Sometimes destiny of a single person has an effect on the entire history. The destiny of Sher Jung Thapa is intertwined with the destiny of India. Thapa was born on the other side of the border. He was born in Abottabad, Pakistan. But before the division happened his family decided to move to Dharmsala, India. The same Thapa then became India’s champion against Pakistan in the war of 1947.
Sher Jung Thapa was born in a family with a glorious military past. His grandfather was a decorated officer in the British Indian army. He had fought in the first world war. His father too served the British army and participated in the second world war. He was awarded the title of honorary captain for his bravery. Sher Jung grew up with stories of his father and grandfather’s bravery. Both of them were in the Gorkha unit and so Sher Jung too dreamed of joining the Gorkha regiment.
When his family moved to Dharamshala, he also began playing hockey. A popular sport in the Gorkhas, hockey was also something that Europeans liked. When Sher Jung joined the military his popularity rose due to his hockey skills. He made a name for himself among British officers including Douglas Gracie, which would alter save his life.
In 1947, the British government agreed to grant India its independence. But before they left, they divided the landmass into two countries, India and Pakistan. Kashmir, a princely state with a Muslim majority was of strategic importance. The king of Kashmir chose to side with India but Pakistan had his eyes on it. Pakistan motivated and armed an army of tribes known as Mujahiddins to take over the Kashmir region. In response Indian government, under the British viceroy, sent massive military units to counter it. Amongst these units was that of Sher Jung Thapa.
Sher Jung under the commandership of Colonel Abdul Majid reached Gilgit. Here the Muslim soldiers of the unit mutinied under the influence of Mujjahiddin. Col. Majid and governor Ghansara Singh were made captives while the Hindu and Sikh soldiers of the unit were killed. A few men were able to flee the scene including Sher Jung Thapa.
In the company of 200 men, Sher Jung was the highest ranked and was made Lieutenant Colonel. He started leading the remaining troops to a fort in Skardu. On their way back, they gathered 200 more men from scouting regiments. And through heavy snowfall and thick snow, they made it to Skardu.
Thapa and his men made a stand at this fort. For six months they defended the fort. Due to heavy snowfall, ammunition and other supplies couldn’t come through roadways. Air dropping the supply was impossible due to the mountainous location. Thapa and his garrison held on for an unreal six months. After the exhaustion of supplies, they surrendered the fort. Instantly the soldiers were killed excluding Sher Jung. Sher Jung was excluded because of Douglas Gracie’s appreciation, who at that time was Pakistan’s Chief Army general.
He was taken as a Prisoner of War and was received back by India after the war ended. He was given the Mahavir Chakra, India’s second-highest military award for his heroic defence in Skardu. It was independent India’s first war and loyalties hanged by the edge of a knife. If Sher Jung Thapa and his men had given up their loyalties, the damage would have been worse. In those six months of a nightmare, Sher Jung and his men shaped India as it is.