With a sense of curiosity, I asked my housemaster, Mr. Vaishnav, "Why are so many skeletons found around this remote lake?"

Mr. Vaishnav replied, "These are believed to be the remains of General Zorawar Singh's soldiers who got lost in the Himalayas while returning from the Tibetan plateau."

Who was General Zorawar Singh?

General Zorawar Singh's statue at Fort in Leh (Ladakh)

Photo above : General Zorawar Singh's statue at Fort in Leh (Ladakh)

The plains of Indian sub-continent since 9th century had been continuously invaded, looted and ruled by many dynasties. It was only with the rise of the Sikh kingdom in Punjab, during the regime of Maharajah Ranjit Singh (1780 - 1839), the "Lion of Punjab", this trend was reversed.

Ranjit Singh's military career can be divided into three phases.

- 1799 - 1809 : Consolidation of the Sikh forces, leading to capture of Lahore.

- 1809 - 1823 : Expansion of empire to include Multan, Peshawar and Kashmir. It is in this phase that Hari Singh Nalwa, his trusted General extended the empires reach till Khyber pass, along Afghanistan border. This was a historic achievement as only thereafter no foreign invasion to Indian sub-continent happened from Afghanistan.

- 1823 - 1839 : Consolidation and further expansion. It is in this phase that General Zorawar Singh, operating under the military leadership of Gulab Singh (the Dogra minister in Ranjit Singh's cabinet who was asked to manage the affairs of Kashmir), led expansionary military expeditions to Ladakh (1834), Baltistan (1840) and Tibet (1841).

The British had conquered the entire India, falling East of river Sutlej and were now limited by the treaty of Amritsar, signed with Maharajah Ranjit Singh, that stopped them from making a westward advance into Punjab and beyond. It also limited Ranjit Singh from capturing territories east of river Sutlej. The only option for expansion of the Sikh kingdom was North of Kashmir into Ladakh.

Zorawar Singh was born at Khalur, now in the state of Himachal Pradesh, which was then a part of Punjab. At a very young age, he rose to become a General in Maharajah Ranjit Singh's army.

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