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Bhakti Thapa
08.30.2013 754350210833

"The Gorkhas displayed the most undaunted resolution, advancing to the very muzzles of the guns, and endeavouring to strike down their opponents over their bayonets. Although repeatedly swept away by the discharge of grape from the two field-pieces which command the approach, they returned to attack with such obstinancy, and kept up so close a destructive fire upon them, that all by whom the guns were served were either killed or disabled…" -Horace-Hayman Wilson, The History of British India from 1805 to 1835


 

Bhakti Thapa was a 74 year-old tough-as-shit-looking Gurkha badass who charged screaming full-throttle into combat against rampaging Sikhs, fanatical Chinese Imperial troops, various other flavors of rival Gurkhas, and the unstoppable British war machine, all while brandishing an awesome-looking razor-sharp kukri knife in one hand and a sawn-off double-barreled flintlock musket packed with buck-and-ball shot in the other.  Once both barrels of his Doom II super shotgun had successfully atomized the brain pans of anyone before him, he then pulled a heavy-as-fuck broadsword, dual-cleaved his way through hordes of enemy troops, and made such a name for himself as a skull-dismantling human mutilation machine that even though he never wrote a single word of poetry, invented any sort of device, or held any kind of elevated political position, he's listed in official Nepalese documents as a National Hero of Nepal and there's a Hindu shrine atop one of the Himalaya mountains dedicated to venerating him as a God of War.

Oh, right, I also almost forgot to mention that this guy's hardcore badassery on the field of combat fearlessly rushing British cannons and bayonets with a pair of edged weapons at the ready is part of the reason the British decided, hey, maybe it might be a good idea if we recruited a couple regiments of these Gurkha guys to fight on behalf of the British Army because these dudes are fucking nuts.

Which worked out pretty well for them.  Because Gurkhas kick ass.

 


This is a Gurkha.
Bhakti Thapa is one of the ancient heroes these guys want to emulate.

 

Born in 1741 to a poor shepherd family high atop the Himalaya Mountains, Bhakti Thapa, like most Gurkhas, was tough as shit.  Utterly fearless, conditioned by long hours chasing yaks or sheep or whatever around mountainous valleys situated in an elevation that would make most people suffocate from lack of oxygen, Thapa was as tough a human being as our species is capable of forging.  As soon as he was old enough, Thapa joined the army and went to war, because that's just what you do when you're a Real Man living in the 18th century and you're strong enough to bench press oxen and can scare poisonous snakes away with your moustache. 

At this time, Thapa's native Kingdom of Gorkha was in the process of a massive campaign of expansion, a period that began when they invaded their neighbors in the Kathmandu Valley, conquered them, and changed the Kingdom's name to the Empire of Great Nepal.  The British East India Company attempted to intervene in this rapidly-expanding empire in 1767, but of the 2500 men they dispatched, pretty much every single one of them was lost to some combination of disease, desertion, or gruesome kukri wounds to the face.  The Gurkhas took the British guns and equipment, turned them on their neighbors, and casually continued their conquest. 

 


Gurkha warriors, circa 1815.

 

Due to his own personal bravery and fearlessness, Bhakti Thapa rose to a position of command, and immediately put it to good use during the conquest of the Jumla Province, when he crossed two thousand men over the motherfucking Himalayas and attacked their base from the impenetrable mountain side of its defenses.  If they'd been ready for an army of mountaineering swordsmen to sneak-attack them in the taint, the Jumla army would easily have been able to turn the assault back, but, since attacking from the Himalaya Mountain side of the castle seemed utterly impossible and/or retarded, Thapa was able to waltz right in and press the barrel of his shotgun against the back of the enemy commander's skull and force him to surrender.

Unexpectedly-rapid Nepalese conquest in pretty much every direction at the same time eventually put Nepal into conflict with the region's three other superpowers – the Sikhs in Punjab, the Chinese in Tibet, and the British in India.  Thapa had already fought the British and engaged in a few skirmishes with the Sikhs, but in 1792, the Chinese Manchu Emperor launched an all-out assault through Tibet that is awesomely known as "First Pacification of Gorkha".  Thapa fought in a few early battles against the rapidly-oncoming Chinese hordes as they attempted to capture Nepal and subjugate the Empire as a Chinese province, but Thapa's primary responsibilities lie elsewhere – he was to stay on the India side of Nepal and keep that border secure against the British, the Sikhs, and domestic unrest, and basically patrol all of Pakistan and Northern India despite virtually every single able-bodied soldier in his command having been reassigned to fight the Chinese.

Naturally, every single province Thapa had just conquered in this area rose up in revolt at the same time.  Thapa, tasked with defending several thousand miles of mountainous Himalaya terrain despite never having more than a few thousand men under his command at a time, quelled them all.  With extreme violence.  Like a badass.

 


SUCK IT FOOLS

 

Nepal eventually settled its differences with China and Punjab, but when they refused to allow the British East India Company to send trade caravans to China through Nepal, things got really bad.  This shit blew up for real in 1814, when the EIC declared war on Nepal and sent like 20,000 guys to fuck Nepal up and carve a trade route with human blood and cannon fire if it took them two trips.  Outnumbered, underequipped, and facing the most badass military force in the world, Bhakti Thapa and his Gurkha badasses didn't flinch – they grabbed their kukri daggers, packed some nails and ball bearings into their shotguns, and got ready to rock.

At first, things went well.  Thapa, using elephants to drag cannons and equipment from position to position, reinforced his mountain strongholds, and a combination of disease, altitude, and gunshot wounds held back the British onslaught.  Of course, that didn't last for long, and the Brits, unable to show weakness to any native Indian culture for risk of losing their entire grip on the subcontinent, pressed the attack.  Under the command of the able General Sir David Ochterlony, the British adopted a strategy not of "hay doods charrrrrrrge yeee-haww" but instead used their advantage in numbers to outmaneuver the enemy like Gary Kasparov out-chessing the holy living fuck-all out of your idiot asshole cousin who likes to talk shit about how he's "awesome at chess" every time you mention anything involving that involves requiring even the slightest bit of brain power.

 

 

While this wasn't sexy, interesting, or fun to read about, the Brits eventually outmaneuvered the Gurkhas, cutting the Nepalese army in half by seizing an easily-defendable high-altitude mountain fortress at a place called Deothal and packing it full of redcoats.  If the Gurkhas were going to have any hope of winning the war, they needed to capture this fortress by full frontal assault.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a suicide mission, but it was one that the Gurkhas had to undertake if they wanted any hope of ending the war. 

Bhakti Thapa took 2,000 of his men and prepared them for the fight of their lives.

 

 

At 4AM on April 16, 1815, 74-year-old Nepalese battle-rager Bhakti Thapa and two thousand of the toughest Gurkha warriors on earth ran screaming out of their camp, brandishing their kukris in their left hands and flintlock shotguns in their right.  Ahead of them, positioned atop a steep mountain, lay an almost-unbreakable fortress manned by 3,500 British and Indian soldiers supported by a battery of ultra-modern 6-pounder cannons.

Braving a hail of grapeshot, musketballs, and other assorted horrible shit, the Gurkhas fearlessly rushed ahead, climbing like berserker Sherpas towards their objective, almost completely ignoring the carnage ripping apart their battle lines.  Thapa, an old man at the head of his rampaging forces, screamed for his men to continue, rushing forward against impossible odds, somehow reaching the barrels of the British cannon and discharging his shotgun into the first artillery officer he could find.

British artillery mowed them down "like wheat", but the Gurkhas still rushed on, reaching the guns, wounding or killing all but six of the gunners, and fighting like demons even as a second line of British infantry formed up in a battle line, unleashed a volley of gunfire, and rushed ahead with their bayonets.  The Gurkhas, having fired their shotguns, battled back with swords and kukris, screaming their war-cries and slashing at the enemy in some of the most brutal hand-to-hand fighting the East India Company ever endured.

After nearly an hour of intense fighting, the Gurkha leader Bhakti Thapa, already wounded several times, his clothes soaked in blood from both himself and his enemies, was shot point-blank in the chest with a Brown Bess, the musketball penetrating his heart and killing him on the spot.  Their seemingly-invincible commander now dead, the Gurkhas lost their resolve, and began to fall back.  The British line held.

 

 

Bhakti Thapa's death is like the Gurkha version of Hector dying at the end of the Iliad  (spoiler alert I guess?).  The British commander, General Ochterlony, had the noble warrior's body wrapped in a shawl and returned to Nepalese lines, and both armies gathered to watch his funeral pyre as he was burned on the battlefield.  With his death, the war was over.  The British fortress held, the Gurkha lines were split, and the war was over in under a month. The British assumed control of 1/3 of the Nepalese Empire, but, after having witnessed the bravery of hardcore warriors like Bhakti Thapa, they also decided to recruit badass Gurkhas to fight alongside the British.  They would prove themselves to be among the toughest and most loyal warriors the British Empire would ever recruit, fighting heroically in wars from India to Germany to the Falkland Islands. 

Back home, Deothal Battle Day is a national holiday in Nepal , a day to celebrate the undaunted spirit of the Nepalese people, and Bhakti Thapa is one of a dozen people officially recognized by the government as a National Hero of Nepal.  Seven of his broadswords and seven kukris hang in a shrine near his home, and twice a year a Hindu priest sacrifices a pig there to honor his memory.

 

 

Links:

Cross, J.P.  Gurkha Tales.  Casemate, 2013.

Farwell, Byron.  The Gurkhas.  W.W. Norton, 1984. 

Gould, Tony.  Imperial Warriors.  Granta, 1999.

Hamal, Lakshman B.  Military History of Nepal.  Sharda Pustak Mandir, 1995.

Wilson, Horace-Hayman.  The History of British India from 1805 to 1835..  Madden and Malcom, 1846.



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Tags: 18th century | 19th century | Battle Rage / Berserker | British Army | Gurkha | Hindu | Military Commander | Nepal | War Hero | Warrior

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