Zorawar Singh Kahluria was a Dogra Rajput ruler and a military general of Gulab Singh of Jammu. He served as the governor (vazir) of Kishtwar and greatly expanded the territories of the kingdom by conquering Ladakh and Baltistan. Zorawar Singh valiantly attempted to conquer Western Tibet (Nagri Khorsum). But was killed in the Battle of Tu-Yo during the Dogra-Tibetan War. He has been referred to by historians as the “Conqueror of Ladakh” and the “Napoleon of India”.
Zorawar Singh –Early Life:
He was born in a Kahluria Rajput family in September 1784 at Kahlur (Bilaspur) in the state of Himachal Pradesh. His family moved to the Jammu region, where, growing up. Zorawar took service under Raja Jaswant Singh of Marmathi. Zorawar Singh was employed by the ambitious Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu and placed under the commandant of Reasi Fort. Zoravar informs them of the financial waste in the fort’s administration and presents his plan to effect savings. Gulab Singh was impressed by Zorawar’s honesty and appointed him as the commandant of Reasi. Zorawar Singh completed his task with utmost sincerity and his grateful ruler was impressed by Zorawar’s honesty and made him the commissioner officer of all forts north of Jammu. He was later made the governor of Kishtwar and given the title of wazir (minister). And many local Rajputs were recruited in Zorawar Singh’s army.
The Ladakh Campaign
To the east of Kishtwar and Kashmir are the snow-capped mountains of the upper Himalayas, which experience severe winters. In 1834 the Raja of Timbuk sought Zoravar’s help against the Gyalpo. The Rajputs of Jammu and Himachal had traditionally excelled in mountain warfare, so Zorawar had no trouble crossing the mountain ranges and entering Ladakh. Where his 5000 men defeated the army of the local Botis. The Gyalpo (ruler) Tsepal Namgyal tried hard to defeat Zorawar but failed. In the spring of 1835, he defeated a large Ladakhi army of Banko Kahlon and left for Leh. The Raja of Ladakh agreed in 1835 to pay 50,000 rupees in war indemnity and 20,000 rupees in tribute per year.
Now concerned about Dogra gains, Mehan Singh, the governor of Kashmir, incited the Ladakhi chieftains to revolt, but Zorawar suppressed the rebels. Now the Raja of Zanskar was also forced to pay a separate tribute for Jammu. But in 1836 Mehan Singh again incited the Gyalpo to revolt. Zorawar now built a fort outside Leh and a garrison of 300 men under Dalel Singh – the Gyalpo was demoted to an estate and a Ladakhi general, Ngorub Stanzin, was made king. But the latter did not prove loyal as the Gyalpo was restored to his throne in 1838.
The Baltistan Campaign
To the northwest of Ladakh and to the north of Kashmir lies the Baltistan region. After defeating the Ladakhi rebels, Zorawar invaded Baltistan in the winter of 1839/40, adding a large contingent of Ladakhis to his army. Zoravar built a fort on the banks of the Indus where he placed a contingent of his soldiers.
Tibet Campaign – Main article: Sino-Sikh War
A column under the Ladakhi prince, Nono Sungnam, followed their route to the source of the Indus River. Zorawar himself led 3,000 men to the plateau area where the vast and picturesque Pangong Lake is located. After a great struggle, Zorawar attacked the fort on 6 September 1841. Emissaries from Tibet now came to him, as did representatives of the Maharaja of Nepal, whose kingdom was only fifteen miles from Taklakot. Zoravar and his men now went on a pilgrimage to Mansarovar and Mount Kailash. He had extended his communication and supply line over 450 miles of difficult terrain, building small forts and pickets along the way.
Fort Chi-Tang was built near Taklakot, where Mehta Basti Ram was put in command of 500 men with 8 or 9 cannons. With the onset of winter, all routes were blocked and snow fell on the roads. Despite Zoravar’s careful preparations, supplies for the Dogra army over such a long distance failed.
Bypassing the Dogra fort of Chi-Tang proceeded to the battle. Zorawar and his men met him at the Battle of To-Yo on 12 December 1841—in the initial exchange of fire, the Rajput general was wounded in his right shoulder, but had a sword in his left hand. The Tibetan horsemen then attacked the Dogra position and one of them thrust his spear into Zorawar Singh’s chest.