on the Changru and Tinkar side of the river. Further research indicates that the land referred to was owned by the residents of the six villages listed. These shorts extracts from an article, published in 1976, “The Byanshis : An ethnographic note on a trading group in Far Western Nepal,” by Manzando, Dhal, and Raj, highlight some of the complexities of owning land and property in this area.

“On crossing the Mahakali at Sitapul one follows the Nampa (Tinkar) river (10,000 feet) to the northeast. On the northern terraces above the Nampa river, at an altitude of 11,000 feet lies the village of Chhangru. Above Chhangru are the two villages of Tallo Kangwa and Mallo Kangwa. These two villages contain the goths of Gunjyal and Garbyang peoples,who live in India but own land in Nepal.” [p. 85]

“Traditionally there were five mukhiyas, one from each of five Byanshi villages in Nepal and India. Superficially, there is some resemblance between the five mukhiya system of Byans and 13 mukhiya system in Thak Kho1a (see Manzardo and Sharma: 1975), with one major difference. All the land of the Byanshi, whether it be in the present Byans panchayat, in Darchu1a-Kha1anga or in India was registered in the name of these five mukhiyas. Land revenue was paid by these mukhiyas, to the government in Tibet until about 1955, when Nepal and Tibet signed a new treaty. Traditionally, the Tibetan tax collector (thalmochi: Tib.) would be met at Tinkar pass by representatives of the mukhiyas. He would be escorted down into Byans to collect about seven thousand rupees I.C. Since the Tibetan government would not accept Indian currency, it was necessary to pay revenue in goods. The five mukhiyas acted as representatives of the group as a whole in dealing with outsiders.” [p. 97]

The second extract has a reference to this footnote:

“There is some dispute about to whom the revenue was paid. According to one informant, there exists a sanad, ‘written by the British government of India, the Tibetan government and Sri 3 ko Sarkar (Rana government) of Nepal, which gave the revenue of the five Byanshi villages (both in India and Nepal), to the Nepalese government. As stated above  much of the land of Byanshi villages located in India is on Nepalese soil, hence even though the Byanshis of these villages were Indian nationals, they were still obligated to pay Nepalese land tax. This sanad is dated 1961 B.S. (1904 A.D.). As yet we have not been able to find this document.” [My highlights]

The research by Manzando, Dhal, and Raj was carried out in Nepal. To produce her aptly named book Living on the move: Bhotiyas of the Kumaon Himalaya, Vineeta Hoon did her field work among the Byansi in India in 1985/86.  She produced this table to show the wide extent of the property they owned in Nepal. [p. 221] The table was headed, “List of summer and winter residences of the Bhotiyas.”

All of this tends to lend a measure of credence to what is claimed in this article from The Economic Times. To quote a few key extracts for ease of reference:

“Kalapani and Lipulekh in Uttarakhand shown as Nepalese territory in a new map adopted by the neighbouring country figure in land records as part of villages on the Indian side of the border, officials here said. All the land in Lipulekh, Kalapani and Nabhidhang on the border traditionally belongs to the residents of Garbiyang and Gunji villages of Dharchula sub-division in Pithoragarh district, Dharchula sub-divisional magistrate A. K. Shukla said, citing records.

“While over 190 acres of land in Kalapani and Nabhidhang are registered in the names of villagers of Garbiyang, the land at Lipulekh pass is mentioned in the land records as common land of Gunji villagers in the same sub-division,” the SDM said ….

…. villagers of Garbiyang said their ancestors used to cultivate the land in Kalapani before the Indo-China war in 1962. The cultivation stopped when border trade with China through Lipulekh pass ended following the conflict, they said.

“We used to grow local cereals palthi and phaphar on our land in Kalapani and Nabhidhang before 1962,” said Krishna Garbiyal, a Garbiyang village resident and president of Rang Kalyan Sanstha, a tribal cultural organisation based in Dharchula sub-division.”

So far, we have been dealing with India-resident Byansis paying rent for property and land they owned in Nepal. Paying rent for land and property owned in Kumaon is a different story.  The East India Company was a commercial organisation and its top priority was to pay a dividend to those who had invested in it. Often it failed to do this as a result of heavy losses incurred and the resultant debt. The cost of the Gorkha War greatly exceeded estimates. “It had cost more than the combined cost of the campaigns against the Marathas and Pindaris for which Lord Moira’s administration is renowned, Sicca Rs, 51, 56,691 as against Sicca Rs, 37,53,789.” [Britain and Chinese Central Asia, The Road to Lhasa 1767-1905, by A Lamb, p. 52]

It is no surprise, therefore, to find that, even before launching the military operation to annex Kumaon, detailed assessments were being made on the immediate remunerations which could be expected by using the personnel the Gorkhalis had employed to carry out the rent-collecting job on behalf of the Company: “Mr Gardner [the political agent for Kumaon] has furnished a statement of the revenues derived from the province by the Goorkas; but he is of the opinion that a considerable increase may be expected, the Goorka Government having kept down the demand of actual rent in consideration of other exactions with which it saddled the inhabitants but will not be continued by us. In the meantime he has necessarily for the current year taken those statements as correct and has suffered the system which he found in force to continue for the present.”  [The “Nepaul War Papers”, Para 319 on Page 761 of Lord Moira’s letter to the Secret Committee of the East India Company, dated 2 Aug 1815. See later for a full reference to the “Nepaul War Papers.”]

There is one outstanding example of the success of this policy. In a letter from the Government of India dated September 5, 1817, to be discussed shortly, GW Traill, the Commissioner of Kumaon, is ordered to pay Bam Shah, the Governor of Dotee, Rs. 140/13. This was the rent collected for 1816 from the villages of Changru and Tinkar, which initially were part of the annexation but were subsequently handed back to Nepal.

We can be sure that if remote Changru and Tinkar were paying rent as early as 1816, there would have been no escape for any of the other Byansi villages. The East India Company excelled in bureaucracy, as did its successor, the Government of India. I am certain that the Uttar Pradesh State Archives in Lucknow have records weighing many hundredweight to prove that there was never any let up for any village in Kumaon from paying what those in authority considered they were owed for services rendered. Some examples of the thoroughness of all this can be gauged from scanning the 928 pages of the Report on the Revision of Settlement in the Kumaon District Beckett 1863-1873.

As can be seen, there was no distinction made between Kuti, Nabi, and Gunji and the other villages in Byans Putee of Darma Pergunnah.

In the early 1960s, trans-Himalayan trade across the passes between India and Tibet came to an abrupt halt. First, there was the closure of the passes into Tibet for Indian traders in 1960, which ended the Sino-Indian agreement of 1954, which had restricted trade to six passes. This was followed by the Indo-China War of November 1962. The passes remained closed for the next 30 years, until India and China signed a ‘Protocol of Entry and Exit Procedure’ for border trade in July 1992 to resume trade, but this was limited to the Shipki Pass and Lipu Lekh, and a highly restricted number of specific items. The Nathu La was added later. China did not consult Nepal on any of the trade agreements reached, despite Lipu Lekh featuring in all of them.

This closure of the border had devastating consequences for the lives and well-being of those communities involved in trans-Himalayan trade in India and to some extent in Nepal. A culture and way of life developed over thousands of years suddenly hit a barrier, and border communities were confronted with entirely new and difficult options. The changes were a little slower to impact the Byansi, as the strong social links they enjoyed with their Nepali counterparts enabled them to maintain trade links to Tibet over the Tinkar Pass in Nepal, but the costs were higher, and the list of what could be “traded” became increasingly restricted.

However, for those in Uttar Pradesh designated as “Bhotiya”, one very positive gain emerged to ease the pain. This was the granting in 1967 of the constitutional status of Scheduled Tribe (ST) to a number of communities of the region, which included all the Bhotiya groups from the district. This led directly to new opportunities for education and jobs. Some measure of the success of this programme can be seen in this article, dated June 12, 2020, from the Times of India, with a headline that caught the eye: “Villages that Nepal is claiming are home to a string of IAS, IPS and state bureaucrats.” [Note: IAS is Indian Administrative Service, IPS is Indian Police Service, PPS is Principal Private Secretary, and PCS is Provincial Civil Service]

These extracts give an indication of the details in the article:

“Recently the Nepalese cabinet endorsed a new political map showing Lipulekh, Kalapani and Limpiyadhura areas of Uttarakhand as part of its territory. According to the map, three villages of Gunji, Kuti and Nabi in Uttarakhand are shown as “integral parts of Nepal.” In Uttarakhand, though, these very villages are renowned for the string of bureaucrats they have produced.

The three villages , with a collective population of just over 3000, have produced about half a dozen IPS and IAS officers and as many PPS and PCS officers. These include Sanjay Gunjal. a 1997 batch IPS officer who is presently IG Kumbh Mela. Besides, IAS officers Vinod Gunjal, who is posted in Bihar, and 2011-batch IPS officer, Hemant Kutiyal, posted in Uttar Pradesh, also belongs to this region….

….Speaking to TOI about the area’s significance, Sanjay Gunjya said, “Gunji is a prominent village and people from Tibet have historically been coming to buy products in the mandi here. Gunji is the last village on Kailash Mansarovar yatra route and people of this village are totally devoted to the country. SSB and ITBP have company headquarters at Gunji and an army establishment is also there.”

Retired IAS officer, D S Ghabriyal who is from Pithoragarh’s Garbhyang village, added, “The entire belt comprising villages like Napalchu, Garbhyang, Nabi, Kuti and Gunji have given a number of IAS, IPS and IFS officers to the country. The belt is known for high educational standards.” He added that “the issue of any border dispute never arose in the last 30 or 40 years and it is highly unfortunate and misleading that Nepal is now showing these villages as its territory.””

Katsuo Nawa, of the Department of Anthropology, University of Tokyo, did field work in Darchula district for about 14 months in 1993-1995. To illustrate the complexity of cross-border interaction, it is appropriate to close this section on “The Byansi of Kumaon and Nepal” with these words from the conclusion of his article, “Ethnic Categories and International Border: The case of Byans, Far Western Nepal”:

“Lastly, I would like to point out that many attempts have been made to utilize the border on individual basis. For example, whether one’s citizenship is Nepalese or Indian, whether his natal village is in Nepal or in India, and whether his house is in Nepal or in India do not necessarily coincide with each other. This partly reflects the fact mentioned above that the border had traditionally hardly any meaning to Rangs, but certainly the choices of citizenship and residence were due partly to individual decision. In one extreme case, one Rang who was an Indian civil servant was born in a Nepalese village. He has his own house in his natal village, and indeed he is a supervisor of traditional rituals and ceremonies in the village. Two of his sons are also Indian civil servants, while another son was trying to enlist in the Nepalese army when I left Darchula. Furthermore, the man uses two surnames, one is officially recorded in India, and the other is his clan name which indicates that his natal village is in Nepal. Two of his sons who are working in India use the first surname officially, while the other son uses the second. This case shows that some Rangs are ready to utilize opportunities provided by the states on both sides of the border, sometimes simultaneously.” [This last sentence has a footnote which says: “This is not the new phenomenon. The most famous example in early twentieth century was Gobriya Pandit, a very rich trader of Garbyang in Indian Byans, who had connections to both Nepalese and Indian government.”]

[Reference: J. Indian Anthrop. Soc. 33: 65-75 (1998)]

In conclusion, for this part of the article, a key element of the Nepali claim to the Limpiyadhura area is that until 1962, the Nepal government conducted census, collected land revenue, and issued land-registration certificates in the area of these three villages, and that they have records to prove this. I am in no position to assess the strength and validity of Nepal’s documentation, but my reading has convinced me that India will have voluminous land records to prove continuous state administration of the Limpiyadhura area, dating back to the days of the East India Company. I feel I can also reasonably register a high degree of scepticism about Nepali officials conducting the 1962 Nepal census in Gunji, Kuti, and Nabi, given that India had a large detachment of State Police in Gunji, dating back to 1954, and that  this village controlled access to the other two villages. Given the high degree of security sensitivity in the border area at this time, I cannot see how any Nepali official would have been allowed anywhere near the area, especially to carry out the business of the government of Nepal. Of course, it is possible that people from Indian villages got involved with the census while they were working or living on the Nepal side, given that they owned land and buildings there, and paid tax on them, but that itself would not establish Gunji, Kuti, and Nabi as parts of Nepal. My final point on this relates to the census being conducted in July. At that time, most people from the Byansi villages would either be residing high in their summer homes, supervising their yaks, grazing, and breeding in the high pastures, or be on long trading trips to Tibet, using at that time the Tinkar Pass in Nepal, since Lipu Lekh was closed from 1960.

Part 3: Fixing the frontier


King Mohan Chand of Kumaon had signed a treaty with Kathmandu in 1787, according to which, “the friend of Gorkha is our friend, and the enemy of Gorkha is our enemy; both sides will work in the interests of each other.” In early 1791, in clear breach of the treaty signed four years earlier, the Gorkhalis crossed the Mahakali River and occupied Kumaon within less than two months. The invasion of Garhwal followed almost immediately and was equally successful. John Pemble’s book Britain’s Gurkha War: The Invasion of Nepal, 1814-16 is a well-written and well-researched comprehensive history of the conflict. I wrote a review of it for the May 2009 issue of Himal South Asian, under the title of “Ochterloney’s Men”.

The Marquis of Hastings, the Governor General at the time, was known as Lord Moira until the end of the Gorkha War, and it might be helpful to explain this. Frances Rawdon-Hastings was born in Dublin on December 9, 1794, but was brought up on the large family estate in Moira, a small town in the historic County of Down. He was educated at Harrow school in England and matriculated at University College in the University of Oxford but “dropped out.” He joined the army in August 1771 and subsequently fought with distinction in some of the key battles of the American War of Independence and in the French Revolutionary Wars.  On his father’s death in June 1793, he succeeded him as the Earl of Moira. He arrived in India as Governor General on October 4, 1812.  On February 13, 1817, in recognition of his leadership in bringing the Gorkha War to a successful conclusion, he was raised to a higher rank in the peerage by being made the Marquis of Hastings, subordinating the Moira title.

The Governor General was answerable personally to the Court of Directors of the East India Company in London, so it is not surprising that he took the closest possible interest in every aspect of the war. He personally drew up the invasion plan, and was confident that it would lead to a quick, perhaps even bloodless, victory. The two main objectives – Kathmandu and the army of Amar Singh Thapa in the far west – were each to be attacked with two cooperating columns of troops. Some of Hastings’s confidence was based on a firm but mistaken belief that it would be easier to attack a mountainous country than to defend it. He also underestimated the fighting capability of the enemy and overestimated the military prowess of his own forces, in particular, the competence of most of his senior commanders, the majority of whom were elderly ditherers and vacillators of a high order.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the war, which began in October 1814, started badly for the Company’s forces. Only Colonel David Ochterlony, the commander of the westernmost column, in Garhwal, showed the acumen and patience to work out what was required: tactics adjusted to the terrain and full exploitation of his powerful artillery. His competent  generalship led to the surrender of Amar Singh Thapa and his much-depleted army at the Malaun fortress on 15 May 1815, thus effectively ending the war.

Water colour of Almora, by Hyder Young Hearsey, dated 1815. Hearsay was a well-known Himalayan adventurer who took part in the Gorkha War. He was wounded, captured, and imprisoned in Almora until its surrender at the end of April. Photo: The British Library. [You can read more about the painting and Hearsay at this link.]
The campaign to occupy and annex Kumaon

Moira’s original strategy included an attack on Kumaon at the outset of the war. This was not acted on, as setbacks in Garhwal required more and more East India company soldiers to be diverted there. Gorkha also had to keep reinforcing its forces in Garhwal, so it was thought, at one stage, that Kumaon could be taken by a force made up mainly of irregular levies. This was quickly identified as too risky. Hastings took a particular interest in the appointment of the Political Agent for Kumaon. He rejected one candidate, judging it “advisable that the conduct of this important branch of our measures should be vested in an individual of more approved talents, judgement and political experience.” [Pemble, p. 290]. The man he selected for the post was the Honourable Edward Gardner. He worked as an Assistant at the Delhi Residency and was a close friend of John Adam, who occupied the powerful position of Political Secretary of the Government of India. He had a flair for oriental languages and had qualified with distinction in Persian and Hindustani in Company College at Fortwilliam in Calcutta in 1792.

Another key figure was Lieutenant-Colonel William Gardner, Edward Gardner’s cousin, an experienced soldier who was a notably effective commander in Kumaon. The two cousins persuaded John Adams of the importance of early military action in order “to satisfy the expectations of military assistance which had been aroused among the recalcitrant inhabitants of Kumaon.” [Pemble, p. 291] The eventual commander of the Company’s forces in Kumaon was Colonel Jasper Nicolls, a King’s officer. This meant he held the King’s Commission which made him senior to every officer in the armed forces of the East India Company, irrespective of rank. He had retired but Moira persuaded him to return to active service.

The final major personality who features in this story is the surveyor, Captain William Webb, who was summoned to Kumaon in 1815. He already had some experience of the area. As a Lieutenant in 1808, he had accompanied FV Raper and Hyder Hearsay on an expedition to discover the sources of the Ganges. With the permission of the Nepal Raja, they entered the area they wanted to survey through Garhwal and exited through Kumaon. In the early part of the trip they met Hastidhal, brother of the Governor, and on the return journey, close to Almora, they met Bam Sah.

After much discussion, it was decided in December 1814, that an attempt should be made to wrest Kumaon from the Nepalis, and Lord Moira formally declared his determination, should the projected operation prove successful, to permanently annex the province to the British dominions. Operations commenced in early 1815 but did not last long. The Gorkhalis fought bravely but were badly outnumbered. They were also burdened by the severe handicap described in this extract from Atkinson:

“By the time that Lieutenant-Colonel Gardner was fairly established in the hills the greater part of the natives of Kumaon in the service of Nepal had deserted and this loss was quite impossible to supply by new levies. The greatest source of weakness to the Gorkhali cause was the universal disaffection of the people of the country. Nothing could exceed the hatred which the tyranny and exactions of twenty five years past had created, and no sooner had  British forces entered the hills than the inhabitants began to join our camp and bring in supplies of provisions for the troops. The same causes made it easy for us to obtain information regarding every movement of the enemy and give us every facility for obtaining a knowledge of the localities of this country – a knowledge which in mountain warfare such as this, and in the absence of all trustworthy maps, was almost essential to success.” [Himalayan Gazetteer, Vol II Part II, Atkinson, p. 654]

Immediately after the fall of Almora on April 26, 1815, Bam Shah, the Gorkhali Governor of Kumaon, sent a letter requesting a suspension of hostilities and offering “to treat for the evacuation of the province” on the basis of terms offered several weeks previously by Edward Gardner. Pemble characterises his mood as having, “neither enthusiasm nor energy for further defiance. He [Bam Shah] had never understood the expediency of the war; and now that his troops were hungry, unpaid and increasingly disgruntled, he saw no merit in prolonging it by futile self-immolation. Having made as honourable resistance as his means permitted, he resolved in consultation with the chief officers, that it was his duty to end the contest on the most favourable terms that he could get.” [Pemble, p. 306]

Atkinson records what followed:

“Lieutenant Colonel Gardner was deputed to hold a personal conference with Bam Sah, and on the following day the negotiations were brought to a close by the conclusion of a convention under which the Gorkhalis agreed to evacuate the province and all its fortified places. It was stipulated that they should be allowed to retire across the Kali with the guns, arms, military stores, and private property, the British providing them with the necessary supplies and carriage. The convention for the evacuation and surrender of Kumaon was signed at Almora on the 27th April, 1815 by the Hon’ble E. Gardner, Bam Sah, Chamu Bhandari and Jamadan Thapa.” [Atkinson, p. 664]

As soon as he heard Almora had been occupied, Lord Moira confirmed Edward Gardner to be Commissioner for the affairs of Kumaon, and Agent of the Governor General in the province. In July 1815, Moira personally selected a brilliant young man, not yet 20 years old, G.W. Traill, to be Assistant Commissioner. Moira had spotted his potential when Traill was in his first in-country assignment as Assistant Magistrate at Farrukhabad. In April 1816, when Gardner moved on to become the Company’s Resident in Kathmandu, Traill stepped into his job and did it for the next 20 years in a way that had a lasting and positive impact on the way the province was governed and on the lives of its people.

[Full details of the conquest of Kumaon are given in chapter 10 of Pemble’s book and in pages 646 to 670 in Atkinson, Vol II Part II.]

Nanda Devi massif from the ridge from above the town of Almora. Photo: Mark Gordon Jones

I have been greatly helped by reading his PhD thesis, “Custom, Law and John Company in Kumaon.” I have also been greatly helped by the invaluable resource that is

Lipu Lekh was not an afterthought

In early December 1814, Lord Moira with his entourage, which included John Adam, arrived at Moradabad while on an inspection tour of troops in the upper provinces. On November 6, he records in his personal journal [pp. 222 and 223] that he heard, “the painful news that  Major General Gillespie had been killed in an unsuccessful assault of the fortress of Kalunga. That he should have made so rash an attack is astonishing.” The war at this stage was not going well, but Moira’s entry on page 251 of his journal for December 8 expresses confidence in the outcome and speculates on a great prize to be won:

Moira contemplating trade with Tartary

[The extract is from page 251 of The Marchioness of Bute’s  The Private Journal of the Marquis of Hastings, Volume One, London, 1858.  The Marchioness was Hastings’s daughter, Sophia. The journal can be read at this link. There are some interesting entries.]

In themselves, these words from Moira point to the truth of what is asserted in the heading of this section of the article. Far from Lipu Lekh being an afterthought, it was a key driver for the whole war plan. It was my failure to recognise the pre-eminence of this objective which led me into the error of asserting in my last article that the East India Company kept changing the designation of the Kali River up until they showed it, in a map dated 1850, as the line of the river flowing down from Lipu Lekh. I was wrong. I am wiser now through a close study of the 990 pages of  Papers Respecting the Nepaul War from the General List of Papers Regarding the Administration of the Hastings. It is my primary source for most of what is written in this part of the article. The extracts quoted highlight that Moira and his subordinates were determined to ensure that his ‘speculation’ became reality. The papers are available to download free in any format at this link.

The first extract brings together what Moira considered to be the two prime objectives of the war: getting a tight, secure, and easily defensible border against future attacks from Gorkha, and gaining unrestricted access to Lipu Lekh so that the Company could enjoy the great rewards envisaged from trade into Tartary.

[‘Tartary’ was a historical region in Asia located between the Caspian Sea-Ural Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. It was also a blanket term used by Europeans for the areas of Central Asia, North Asia, and East Asia unknown to European geography. In the “ Nepaul War Papers”, the term mostly used is Chinese Tartary. It might also help if I clarify how one river is given three names in the papers. In Nepal, the Mahakali River is known in its upper reaches as the Kali and in its lower reaches, as it draws near to the plains, as the Sara or Sharda. The river is one of the tributaries of the Gogra, and this name is also used.]

Secret Letter from Lord Moira to the Honourable the Secret Committee of Directors of the East Indian Company [EIC], dated May 11, 1815.

 “1 The evacuation of the forts ceded to us by the convention of Almorah, authorises me to consider the conquest achieved by the energy and judgement of Colonel Nicolls as complete, and I thence indulge myself in congratulating you on the acquisition of the province of Kamaon ….

3 To deprive an enemy so daring, so ambitious, and so insidious as the Goorkas, of a territory affording them resources peculiarly important, would be a point of such evident interest, as must alone render the retention of this province a paramount object. But it has more direct and positive advantages. It will yield immediately a considerable revenue; while the position which it gives us on the flank of the Goorka state, [rendering nugatory all their boasted confidence in the difficulty of the passes through the mountains from the plain] will be the best security against a renewal of aggressions upon our Government. Let not this be thought an unimportant object. The wounds given to their extravagant pride will leave the Goorkas, whensoever peace can be effected, full of bitterness towards us. It is thence well they should be sensible but they cannot, by any assiduity, in fortifying their passes enable themselves to carry on a harassing interminable war of sudden inroads….

….Even this, perhaps, is little, when put in the balance against a benefit which we now only know to be great, without being able to measure its magnitude. The gap through the vast Himmaleh mountains at the northern point of Kamaon afford, as we have ascertained, not only a practicable, but a commodious road into Tartary. What extent of trade may be carried on through this passage may now be a matter of loose speculation; probably it will be very considerable.” [“Nepaul War Papers”, pp. 550 and 551]

It is worth drawing attention to the last few words in the first paragraph of the extract: “the acquisition of the province of Kamaon.” This is a phrase that is endlessly repeated in the “Nepaul Papers.” It is never qualified. As stated earlier, before the Gorkha conquest of Kumaon in 1791, the area around Changru and Tinkar was considered as an integral part of Kumaon, distinct from the kingdoms of Doti and Jumla. The returns of the rent collected for 1816 from the villages of Changru and Tinkar show that the Company had initially occupied this area at an early stage, as part of their aim to remove all Gorkha troops from ‘the province of Kumaon’, a province which, as an outcome of the war, was annexed to the East India Company in its totality.

The following extract again highlights the high priority given to the Tibet trade.

Secret Letter from Lord Moira to the Secret Committee, dated 20 July 1815


….4th The province of Kamaon is intrinsically a valuable possession, from its revenue, its mines, and its timber.  The command which it is almost certain to give of the exclusive shawl-wool trade may be regarded with much satisfaction. The ready communication which it furnishes with Tartary, offers a market for British manufacturers to an undefinable extent; and the facilities which it would give, if necessary, for correspondence with the court of Pekin, is deemed by the committee at Canton as the happiest check on dispositions of the Viceroy of Canton.” [p. 673, “Nepaul War Papers”]

The reason the Treaty of Sugauli had no map attached

 Letter from John Adam, Secretary to the Government to Edward Gardner, Commissioner of Kumaon, dated May 3, 1815.

 “2 The terms of the convention concluded with Bum Sah and the other Goorka chiefs by which they engage to evacuate Kamaon and all the fortified places as a condition of been allowed to retire unmolested across the Sarda are highly approved by the Governor-General….

7   As soon as the Goorka troops shall have withdrawn from Kamaon and the passage of the Sarda be secured, your attention will be directed to the introduction and establishment of the authority of the Government throughout the province. On this subject, no instructions are deemed to be necessary, beyond which you have already been furnished; except in as much as refers to the boundary which should be assigned to the province. All the Maps in possession of this government are so incorrect, that no satisfactory judgement can be framed from them with regard to what the interests of the Company may require in that respect. To the eastward, the Sarda appears to present a natural limit. Still the important object of securing the trade with Tartary through the Himmaleh mountains against the interference of the Goorkhas might not be attained by fixing that river as the boundary; you are therefore requested to satisfy yourself on this point: and should it appear that a frontier beyond the Sarda, in the part where it approaches the mountains, will be required for the purpose above-mentioned, the extent of it must be defined, so as that the cession of that tract must be made a stipulation in any negotiation with the Goorkha government.”[My highlights. “Nepaul War Papers”, p. 571].

[Cession: “the formal giving up of rights, property, or territory by a state.”]

In the context of this article, it is hard to overemphasise the significance of what is said in the above extract. The issue is how the Company can guarantee that its trade with Tibet will be free of interference by the Gorkhas. Adam is concerned that a boundary following the line of the Sarda will fail to do this. His problem is that all the maps in possession of the government are so incorrect, that he cannot give clear orders to Gardner on what boundary would achieve this. [As indicated earlier, it is around this time that the Surveyor, W.S. Webb, was dispatched to Kumaon.] Gardner is therefore given the authority, if required, to move the boundary as far east as necessary to achieve what was required, and to adjust the Treaty terms accordingly. In the event, at some later stage, Gardner clearly judged that the line of the Sarda would deliver the boundary to allow trade with Tibet over Lipu Lekh free from Gorkha interference, as Adam had demanded, and that there was no need to exercise the authority given to him.  

[It is another story, to be examined later, that in 1879, the British authorities did issue a map which did move the boundary eastwards.]

Since no map was attached to the Treaty to show the line of the Kali mentioned in it, which is at the heart of the current boundary dispute between Nepal and India, our only reliable guides are what was written at the time and how, by their actions, the belligerents, particularly the victor, interpreted the written words, again, at the time. Nothing that happened later, or did not happen, is pertinent to that determination. 

As pointed out earlier, Nepal argues that the Sugauli Treaty fixed the river that flows down from Limpiyadhura as the new frontier between the East India Company and Nepal. However, I also wrote that there is powerful contemporaneous evidence that the East India Company, the victorious party to the conflict, and the party that drafted the Sugauli Treaty, and dictated its terms, decreed that the river which flows down from Lipu Lekh was to be the frontier, and Nepal accepted this. I have already highlighted some of this evidence and, for convenience, I will bring together in this section further extracts from the “Nepaul War Papers”, which indicate that when the Sugauli Treaty speaks of the Kali, it is referring to the stream which runs down from the area of Lipu Lekh. Bear in mind when reading them that the Company’s aim was to expel all elements of the Gorkha forces from Kumaon so that the whole province could be annexed to the East India Company. In effect, this meant restoring  the historic boundaries that had existed between Kumaon and Doti before the Gorkhali invasions. Again, as pointed out earlier, there was also a small tract of land belonging to Kumaon, south of Kalapani, which included the villages of Changru and Tinkar, which historically was an area of Kumaon that had a border with Jumla. 

Extract of an early draft of the treaty of Sugauli, dated 27 Dec 1814

Article 5 of an early draft refers to the Raja of Nepaul renouncing all claims and pretensions whatsoever over the countries situated to the west of the river Gogra, formerly conquered by the Gorkha army. It has this comment written alongside it:  

“The total exclusion of the Goorka influence, power and authority, from the territories west of the Gogra is indispensable. This will leave at our disposal Kamaon, and will greatly circumscribe the resources of the Goorkas. The Gogra forms a marked boundary, if the limitation should stop there…..”  [“Nepaul War Papers”, p. 263]

This is a clear and early indicator of Company intentions. The reference to the Gogra forming “a marked boundary” refers to the previous frontier between Kumaon and Doti. “If the limitation should stop there”, indicates the Company’s resolve to go beyond that boundary if that is necessary to achieve the two prime objectives of access to Tibet and a secure frontier.

Instructions from Edward Gardner and Colonel Nicolls to Lieutenant Colonel Gardner in conducting a Conference with the Chautra Bam Shah, relative to a Suspension of Arms…, dated April 26, 1815

“1 The Choutra Bum Sah, the Goorka Sirdars, and troops of the Nepaul Government, may be promised a free passage for themselves, with their arms, their families, and private property, by any named gaut upon the Sardha, or Kalee, into the province of Dottee.” [“Nepaul War Papers”,  p. 568]

The extract indicates how the terms Sardha and Kalee (and Gogra) were used interchangeably by Company senior officials, but their one meaning in this part of Kumaon is clear from the phrase, “into the province of Dootee.” There is only one river on the borders of Kumaon which met that designation.

Secret Letter from Lord Moira to the Secret Committee, dated June 1, 1815

“Kamaon is likely to prove a very valuable acquisition. The enclosed copy of a report from Mr Gardner will inform you of the estimated value, but there is no doubt that its revenues in every branch will improve. I propose to extend the limit of the province west…….The eastern boundary will be the Kali which rises in the Snowy Mountains and pursues a nearly direct southerly course to the plains, where it assumes the name of the Gogra.” [My highlights, “ Nepaul War Papers”, pp. 565 and 566]   

What I have underlined is a clear indication that the river being discussed is the one which originates in the area of Lipu Lekh.               

Secret Letter from Lord Moira to the Secret Committee, dated August 2, 1815. [In this letter, Moira gave a long narrative on the war]

“296…………..Bum Sah also proposed, that the Goorka forces in Sreenuggur should be admitted to the terms of the Convention of Almora; a proposition which was also acceded to, and was accepted by those troops on being made known to them. They have accordingly since retired into Dootee . Bum Sah and his troops were accompanied across the Kalee by Lieutenant-Colonel Gardner.”[ Nepaul War Papers, p. 755]

320…By the possession of Kamaon, your Honourable Committee is aware, that we possess a direct and not difficult road into the Oondes, or country producing the animal which bears the shawl-wool, and into the vast regions of Tartary: a circumstance which opens views of great advantage to the commercial and manufacturing interest not of this country only but of Great Britain. I merely touch on these points here, as they will properly form the subject of a more detailed report hereafter from the proper department. Finally, Kamaon is to be considered with reference to its advantages in a political and military point of view. In these respects, it is unquestionably a most important possession. The Kali forms a well-defined boundary from the Snowy Mountains to the plains and although narrow it is deep and rapid. The snowy range inclining towards the south reaches its extreme point in that direction where it touches the eastern confines of Kamaon. Hence this is the shortest,  and consequently the most defensible line of frontier, throughout the extent of that country  over which our rule or control has been established. These circumstances at once show the value of Kamaon as an advanced position, and render it, if properly defended, a complete barrier against any extension of the Goorka power in a western direction, a bulwark to the whole country in its rear.”[My highlights. “Nepaul War Papers”, p. 761]

This extract is a perfect summation for this part of the article. It is made very clear in the first paragraph that Bam Sah left Kumaon by crossing the Kali into Doti, and the high priority the Company attached to a secure border and unrestricted access to Tibet is again emphasised in the second paragraph. The highlighted penultimate sentence makes it very clear that the reference is to Lipu Lekh.  

At this stage, it is appropriate to say that there is nothing in the 990 pages of the “Nepaul War Papers” which suggests that the river flowing down from Limpiyadhura was ever considered by the Company as a suitable border, but there is a great deal of material in them which highlights why it would have been totally unacceptable. It was never a border in the past, and the East India Company would clearly have seen no merit in making it one. Demonstrably, a frontier on that line would have totally failed to meet Lord Moira’s twin requirements of getting a tight, secure, and easily defensible border against future attacks from Gorkha and gaining unrestricted access to Lipu Lekh so that the Company could enjoy the great rewards envisaged from trade into Tartary. A border on the line now claimed by Nepal would leave Lipu Lekh, the most easily accessible of the passes in Kumaon and the one that is open for many more months of the year than any other pass, in the hands of the defeated Gorkhalis, at total variance with one of the main war aims. Such an outcome is inconceivable. In addition, leaving a long open flank would have made it easier for Gorkha “to carry on a harassing and interminable war of sudden inroads”, to echo Moira’s fears quoted earlier.  In short, it is not credible to think that such an outcome would ever have been acceptable to Lord Moira or anyone in the East India Company, as the many extracts from the “Nepaul War Papers” show.  

An unexpected twist 

The Sugauli Treaty was signed on March 16, 1816. A year later, there was an unexpected development which is perfectly explained, with supporting references, in this extract from Atkinson:

I dealt earlier with the circumstances under which the villages of Changru and Tinkar, on the east side of the Kali, were handed back to Nepal despite the strong protestations of the Byanse zamindars, who pointed out the hardships which would ensue for the villages on the western side of the river losing access to all their productive land. In his highly informative book British Kumaon – Garhwal, An Administrative History of a Non-Regulation Hill Province, R.S. Tolia, quoting references from the Uttar Pradesh Archives, writes that Traill, at first demurred from handing over the two villages because of fears that doing so would hurt British commercial interests “in the so-called trade with Tartary.” [p. 83]  His protests were ignored for the reasons given in this letter, which has been widely shared with interested parties in Kathmandu:

Letter from J. Adam, Acting Chief Secretary of Govt. to The Honourable Edward Gardner, Resident at Catmandhoo, dated Feb 4, 1817

“I am directed to acknowledge the receipt of your dispatch of the 12th Ultimos, enclosing of your letter to the Resident at Lucknow, respecting a spot on the left bank of the Gogra which Chautrea Bum Sah is anxious, should be left within the Nepalese Frontier, and responding for the consideration and order of Government a claim prepared by the Chautrea to that portion of the Pergunnah of Beasse (Byas), which lies East of the Kali and which is at present in the occupation of the British Government, as an appendage of the province of Kumaoon.

The tenor of your letter to Resident of Lucknow is entirely approved.

With respect to the Bum Sah’s claim to the track on the Eastern side of the Kali, the Governor General in council is of the opinion, that according to the Letter of the Treaty, the Government of Nipaul is entitled to restoration of it, notwithstanding its hither to having been regarded as annexed to the British province of Kumaoon.   I am accordingly directed to intimate to you that acting Commissioner for Kumaoon will be instructed to surrender it to the officers of the Nipaulese Government.

His Lordship in Council approves at the same time of the caution observed by you in declining to take any steps at the instance of the Nipaulese Minister on this affair, until you had refereed the question for the decision of your Government and should receive its order.”

The words at the end of the first paragraph offer further confirmation that by early 1817, the Company was firmly in control of this remote area of Kumaon, as do these words in the third paragraph: “notwithstanding its hitherto having been regarded as annexed to the British province of Kumaoon.”  Edward Gardner had drafted the Treaty of Sugauli, and the second paragraph indicates that when he was consulted on Bam Sah’s request, he recommended that it should be approved.  

However, six months later, as Atkinson expresses it, “….not satisfied with this advantage, the Nepalese claimed the villages of Kunti and Nabhi as also lying to the east of the Kali, averring that the western branch of the head-waters should be considered the main stream as carrying the larger volume of water.” Bam Sah must have known that this was a long shot–a request that the Company was bound to refuse. He would have known full well the implications of what he was asking for. As Governor of Kumaon for long periods during the Gorkha occupation, he would have been well acquainted with the revenue generated by taxing trade over Lipu Lekh. Indeed, during a period when he was displaced as Governor, because of changes in regime in Kathmandu, he and his brother had been directly involved in it. [“Both Bam Sah and his brother, Hastilal, since their exclusion from public affairs, had turned all their attention towards commercial operations and now held the monopoly of the trade passing through Chilkiya and Barmdeo which brought them in a considerable revenue.” Atkinson, Vol II, Part II, p. 642]

In the first instance, this request was submitted to G.W. Traill, the Commissioner of Kumaon, who gave it the short shrift it deserved, and for a good reason. Tolia, who clearly had access, through files in the UP State Archives in Lucknow, to all the references quoted by Atkinson, wrote:

Nepal laid further claims on Nabhi and Kuti on the ground that the western branch of the Kali, i.e. KutiYankti, should be considered the main stream of Kali as it carried a larger stream of water. Lt. Webb, who was sent up, reported that the lesser stream, flowing from the sacred stream of Kala Pani, had always been recognized as the main branch as it gave its name to the river Kali. Equally important was the consideration of the two passes which led into Western Tibet, also the easiest except that of Niti in Garhwal, that made Traill reject the claims of the Court of Kathmandu. Any decision taken otherwise would have resulted in creation of a constant source of conflict between the two states, in respect of transit duties, etc., on the trade leading to the Tibetan marts through Lipu Lekh. Traill informed Bum Shah accordingly and his action was supported.”  [My highlights. Tolia, pp. 81 and 82]

Fortunately, during a YouTube discussion between Rakesh Sood, former Indian ambassador to Kathmandu, and Kanak Mani Dixit, the former produced a copy of the letter of support which ‘the Supreme Government’ had sent to Traill. It is clearly the fourth letter, listed by Atkinson, dated September 5, 1817:

Screenshot taken at the 13.53 mark of a letter Rakesh Sood displayed during an online discussion with Kanak Mani Dixit on June 21, 2020

Rakesh Sood later took part in an online discussion organised by the International Development Institute (ISD). During one of his contributions, he again read out extracts from this letter to GW Traill. At 56.47, he adds these additional words, referred to earlier, to the screenshot shown above: “You are authorised to pay Bum Shah, Rs. 140/13 on account of the revenues of the villages of Tinkar and Changru.”  

So, Nepal’s very recent claim to Limpiyadhura, based on what is written in the Sugauli Treaty and framed using almost identical words used by Bum Sah, that the western branch of the  Kali, i.e. KutiYankti, should be considered the main stream of Kali as it carried a larger stream of water”, was firmly rejected by Lord Moira on behalf of the East India Company in September 1817. The reason given could hardly be clearer: “that the stream denominated Kala Panee is that which is to be considered as the principal branch of the Kali and as such it is to be held the boundary between the possessions of the two states as a question of equity and just construction of the Treaty therefore our retention of those two villages cannot be objected to.”  The last lines on the screenshot, referring to Traill and Webb indicating that considerable inconvenience would result if the two villages in question were handed back to Nepal, clearly echo the words of Traill quoted earlier that, “a decision taken otherwise would have resulted in the creation of a constant source of conflict between the two states, in respect of transit duties, etc., on the trade leading to the Tibetan marts through LipuLekh.” [My highlights]

There is no record of Bam Sah or any official in Kathmandu protesting against this ruling, and there the matter rested for over 200 years until just a few months ago. 

Part 4 : A missed opportunity to right an historical wrong

The statement by the Company of what constitutes ‘the Kali’ clearly leaves the area which is designated as Kalapani today to be firmly based on the eastern side of the river, and hence indisputably in Nepali territory.

This is part of the “Map of Kumaon and British Gurhwal–Compiled in the Office of the Surveyor General of India with the latest additions from the Researches of Captn Hy Strachey in 1846 & Lt Richd Strachey Engineers in 1849–Calcutta, April 1850, Signed WS Thullier, Captain, Depy Surveyor General In charge Surveyor General’s Office.”  It accurately shows the line of the border as decreed in the Sugauli Treaty and confirmed in the Governor General’s words in his rejection of the Nepali claim of September 1817. This is the first map issued by the Survey of India which showed an international frontier between Nepal and the East India Company territory. A similar map prepared and issued in 1846 by J.H.N. Battens, Senior Assistant Commissioner & Settlement Officer, Kumaon, showed an identical international border. 

The two maps produced of ‘The Province of Kumaon’ by the Surveyor, W.S. Webb (one of them a sketch map), did not show an international border. In one of them, he named the river which flows down from Limpiyadhura as the Kalee, but there is no suggestion of it being a border of any sort. Both maps showed the whole of the annexed province. Webb was totally in the confidence of Lord Moira on the importance of Lipu Lekh to British commercial interests. During his survey work in Kumaon in the spring of 1816, he requested a meeting with the Chinese Governor of Taklakot. The meeting took place on Lipu Lekh on May 28, 1816. In Webb’s words: “the Chieftain remained with me near five hours; sending for his pipe and large teapot, as seeming to consider me but an indifferent preparer of that beverage.” Webb’s report on his work in 1816 was read before a meeting of the Asiatic Society, with Lord Moira in the chair.  [Vol 3, RH Phillimore’s Historical Records of the Survey of India, pp. 45 and 46] His report of his meeting with the Chinese Governor on Lipu Lekh was thought to be important enough to be considered by the Board of the East India Company. [Lamb, British India and Tibet 1766 – 1910, Footnote 59, p. 40]

The sketch map above, produced in 1830 under the Authority of G.W. Traill to show the principal routes of commerce in Kumaon, shows the same boundary for Kumaon as appeared earlier in the Webb maps, [except for the Changru and Tinkar tract] and later, as an international boundary, in the 1850 map. It is yet further confirmation that identifying the Kali River as flowing down from Lipu Lekh was emphatically not a later 1850 contrivance. 

[This reproduction by Tolia of Traill’s 1830 map is found in the 1991 edition of Whalley, P,  British Kumaon: The Law of the Extra-Regulation Tracts Subordinate to the Government, N.W.P., (Varanasi, Vishwavidyalaya Prakashan, 1991) pp end papers. The image was taken by me in the Bodleian recently]. 

As the full title of the 1850 map indicates, Henry Strachey had visited the area in 1846 and had a major input into the final form of the map. On his 1846 trip, he had visited and commented on Gunji and Nabhi. He had also visited Changru and Tinkar and had commented that both villages, “belong geographically to Byans, and are inhabited by Bhotias, the same in every respect as the other Byansis, and sharing in the traffic with Pruang by the Lipu Pass. It was a mistake leaving this little valley to the Gorkhas, when the rest of the district was brought under British rule; the true frontier line was the range of snowy mountains on the East, Tinkar, Nampa, and Api, on the other side of which lies the district of Marma, the northernmost division of Doti, and the inhabitants of which, like those of Ding, next south, are Khasia and not Bhotia.” [Page 112 of Narrative of a journey to Cho Lagan (Rakas Tal), Cho Mapan (Manasarowar) and the valley of Pruang in Gnari, Hundes, in September and October 1946. “Journal of Asian Society”, Bengal. 17[2] 98-120, 125-182, 327-351.”]

Henry Strachey’s views on Tinkar and Changru were clearly ignored in preparing the 1850 map, but it is of note that Henry’s elder brother, John Strachey, a much more senior and influential figure in British India, wrote these trenchant remarks on a draft of the 1850 map when it was circulated for comment, prior to publication:

[The original of this draft 1850 map, on which these comments were written, is held in the National Archives of India in New Delhi, where it is filed with the designation ‘F25-17’.]

It is surprising, therefore, to put it mildly, that the next map issued by the British in 1879 totally disregarded John Strachey’s advice – and what was written in the Sugauli Treaty. Tinkar and Changru were left in Nepal, but a large area of Nepali land on the east side of the Kali was misappropriated. This map shows in blue the 1850 border, and in yellow, the 1879 border. So, a border decreed by treaty to follow a river suddenly jumps to following a ridge line of which there is no reference in the treaty. 

This Google Earth screenshot gives an impression of what it looks like on the ground near the Lipu Lekh and Tinkar Passes. It should be helpful for what follows in this part of the article.

As can be seen from the images displayed, India claims that the frontier runs from a point just south of Kalapani to a point slightly to the west of the Tinkar Pass, which is about 5 kilometres southeast of Lipu Lekh. Tinkar Pass is the location of Border Pillar Number 1 of 79 marking the Sino-Nepal Border. Nepal maintains that the tri-junction should be at Lipu Lekh, as shown on the 1850 map and as  mandated in the Sugauli Treaty. However, for the present, the reality is that the India-Nepal-China tri-junction is de facto just to the west of Border Pillar Number 1. 

What is extraordinary, and is very unhelpful to Nepal’s case today, is that the China-Nepal Boundary Treaty, formally signed by King Mahendra in Beijing on October 5, 1961, makes no reference at all to Lipu Lekh.  Even more damaging for Nepal’s case are the opening lines of Article 1, which state: “The Chinese-Nepalese boundary line starts from the point where the watershed between the Kali River and the Tinkar River meet the watershed between the tributaries of the Mapchu (Karnali) River on the one hand and the Tinkar River on the other hand.” This roughly corresponds to the border shown on the 1879 map and the one claimed by India today. Little wonder that this “Treaty agreement” is invariably at the top of the list of those who defend India’s case. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that China signed, “The Sino-Indian Trade Agreement over Tibetan Border”, dated April 29, 1954, initiating trade over a number of passes, including Lipu Lekh, without consulting Nepal.

However, the eagle-eyed Santosh Khaderi recently spotted a file from the online Indian Archives which pointed to a good opportunity for Nepal to reverse the line of the frontier from what was laid down in the 1879 map to one much closer to the 1850 map, and what was decreed in the Sugauli Treaty. 

From the first paragraph of the first note in the file, it is clear that India was extremely concerned at some of the details in the recently agreed “Sino-Nepal Boundary Protocol, 1979.”  It opened by quoting correctly from Article 2, which stated, in the original: 

“The two parties have, on the basis of the latest photogrammetric data and in accordance with the provisions of the Boundary Treaty and the Boundary Protocol as well as the results of the present joint inspection, drawn up Maps Attached to the Protocol based on the First Joint Inspection of the Nepal China Boundary [hereinafter referred to as the Maps Attached to the present protocol] and scientifically and accurately delineated on them the boundary line between the two countries.” 

The next two sentences of the first note in the file highlighted India’s immediate concerns: “It has further departed from the earlier protocol and treaty in that the western starting point of the Sino-Nepal boundary has been shifted North Westward to Nepal’s advantage and India’s disadvantage. However, the Nepal government have taken the stand that the question of the trijunction points in the West and the East are yet open and subject to discussions.” 

The file next explains that internal discussions were held with the Army Headquarters and the Survey of India to study and assess the implications of the trijunction points in the new Protocol. Among the points highlighted by Army Headquarters was that in western Nepal, the Nepalis have extended their territory beyond the India-Nepal trijunction along the watershed towards Lipulekh Pass and by inference laid claim to portions of Indian territory. This has been done by the Nepalis in distinct departure from the Protocol signed by them in 1963 with the Chinese. 

The file recorded the seriousness of what was in the Protocol in these terms: 

“The preliminary findings necessitated the need for a thorough reappraisal of the problem for the purpose of formulating our position as regard the western and eastern extremities, based on a clear perception of the issue. It was further felt that the implications involved should be clearly understood. In order to enable us to take on an unambiguous stand the Survey of India and Army headquarters were entrusted with the task of a complete reappraisal and consequent implications.” 

On completion of their study, the Army Headquarters and the Survey of India stated that there was no concern with the eastern extremity but offered these comments on the western extremity:

There is not space in this article to give further details from the file, but it concludes with three clarifications to be sought from Nepal:

On a point of information, the Survey of India first made a set of maps (1:253,440 scale, quarter inch) covering almost all of Nepal in 1924-27, with permission of the Nepal Durbar.  A second set of Survey of India maps of Nepal (scale 1:63,360 or 1 inch) were produced from 1956 to 1958 based on 1:40,000 scale vertical aerial photographs. These maps are considered ‘secret’ in Nepal and are not easily available. It is this second set of maps that were funded under the Colombo Plan. When printed, many complete sets (274) were given to Nepal in what must have been a very large shipment. [Reputedly, from a reliable source, 3,700 copies of each sheet]. 

Unfortunately, most of the copies of these maps were destroyed in the Singha Durbar fire of July 9, 1973. Nepali authorities later approached the British Library in an unsuccessful attempt to try to find original copies to replace those destroyed in the fire. It is not clear, even today, whether Nepal has a complete set of these maps.

On India’s “clarifications to be sought”, the proposal was to ask the Nepal government whether they accepted the location of the eastern and western boundary points as shown on the maps India gave to Nepal. This would have put King Birendra and his senior ministers in a corner. If they accepted the Indian positions as shown on the Indian maps, India would then ask why the western point had been shifted to a new location under the new Sino-Nepal protocol. If they were bold enough to say that Nepal would not accept the Indian position as shown on the Indian map, India would ask why Nepal had changed its mind and moved the point from the location previously agreed. 

We are unlikely to know the response given, but previous form suggests that the questions would have been ducked, with the consequence that yet another opportunity was missed to restore Nepal’s northwest boundary to the line where the Sugauli Treaty said it should be.  Just as significantly, China also ignored the implications of the words in the 1979 Protocol. Following Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing in 1988, both countries agreed to resume border trade and to sign fresh agreements to make this possible. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) on ‘Resumption of Border Trade’ was signed in December 1991, during Premier Li Peng’s visit to New Delhi. India and China signed a further  agreement, ‘Protocol of Entry and Exit Procedure’, for border trade in July 1992. Lipu Lekh was mentioned in both these agreements as a mutually recognized border trading point. Subsequently, both countries agreed to expand border trade in 2003, but to add the Nathu La as an additional entry and exit point to those agreed in the December 1991 MoU. Again, on April 11, 2005, the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, signed an agreement aimed at confidence-building along the Line of Actual Control, Article V of which stated: “Both sides agree in principle to expand the mechanism of border meeting points to include Kibithu-Damai in the Eastern Sector and Lipulekh Pass/Qiang La in the Middle Sector. The precise locations of these border meeting points will be decided through mutual consultations.”

All these agreements were signed without consulting Nepal and without King Birendra’s government uttering a single word of protest. Little wonder that China refuses to say a word about Lipu Lekh despite the words in the 1979 Sino-Nepal Protocol. It is noteworthy that during the height of the protests earlier this year which followed India’s “inaugurating” the road to Lipu Lekh, Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, when asked about the dispute between Indian and Nepal on the new road to Lipu Lekh, said very specifically, “The issue of Kalapani is between Nepal and India. We hope the two countries will resolve their differences properly through friendly consultations and refrain from taking any unilateral action that may complicate the situation.”  

In short, on Lipu Lekh, Nepal stands alone and, as is very clear from the Chinese Foreign Ministry response just quoted, can expect very little help from China with regard to Kalapani.  


In my introduction, I quoted the claims from PM Oli and the spokesman for India’s MEA that the historical facts were on their side. I wrote that my article would be an attempt to contribute to an understanding of them. I have given an honest account of what I found in my research. On Limpiyadhura, I find it inconceivable that the armed forces of the East India Company would have stopped on the line of a river that would have left one of the great prizes for which they fought – unrestricted access to the Tibet trade across Lipu Lekh – in the hands of a heavily defeated foe. There is an abundance of evidence to show that they did not. All of the historic province of Kumaon was occupied and annexed to the Company. There is no room for doubt on that. In September 1817, Nepal’s claim was framed in identical terms to the current claim and was firmly rejected by the Governor General in emphatic terms, “as a question of equity and just construction of the Treaty.” It is difficult to give credence to an appeal against such a trenchant ruling after 200 years of silence. I also judge that India will have overwhelming evidence to prove continuous state administration of the three villages under dispute, stretching back to the days of the East India Company and subsequently the British Crown.  

However, India cannot have it both ways. The supporters of its case cannot repeatedly quote the September 1817 judgement, based on what is said in the Sugauli Treaty, and is reflected in the 1850 map, to deny the validity of the new Nepal claim to Limpiyadhura, without acknowledging that the claim to Nepali land shown in the 1879 map is at total variance with the Treaty and has no agreed legal basis. No record has yet been found of what prompted the decision to make this land-grab, and it is unlikely that Britain in its imperial pomp would have discussed the change with Nepal. Long years of silence from the rulers of Nepal on the issue are highly regrettable, but that cannot be used as a justification for an illegal action which cut across an international treaty. Nepal rightly stands by its claim that it has never concluded any treaty with British India or with independent India that supersedes the Sugauli Treaty.

What impact will the Limpiyadhura claim have on Nepal’s existing strong and legitimate claim for a restoration of the boundary line shown on the 1850 map? It is difficult to say. Some in Kathmandu have taken the view that Nepal-India relations can now return to normal as the two countries have reached a position of parity, both having claims on tracts of each other’s territory. There are also those who claim that at least it will grab India’s attention, given the regrettable lack of any meaningful Indian engagement to discuss the Kalapani dispute since it was first raised officially by the Nepal government in 1996. However, if  these are the only outcomes, it would be a poor return for an action which could cause far-reaching damage to Nepal-India relations.  

I am left wondering if Mr Oli’s advisers had evolved a strategy based on India’s likely responses. More specifically, how did they expect India to respond? Having to rely solely on what I read in the media, I am left with an impression that the thought process was: just launch the claim, India will be forced to talk and we will get what we want. I express it in such a crude way because there seems to be an overwhelming general feeling across the political parties, the media, and the general public, which does not brook dissent, that Nepal has a strong and overwhelming case and that India has absolutely no case at all. Managing expectations, given such a prevailing view, is going to be very difficult. It might also explain why India is so wary about starting ‘talks’ on the subject.  

What has been done cannot be undone. In the ISD online discussion referred to earlier, Rakesh Sood stated, “Official level talks are pointless. No official, no foreign secretary can sit down and have the mandate to change the maps. We will have to wait and see, and wait for some political guidance. We have now created a territorial dispute between India and Nepal and it is not going to be easy. It will be very difficult for people to get around this. I think this will be remembered as PM Oli’s lasting legacy to have created an insurmountable problem in India and Nepal relations.”  

The issues are complex. India sees Lipu Lekh and Kalapani as indissolubly linked, and intimately tied to its larger, and now increasingly bitter, unresolved border dispute with China. This is what makes the disputes so intractable. The prospect is for a long drawn-out process that yields little that is positive for either side. Most definitely, to echo Rakesh Sood, it is not going to be easy. Any meaningful process to resolve the issue must await India and China agreeing to start the demarcation of their long border and that day, sadly, now looks further away than ever.