Discovering Shyamala

When God created the earth, he was essentially playing treasure hunt. He precariously placed some fortunes all around and left it to man to discover them.
A chance discovery of these treasures has always been special. I’m sure Columbus was on cloud nine when he stumbled upon the Americas while trying to find a direct route from Europe to Asia (that he didn’t actually discover America is another debate). I can’t even think of all the hullabaloo on social media that might have taken place had Twitter and Facebook existed back then.
But the internet was non-existent in the fifteenth century (1492, to be precise). In fact, the most talked about Industrial Revolution and urbanization actually took place only by the beginning of the nineteenth century (that would be the early 1800s; almost three-hundred years after Columbus landed in America). This was the time when so much was happening around the world. European imperialism was on a high and the influence of the British Empire was growing. The British were keen to gain more land by way of trade. And by this time, they had landed and established themselves well in South Asia, particularly Bharat.
However, as in a classroom, not every child wants to steal the limelight always. There are some smart backbenchers who enjoy all the anonymity. Until they are discovered. That is when the teacher hones their potent talent.
Now, while the entire Bharat was buzzing with minor wars and dealing with the “British Raj” in the early 1800s, an ordinary and boring hamlet (the backbencher of class) with shepherd hutments existed somewhere in the lap of the Himalayas. It was covered with thick, dense jungles of pines and deodars. The only civilization was the jakoo (Jakhoo) temple and a few houses scattered here and there. As goes an old tale, there was a fakir who lived in Jakhoo in a hut made of blue slate and offered water to passers-by. So, the place took the name Shyamalaya after his “Blue House”.
Another story that has done the rounds is that of a temple of Goddess Kali (known as Shamala Devi) on the hillside that led to the nomenclature of this tiny village. In fact, some even called it Shumlah or Shimlah. Just like the little girl who is Munni, Gudiya, Chutki- all at the same time!
So, even as politics of the Raj continued in the rest of the country, Shyamala remained immune to it all. Not that it didn’t have a history before the nineteenth century but this was the time that brought an inconspicuous village into the limelight.

The terrain of this region was difficult and nobody, until then, had really thought of climbing up the hills or scrutinizing the jungles. Besides, there were local chieftains and rulers; life was slow and “All waazzzz well”.
But how we always land up underestimating “the power of a common man”! The year was 1806. Even as the British tried to gain supremacy South of Sutlej, another valiant race set out to conquer the regions up to the river. These were the Gorkhas of Nepal- the fearless mountaineers and, of course, the mountains could not scare them away!
The Gorkhas captured most of the Himalayas- Garhwal, Kumaon and Kangra, until they came face to face with Maharaja Ranjeet Singh and the Sikhs at Kangra Fort in 1809. Defeated at Kangra Fort after losing thousands of men to war and disease, the Gorkhas were an angry lot. They decided not to give up and moved towards territories surrounding Shyamala.
They built many forts around the place, the popular Jagatgarh Fortress (Jutogh) being one! With their capital at Arki, they unleashed terror upon the people. They were said to be so ruthless that even if a pebble dared to hurt their feet, they would ensure that it was crushed and turned to powder.


(Jutogh Fort, Image source: Vintage Jutogh)

The chieftains in the hills did not have enough force or weapons to fight the Gorkhas. They were a worried lot, just like a young boy who is bullied at school. They began to reach out to neighbouring kings for help and in all their wretchedness appealed to the British, who were more than eager to pitch in. After all, the growing power of Gorkhas was a big threat to them as well.


(Maj Gen Sir David Ochterlony, pic source: internet)

So, a small contingent led by Major General Sir David Ochterlony was sent to help the people. The local rulers also sided with the British and even Maharaja Ranjeet Singh decided to help.
The result- after a few fierce battles the Gorkhas succumbed at Malaon on 15 May, 1815.
Whenever a war comes to an end the warring parties sign official documents to put further plans and actions in place and to lawfully decide the future course of action. In this case also, the Treaty of Sugauli was signed between the Gorkhas and the East India Company. While the local chieftains were returned their pieces of land and Maharaja Ranjeet Singh was rewarded with land in the neighbourhood of Shyamala for the help rendered by him, the East India Company retained the forts of Sabathu, Kotgarh, Ramgarh and Sandoch. After all, the British had an army and these forts would later on prove to be strategic for them.
So, Shyamala which was never in the radar of East India Company and had just been a backbencher had now been spotted and was out in the open. However, it was not until 1819 that the British really paid attention to it. How did that happen, we shall find out in the next post.

Until then savour this interesting fact…
Have you ever been to Sabathu or heard about it? It is the cantonment town in Solan District of Himachal Pradesh and is popular for the Gorkha Training Centre of the Indian Army. Although the British defeated the Gorkha army led by Amar Singh Thapa at Malaun, they were mighty impressed by the skill and courage of the Gorkhas during the siege of the fort in Bilaspur and realized their potential in the British Indian Army. They thought of recruiting the survivors of the Gorkha army and forming a regiment. A clause was inserted in the treaty of Sugauli and the 1st Gorkha Rifles or 1 GR came into existence at Sabathu.

-Sonia Dogra

Read the next chapter here.

Read chapter 1 here.


I am taking my blog to the next level with #Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa

Information source @Internet; @Shimla: Past and Present (Edward J Buck)

29 thoughts on “Discovering Shyamala”

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  3. Have you considered writing a book… To be more specific- A history book for teenagers… Because you have that thing in you. My teenage girl is fond of history but not the history books of her syllabus. I have made her read your posts and she has read all your posts on Shimla so far (m yet to catch up with her). She loves your writing. You know what she said to me in her teenage style… ‘Mom, she writes in a young way. I like reading more of it’
    Give it a thought if you can.. because I have become a fan of your writing style.
    #readbypreetispanorama for #MyFriendAlexa

    1. Thank you so much Preeti for such encouraging words. Well, when I started with this series, the idea was to put it together for my children, 13 and 9. And yes, they have been enjoying it but a book hasn’t been on my radar as of now. But you have planted an idea there and thank you so much for all this appreciation. I will certainly try doing one!💐💐

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  7. Such a gorgeous piece of writing – you have a way with words – linking Columbus to industrial revolution to the Britishers to the Shyamala – waiting for the next installment

  8. I was never a fan of history in school curriculum.. But always loved to learn about it, when presented through a story or interesting narration!

    Thanks for the beautiful narration! It’s great to know about these bits of history! 😊

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