Forays of the English East India Company into the Kumaon-Garhwal Belt of the Central Himalayas
After the battle of Plassey (1757) and Buxar (1764), the political ambition to expand the domain of the English East India Company within the Indian subcontinent became evident. In the second half of the 18th century, the Gurkha Kingdom that had emerged as a formidable power in the North was also aiming to expand the boundaries of its empire. The Gurkha soldiers under the leadership of Bahadur Shah, Jagjit Pande, Amar Singh Thapa, and Sur Singh Thapa had captured the region of Kumaun in 1790. After conquering Kumaon, the Gurkha army moved west and captured Garhwal in 1804 after the battle of Khurbura which was fought between Pradyuman Shah (1785-1804) and the Gurkha army under the leadership of Amar Singh Thapa and Balbhadra Kunwar. Soon the Gurkha king and the Company got involved in a boundary dispute in the Tarai region which culminated in the Anglo-Gurkha war (1814-1815). After the Gurkha ruler was defeated in the war, the treaty of Sugauli (1815) was signed and as war indemnity, the areas of Garhwal and Kumaun in the Central Himalayan region along with the territory of Sikkim that belonged to the Gurkha king were transferred to the Company.
The paper attempts to explore various reasons of interest that the Company had in gaining access to the Central Himalayan region. To provide a detailed study of the expansion of the English East India Company in the region of Garhwal and Kumaon, travelogues written by Company’s servants, letters of correspondence between various officials, and studies conducted to understand the geography of the subcontinent by the Company along with the vernacular literature of the region will be used. The paper draws out the importance of the Himalayan region as a haven for the Europeans traveling far from ‘home’. The development of hill stations of Mussourie, Lansdowne, and Nanital as retreat centres attest to the interest of the Company in the region. Furthermore, both land revenue and revenue from the rich forest wealth were important reasons for the Company to gain access to this region. Last but not least was the trade with Tibet that attracted the attention of the Company. The author of the paper aspires to examine the diverse contributing factors that led the Company to choose the Central Himalayan region as an area for its political expansion.