GRAPHIC ACCOUNT OF KASHMIR - IN THE MAHARAJA RANJIT SINGH'S REIGN & HIS SWAY OVER THE EAST INDIA CO.
"WHICH, beyond all controversy, was the earthly Paradise," was the half-muttered reply of my Brahmin, Thakur-Das, when I asked him whether he would accompany me to Kashmir, and I understood immediately that his words implied a willing affirmative. In the north of India, a man is considered to betray a total want of respect for the subject, who forgets to add the above-mentioned encomium whenever Kashmir is named in his presence, or the speaker neglects the compliment himself.
I expected, in consequence of what had been told me, to meet with many difficulties in engaging servants to accompany me, at the advanced season when I undertook my journey, but was agreeably mistaken, as not one of the three servants I had brought with me from Calcutta,-viz. a Hind Sirdar-bearer, a Musselman Khidmatgar, and a Mushalchi,-made the slightest objection whatever. The names and offices of these three important personages in an Indian establishment require some explanation.
A Sirdar-bearer is a personal attendant. Mine was a native of Patna, an excellent and trustworthy man, whom I always found indefatigable and attentive to his duties. The name Bearer (Kahar in Hindusthani), given by the English to this class, is taken from the palankeen-bearers, from whom the younger or more economical of the Company's officers generally select their personal attendant: they pay them about three or four rupees a month, a rupee is worth about a silver florin, without board or livery; deducting from this sum the value of everything that is lost in the house, or broken by them. But my servant would have been highly incensed if he had been bound by the same terms. The title Sirdar, the real meaning of which is the Officer, pointed out his rank, contrasting strangely enough with bearer the name always given him by his European master, while every other, the person in and out of the house called him Sirdar. Many of these Sirdar-bearers lay claim to Rajput descent; and in Upper India, the word Singh, or in Bengal, Rup, is not infrequently prefixed to their, name, as a proof of military ancestry. My Sirdar usually carried a shield on his back, and a sheathed sabre in his hand and the expression of his visage was altogether so martial, that I could seldom refrain from smiling as he went about his very unwarlike duties. On the slightest occasion, he would put himself into a violent rage with his companions, and became then, with his dark features, and his black rolling eyes, a proper object to strike terror into his timid countrymen.
The Khidmatgar Hingham was the best servant I ever had in India, The Khidmatgar holds the place of a butler in Europe, and is properly the only servant who waits at meals. When his master accepts an invitation he repairs to the friend’s house also and waits upon him there. In a large establishment, there are often two or three of these Khidmatgars; the first is then called the steward, and not only prepares the tea and coffee but is expected to understand the way of cooking the favourite English dishes.
The Mashalchi is properly a torch-bearer and runs before the palankeen or the horse when the master travels or pays a visit in the night-time; while in the house he is employed as a domestic servant. Our Austrian lackeys would probably look down with great contempt on these slim light-footed messengers, but in no one of their official capacities are they at all to be despised.
My Brahmin Secretary, or Munshi, Thakur-Das, was a native of Delhi. He did not understand a syllable of English; but to make amends for this, he was a thoroughly honest person, well acquainted with Sanskrit, and wrote Persian very elegantly.
I had engaged an interpreter from the Agra College, to accompany me to Kashmir, a well-educated Brahmin youth, by name Sitaram, perfectly conversant with English, and of the most prepossessing exterior: but unluckily he could not bear the motion of the palankeen in which he followed me; and falling ill on the way from Agra to Delhi, I was under the necessity of sending him back. Another interpreter was then recommended to me, a half-caste, who called himself an Englishman, and with much expense, in consequence of the highly favourable terms in which he was mentioned to me, I brought him from Meerut to Shimla, when I found he was not of the least use and was only too glad to get rid of him within twenty-four hours, the man himself declaring that he was afraid to encounter the dangers of a journey to Kashmir. He had heard at first that he was to travel on terra-firma, and now finding that we should have to cross mountains covered with ice, he was sure that so timid a rider as he was, would never arrive there. In fact, the very thoughts of it had haunted him all the way from Pahar to Shimla, and he humbly besought me to spare his life, and allow him to depart; with which solicitation I was only too happy to comply.
Purposing that this should be the last journey I should ever undertake, I was additionally anxious to derive every possible advantage from it, and to neglect nothing which could tend to make its results of some value. Unfortunately, I was under the necessity of making the journey alone and foresaw months of solitude before me, which yet I could not avert. I might readily have found some companions to accompany me among my English friends; but the Government had strictly forbidden its servants to cross the Setlej without permission, which they would in no ease grant. So far as physical comforts could be provided, I resolved to want for nothing, for a traveller’s life is not such an easy one that he should spare himself any enjoyments that can be procured.
Besides tents for my party, preserved meats hermetically sealed in tin boxes, wines and drinks of various kinds, preserved fruits and sweetmeats, I did not fail to provide myself with the hookah, universally used throughout the East; with some Himalayan ghunts, or ponies, which climb the steepest mountains, and tread firmly on the edge of the most fearful precipices, also with a sedan-chair or Jampan, with twelve bearers. Besides my in-door servants, consisting of the three men just mentioned, a Bawarchi or cook, with two assistants, & Hookahburdar, or servant to attend my pipe, an Abdar for the water, & Durzee or tailor. I had a Chobdar or herald, two Chaprasis, or messengers, having my name engraved in Hindusthani and Persian on their breastplates, two Shikaris, or huntsmen, to slay or stuff beast, two Paharis, or mountaineers, as butterfly-catchers, two gardeners ty collect plants and seeds, two tent-bearers, in all thirty-seven, Servants, sixty bearers, and seven beasts.
It was in vain that I sought an interpreter, sufficiently versed in English to translate the manifold questions the object of my journey demanded when my slight acquaintance with Hindusthani might cause me to falter. A lad of fourteen, Mohan Bir, was the only one I could engage; and although I almost despaired at first of making anything of him, he soon gained my good graces by his quickness and liveliness of mind.
Three different routes to Kashmir lay before me; that over the highest mountains of the Himalaya range; that which passes across the lowest mountains, or a third through the plain of the Panjab. The first road might be taken either through the Berenda Pass or by Mundi and Dankar; but for all or any of them, it was necessary for me in the first place to obtain the permission of Ranjit Singh, the Maha Raja of Lahore, to whom Kashmir is subject, for without it | should not here have found the means of subsistence. I had therefore applied for this in the month of May.
Ranjit Singh is considered altogether independent of the British Indian Government, and in truth is as much so, as his position as a weaker neighbour can admit of; but the best way of surmounting any difficulties or delays in obtaining such leave, is to apply to the Political Agent of the Company for the Panjab, who resides at Ludhiana, on the borders of the Lahore territory. To all the unimportant requests of the Company, Ranjit Singh lends a very willing ear; and in the present Resident, Captain Wade, travellers find a most courteous Advocate. To him, therefore, I applied and being already furnished with directions from the Governor-General at Calcutta, that gentleman immediately forwarded an application on my behalf to the Raja.
I had ‘hoped to receive his permission very shortly, but a dangerous illness occasioned me and my petition to be equally forgotten; meanwhile, I remained in the cool climate of the Himalaya. The English have established two sanitariums, for the benefit of health and of a cooler retreat, in this mountainous region, at Masuri and Shimla, I made my arrangements, therefore, while the permission was preparing, to take a journey through the mountains, from the first to the latter place, and thence commence my route to Kashmir. Masuri is the nearest station to the plains of India, inhabited by Englishmen. Shimla is on the confines of the British possessions and those of the Maha Raja. Through this desolate plain, where everything was withered and burnt up, I reached Masuri on the 21st of June, with the intention of remaining there a few days, and on the 22nd, at the break of day, I left the hospitable abode of Mr Hamilton, to view the snowy mountains of Gangotri and Jamnotri from a neighbouring height. Having arrived at the desired spot on the Landor, I had full time to survey the majesty of scenes never to be forgotten. I was riding slowly homewards to enjoy the refreshing shower which fell on the parched land, reviving everything in nature, when finding the rain becoming more and more violent, I urged my steady horse onwards over the mountain paths to Masuri. This rain, with the intermission of a few hours only, lasted eighty-five days, the monsoon prevailing in this part of India with more continuous wet weather than in any other.
During this long confinement, I heard frequently from Captain Wade, that he was in daily expectation of Ranjit Singh’s answer; and no sooner did the season again clear up, than I proceeded to Shimla, not over the mountain road as I had intended, for during the rainy season the passage is very insecure and uncertain, but over the plains. On the 19th September, I quitted the beautiful and agreeable station of Masuri, and after encountering some terrific storms in the plain, reached Shimla by way of Ambala in six days, not without some difficulty, however, for the rains had converted every brook into a torrent, and the roads were completely flooded. The last rain fell as I reached Shimla, where I fully expected to have received, from Captain Wade, the long-looked-for reply from the Raja. Disappointed in this, I again wrote in pressing terms. The reply informed me, that I might certainly expect a favourable answer from the Raja, but time-pressed and nothing were fixed. Of the three routes, I had taken a fancy to pursue the one which, skirting the highest mountains, led through the Berenda Pass by Ladhak into Kashmir, and had never as yet been trodden by any European traveller. The season also was already far advanced. From Shimla, the eye is accustomed to look over a splendid panorama, embracing a line of the snow-capped Himalayas, whose average elevation is 15,000 feet above the level of the sea, and which, according to the very lowest calculation, is two hundred and forty miles in length. This line, during the summer, in spite of its immense height, is not entirely covered with snow, except where it faces the north.
One morning I watched a cloud slowly approaching this far, distant chain of hills, and gradually I observed it tracing its onward path with snow, until it disappeared, and the sky, was cloudless as before. The sight was beautiful, but it foreboded ill to my contemplated movements. In the course of the following day, the snow melted, but the ridges of the Kailas had put on their winter garments. It was twenty-three days’ journey to the Berenda Pass; and long ere I could reach it the snow would have formed an impenetrable barrier against me; and, even had it not done so, how improbable was my chance of reaching Ladhak or Kashmir, in this season, by an unfrequented route. The prospect of remaining all through the winter in the tablelands of Tibet was as miserable as it appeared inevitable, and this was all the information I could get at Shimla. How far it was well-grounded will shortly appear. They told me, also, that the road from the Panjab into Kashmir was usually blocked up at the beginning of December; and here, for the benefit of future travellers in India, let me advise that no report should be acted upon as correct which does not rest on the personal experience of the informant; and that even in that case the greatest caution should be exercised.
My plans were consequently changed. It was not without great reluctance that I relinquished my purpose of going through the Berenda Pass. A different route was still open to me, and a shorter one, from Bilaspoor through Mandi and Dankar to Ladhak; but all agreed in one fact, that the passes would very shortly be blocked up; and the fear lest my great object might fail, and that I should not reach Kashmir before this happened, deterred me from following that road. This finally determined me to take the direction of the lowest range of the Himalaya, and to travel by way of Bilaspoor, Jwala Makhi, and Narpoor; from thence, according to circumstances, to move forward to Kashmir either by Kishtwar or the Pir-Panjal, preferring this route to the plain country of the Panjab and Bimber.
My preparations were all made; but, although I: had consulted my comforts as much as possible, I had made up my mind to relinquish anything which might in the slightest way impede my onward progress, and expected to be compelled to abandon my large tents, and even to leave my ponies to await my return from Kashmir, at the foot of the mountains, making my Jampan render me good service. The Jampan is a solid sedan-chair, supported between two thick bamboo poles, and borne by four men, twelve being the complement of bearers usually taken on a journey. It is the customary conveyance on a mountain excursion; but, to my own mind, I relied more on my own two legs than on the twenty-four legs of my bearers.
At last, on the 6th October, I received an intimation from Captain Wade that the Maha Raja had given me leave to travel through his states, and that an officer would be in Bilaspoor on the 14th with the perwana, or royal mandate, addressed to the governors of the provinces through which my way might lead me. This perwana is of as much, or more important in India than our passports in Europe; for whereas our passports only give permission to travel through the state which grants it, a perwana commands the governors of every place to furnish the traveller with bearers, beasts, provisions, and, in fact, everything he may stand in need of on receiving this notice I sent off my people, with all my bag, gage, on the 10th October, three days previous to my own departure, in order to give them time to prepare everything properly, ordering them to pitch my tent on the 12th, at the third station from Shimla, and, in order to give them as much rest as possible, I did not leave Shimla until the 13th, when I rode on one of my kind host’s, Major Kennedy’s horses to Saree, breakfasted there, and then proceeded by Kunyar to Sahikoti. Kunyar is the residence of one of the Rajas of the Himalaya, who resides under the protection of the English. It is not my purpose to describe here any place on the left bank of the Setlej; I shall, therefore, only pause to observe that the situation of Kunyar is charming, that the residence of the Raja Scarce deserves the name of a house, that his revenue may amount to a few thousand rupees, and his subjects to the same number. In Sahikoti I found my tents pitched in a picturesque little valley, According to their different religions and castes my suite was formed into small groups; white and black woollen tents pointed out the spots they had chosen, and each man had kindled his own fire to cook his food himself, according to Indian habits. It was evening when I joined them, and a simple but very well dressed repast, eaten before my tent, under the cloudless canopy of heaven, made me sensible of that independence which is enjoyed by Indian travellers especially. Once having furnished himself with what is absolutely indispensable, the European journeys through the land like a king: he can go wherever his fancy leads him; and need not trouble himself either about custom-houses, barriers, bridges, hedges, or turnpikes. Nobody inquires his name or demands his passport; no broken wheel stops his way; no full or intolerable inn by the roadside rouses his choler; every European he meets with is his friend, and every other being is his humble servant.
As soon as night came on I strayed out to visit my little encampment of one hundred and fifty men. To a novice in Indian travelling the variety displayed even in this limited area, the difference in features, manners, and habits, arising from the various castes and religions, would have afforded much amusement and surprise. For me, used to all this, the loveliness of night and the surrounding country, now illuminated with bright moonlight, had more charms, though the thoughts of my home, far distant, but ever near to my heart, weighed heavily on my spirits.
The next day brought me to Bayoon, under the fort of Malaun, erected on the very highest ridge of a mountain, at least two thousand feet above the valley. Malaun is one of those points in the Himalaya, where, in the Gorkha War of 1814, the English met with brave resistance. The following evening I reached Bilaspoor, a place under the rule of a Hindu Raja, called Kalur Raja.
From Shimla, where this Raja, and thirty-two of the petty sovereigns of the Himalaya besides, have kept an agent since the peace of 1815, which placed them all under the protection of the English, Major Kennedy, the Political Agent in these parts, had forwarded notification of my arrival to Bilaspoor, that my journey might not be impeded by any want of bearers or horses; and on my coming 1 found the Raja’s own state or durbar tent, pitched for me, in a lovely garden on the banks of the Setlej river. I was soon honoured with a visit from the Raja in person, attended by his miniature court. Of all the ignorant and unmannered native chiefs on this side of the river, he is, perhaps, the rudest and unpolished. The half-hour he remained proved a very tedious one to me. His excesses in wine and spirit-drinking have well-nigh robbed him, though still in the prime of life, of the miserable intellect he might once have had. His favourites are two Bengalees, as unworthy as their lord, who speak a little English. According to the custom of the country, he expected me to return his visit, and receive the presents he had prepared for me; but the impressions J had received were so unpleasant, that through my Munshi, Thakur-Das, I very politely excused myself, and agreed, as a compensation, to accept of seven mules, which were not to be had for any money. The animals were to be sent the following morning; meanwhile, however, a certain officer of Ranjit Singh's made his appearance, by the command of his master, and brought me a letter from Captain Wade, advising me that Mirza Abdul had orders to attend me to Narpoor, where a Chobdar, or herald, of the Maha Raja's, had received instructions to be in readiness to wait on me also. The Mirza affixed to his name, which answers nearly to the Turkish word Effendi, made me instantly suspect that he was & spy, and I was happy to find that he was not sent to remain any length of time a burden to me, through the ill provided regions I was soon to traverse; for this escort or guard has prevented many travellers from seeing a country under its true aspect; and it is ever a most serious disadvantage, moreover, in India to be obliged to increase the number of one’s attendants.
Europeans generally come to India fraught with ideas and expectations of finding nature adorned in her richest garb, and & climate which injures health and shortens life, from the very enjoyments to which it tempts you. These anticipations are rarely realized; and the newcomer then falls into an extreme opinion directly opposed to the first, that neither the country nor the climate offers anything uncommon or attractive. Both opinions are erroneous. During the greatest part of the year, Hindustan is little better than a wilderness; the Dekhan is a stony unproductive region, and to Europeans, the climate is, in general, very trying. There are many parts of India, particularly towards the south-west, where the continual heat and damp act powerfully on the constitution, enervating the body, and making exertion most painful. In the north, the heat of the summer is terrific, the short winter is just as cold in proportion, and the transition from one of these seasons to the other occupies but a few days. But although these remarks apply generally to the country, I allow that traveller lights often on spots which leave any picture his imagination may have formed far behind; and if the skies favour him on such occasions, he may well exclaim, How beautiful is India!
Bilaspoor lies in a spacious valley, through which the Setlej winds its long and fertilizing course, while, in the distance, high and waving hills, crowned with villages, stretched for several miles, the snowy peaks of the Himalaya being distinctly visible on the horizon. The valley is extremely fertile, and every tropical plant flourishes in richer profusion here than in most other parts of Hindustan, as if the Great Author of all Nature had lavished his gifts on it without any reserve. The sun was sinking when first I gazed on this beautiful scene; the river rolled proudly on beneath the garden where I stood, surrounded on every side by a treasury of fragrant flowers, among which, rich orange and citron-trees entangled with jasmines, and groups of magnolias, wafted their exquisite perfume around, in the descending dews. The stars and moon rose one by one; not a breath was felt; the lofty palms rustled, and gently stirred their leaves as if some spirit breathed upon them; the trees were lighted up by fire-flies, and within their deep recesses was heard the soft twittering of the birds, and the shriller tones of a kind of mantis, which has its dwelling in the citron-trees; in the distance bright lamps shining through the night, pointed out the temple, where loud voices and noisy drums were sounding to the praise of their idols; the fantastic costumes, the dreamy air, all, all combining together, might well have inspired the coldest spectator to exclaim, as he gazed, This is the very India of which I have dreamed!
But the old traveller in the East knows well that these fair scenes and calm moments are rarely enjoyed, and I wandered along through the broad terraces of the garden ere I sought my tent.
There was no repose for me here. This was the last night for a long time that I should pass in a country under European protection, and bidding farewell to the hope of sleep, I again strayed into the garden, where, except the mantis, everything was now buried in the repose of nature. Long I watched for the first break of early dawn through that lovely night, while all within my tent were sleeping heavily, enjoying the comfort within, and unconscious of the charms without. At length it made its appearance; the servants were soon up and stirring; and amid the din of packing and lading, I had time to survey leisurely the scene around me.
Towards the east, the giant form of the Bondelah mountain was faintly illumined by the first rays of the morning; while in the north, Tayuni, crowned with its solitary castle, caught the newly awakened sunbeams on its loftiest peak. Tradition says, that in an eave on the top of the Bondelah, lives an invisible Bairagi, or Gosain, a penitent hermit who, from time to time, shakes the ashes from his locks, when the whole valley quakes; houses are shaken down, and large masses of stone tumble from the mountain: these are the ashes, according to the inhabitants of the valley.
At Tayuni, an uncle of the present Raja has been confined for the last twelve years, for having, in the plenitude of his folly, ventured, after Ranjit Singh’s treaty with England had changed thy order of things, to pursue the same predatory course to which most of the Rajas of the Himalaya owe their possessions; forgetting that what was all right and proper thirty years ago, is now a criminal offence on either side of the river.
Towards the south, the three fortresses of Bahadurpoor, Futihpoor, and Champa reminded me vividly of those knightly castles built oy the summits of the hills in my native land. Not only is the likeness in a situation to be traced: erected during the last century by the Gorkhas, like our own fortresses they served for the security of the little tyrants who plundered both travellers and inhabitants indiscriminately and then retreated with their ill-gotten booty within their fastnesses. An end is now put to these robberies in India; regular contributions are enforced by the Company on the property on one side of the Setlej; and no sooner does an individual give his portion however small-to the common stock, than he claims the protection of the government as his right. Throughout his own territory, Ranjit Singh is free to levy what taxes he pleases.
But to return. The shoulders of the bearers and the backs of the asses were already laden when the Wakil and the Wazir of the Raja of Bilaspur came to attend me. These Wazirs, as they were called in the Himalaya, are, in point of fact, the real governors of the land, it is looked on as a disgrace for a Raja to concern himself about the administration of his country, or even know how to read or write. His sluggish existence is dragged out in the Zenana, the Indian harem, in eating opium, drinking brandy, and smoking; and in his few sober hours he holds his court or Durbar, or rides from one of his summer-houses to another.
The Raja of Bilaspoor has now attained his thirtieth year,-é period when the understanding and intellect have reached their prime; but Nature has been a niggard to him in these; and the quantities of opium he swallows have rendered him a disgusting object, with staring eyes devoid of expression, and a mouth always half-open. The extent of his capacity may be easily divined, from the questions he asks of the persons who attend his levee, which is usually of the following nature: “Are you well?” “How can I be otherwise than well in the Raja’s presence?” To this, his Highness generally re-joins, “How old are you?” And being enlightened on this point, his next question is, “How many wives have you?” If, as in my case, the stranger answers that he is unmarried, the conversation suffers a sudden check; and to all the questions which the latter puts in order to while away the time, the Raja turns to the Wazir, that he may prompt some answer, which by good luck may be brought to light after five minutes’ consultation between them.
The Raja of the Himalaya being thus sunk into a state of stupid imbecility, we need not much wonder if the Wazir is supposed to be an influential favourite of the Rani or first wife; but it usually happens in these cases, that if the husband’s eyes are opened but once to his wrongs, they are soon closed on all things, and forever. A case of this kind occurred recently in one of the petty states of the Himalaya, under British protection. After the death of the Raja, however, the Wazir so far overstepped the limits accorded to oriental exactions, that the enraged people burst into the summer-dwelling, then occupied by him and the Rani, and burnt it to the ground. The next morning, long after both they and their attendants had ceased to breathe, came to a crowd to wail and lament over the accidental death of the Rani; but though the real facts were well known to everyone, the crime was never brought home to any individuals, and the English Government soon gave up the inquiry they had instituted on the subject.
As my way from Bilaspoor led me through a part of the town, purposed to follow it on foot as far as it skirted the river; but soon found out that my jampan was never more needed, for the Street, are paved with flintstones about a foot in diameter, and as often loge as not, dislodging the unsteady foot of a luckless wayfarer, and knocking it violently to one side or the other. I was surprised to see the natives step lightly over these stones without once stumbling, until discovered that long acquaintance with the loose ones enabled them without much difficulty, to avoid them. The garden walls and inclosed places are well built with the same large round stone, For a mile onwards, the road adjoined the left bank of the Setlej, it then led to a rapid brook, and’ thence to the ferry boat, which was nothing more or less than a square box of wood, strongly put together, and having different partitions a foot high; I had no sooner come up than I found about twenty persons had already taken their places; in addition to these, Ranjit Singh’s two followers and their horses; my Munshi, on horseback, twenty of my people; and after all, the Wakil and Wazir, with their servants, now stepped in, Against this last addition I stoutly protested, and took the part of the poor natives, who had arrived before us, whom the Wazir was ordering away, to make room for my bearers. It is in such matters that every Indian, invested with power, is an absolute tyrant, and considers all things on earth as made to obey the strongest. The lower classes enjoy a certain degree of independence, attributable to the smallness of their wants, the climate, and their indolent character, which is content with the least possible indulgence; but when a higher than themselves appears, they sink at once into nothingness, and from none do they receive less compassion than from hired servants. On all occasions, indeed, the poor Hindu is made to feel the bitterness of inferiority; and if he sues for the smallest favour, he is often sent back to his miserable hut day after day for many months, before’ he obtains even an answer; yet he bears all this without a murmur, in hopes of better times.
Our heavy cargo was at last set in motion, and we soon crossedG the roaring stream, and landed safely on the opposite shore, although our strange vessel was half-filled with water. The natives swim across the stream with the help of an ox’s skin, inflated with the wind, in an ingenious way. Having carried this on their shoulders to the shore, they spread themselves upon it on the water, laying fast hold with one hand, while they strike the water with a piece of timber in the other. The sight of a number of these skins, with the head and feet of the beast left on them as in life, constantly floating across the river, is very amusing. Higher up towards the mountains, where the Setlej rushes over rocks deeply embedded, and with amazing force, the passage is made in a basket firmly tied on each shore with ropes which are swung across the stream.
Author: Navin Kumar Jaggi
Co-Author: Gurmeet Singh Jaggi