THE BRITISH ERA ANNALS OF THE RECORDS OF TRAVELLERS TO KASHMIR.
The great mystery of language, which by one sound can bring before us not a single image only, but a multitude of objects and events, and fill the imagination according to its capacity, in no case exercises its influence more strongly than in words which express the names of different lands. To the ear of a European, the word England, for example, instantly recalls to mind the wealth of that island, and her maritime power; France, is ever associated with the turmoils of ambition and faction; Italy, with sunny climes and poetry; and Germany, with our ideas of a staid conscientious people. True, the images conjured up in the fancy of every individual, will lose much of their truth and charms when experience has shown him how sorely he has deceived himself in many things; but when the land of which he dreams, is situated far off, his ideas, though equally vague, are less likely to be disappointed. We have no remembrances attached to the name of a New Zealander; we revert only to his character with horror, like a cannibal, while the New Hollanders excite our compassion for the scanty gifts which Providence has vouchsafed them. Compared, however, with these countries, Kashmir is an object of especial interest. We behold, in imagination, a delightful valley sheltered on every side by lofty mountains, with streams of the purest water issuing forth from their declivities, which flow gently on till they fall into the mighty rivers which bend their way majestically through the vale. From their summits, crowned with Alpine vegetation, down to the depths beneath, where the luxuriant products of India predominate, there is a succession of plants, which gradually assume as they descend, the lighter and more graceful forms of tropical vegetation. The same fancy peoples the land with noble human forms adorns it with the palaces and gardens of the Moghul Emperors and recalls the tales of fairy islets, with their magic lakes and floating gardens. There, exclaims the youthful enthusiast, who is never likely to realize these visions, there, must be happy; there, thinks the philosopher, might our first parents have been summoned into being, Indians, no less than Europeans feel the charm of this name. The Mohammedan believes Kashmir to have been the earthly paradise, the Hindu has the same tale in his legends of the last Maha-Yug, descriptive of the revival of the human race. Fiction, in every case, points to Kashmir, as the land of promise. Even the apathetic eye of the Brahmin, and the cold-fixed thoughtfulness of the Mullah, are known to brighten up at the mention of its sweet retreats.
The last travellers, Jacquemont and Wolff, men of very opposite minds and opinions, have somewhat lessened our favourable ideas on this subject; but the first avow himself nearly blind, and it certainly was not the design of the latter to descant on the loveliness of nature, To examine whether Kashmir would bear the uplifting of the veil which has so gracefully and immemorially hung over her, and see whether the first or the last travellers have drawn the truest portrait, to reach the very limit of Indian civilization, were my chief persuasive to pass several months in this celebrated region; and, why should I deny it? The anticipation of beholding the loveliest spot on earth, had power enough to allure one no longer young, to undertake another tedious and toilsome journey.
Our authorities on Kashmir are very defective before the time of the Mohammedans, though, in fact, there is yet one native chronicle extant, entitled, the Raja Taringini, which has been translated by Professor Wilson, and published in the Asiatic Researches; to this, we shall allude further in speaking of the History of Kashmir. The Raja Taringini has always been considered in our times as a complete work; far otherwise: it is a collection of four separate treatises, by as many authors. The first begins with the creation of the valley of Kashmir and concludes with the year A.D. 1027 (Saka 949). The author of this portion was Kalhana Pandit. ‘The second, or Rajavali, by Jona Raja, carries the history down to A.D. 1412. The third, or Sri Jaina Raja Taringini, was written by Sri Vara Pandit, who brought it down to the year of the Hejira 882 (A.D. 1477). The fourth and last part called Rajavali Pataka, by Punya Bhatta, concludes with the conquest of Kashmir by Akbar the Great, Emperor of Delhi, A.H. 995 (A.D.1586).
We shall see elsewhere, how far the Raja Taringini merits that pretension to antiquity, to which it has hitherto laid claim.
The other works are Baber’s Memoirs, which are quite unimportant on this subject of Kashmir.
Goheri Alem Tohfet us-Shah of Badia-ud-din.
Abul Fazel Aym-Akberi.
A History by an unknown Persian author, containing a long list of princes and legends.
A History of the Mohammedan Kingdoms of India, by Mohammed Kasim Ferishta.
Hajus de Rebus Japonicis, Indicis, & C.
Les Lettres Edifiantes.
Tarikh-i-Kashmir, by Narayan Kul.
The History of Kashmir, by Mullah Hassan Kari.
Ditto, by Hyder Malek Shad-Waria.
Wakiat-i-Kashmir, by Mohammed Azim.
Nawadir ul Akbar, by Mohammed Rafia-ud-din.
Nur Nameh, written by Shekh Nir-ud-din, in the Kashmirian language, and translated into Persian by Mulvi Ahmet Almeh.
History of Kashmir, while in possession of the Afghans, in Persian, by Mdlvi Khair-ud-din.
Elphinstone’s Kabul, and Burnes’ Journey to Bokhara; very valuable works for the countries they visited in person; but as their information regarding Kashmir was derived exclusively from natives, whose testimony must be admitted with great caution, many errors have crept in.
The most recent work which treats of Kashmir, and contains the most important documents concerning the last sixteen years, is the History of Ranjit Singh, by Mr Prinsep, Secretary to the Government of India, who derived his information from the Honourable Company’s archives. I have taken most of my notes on the Panjab from this gentleman’s valuable work.
Bernier’s Travels in India; an Essay in Letters concerning his Journey in Aurungzeb's suite.
Forster's Letters, Journey from Bengal to St. Petersburgh.
Researches and Missionary Labours, by the Rev. Jos. Wolff.
Correspondence of Victor Jacquemont, during his Travels in India.
The Papers in the Asiatic Researches, and in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
Major Rennel’s Geographical Memoirs.
Ritter’s Geography of Asia; a work containing an immense store of information and learning, greater indeed and more important than any other dedicated to the same objects, though perhaps not strictly to be considered as one of the authorities on Kashmir, Moorcroft’s work, not yet published, though it was sent to me while in the press, I have purposely abstained from reading, that might keep my mind free from any impressions which I might otherwise in all probability have received from the perusal of a work by another modern author.
The first authentic information concerning Kashmir, which appears to have reached Europe, was through the Portuguese, whose religious zeal prompted them to promulgate Christianity among the natives; for we attach little credit to the tales we are told of their king marching to the relief of Porus when he was attacked by Alexander the Great, although the later Greek authors mention a country they call Kaspatyrus and Kaspatyrus, and sometimes Kasperia, which would seem to be Kashmir. Setting aside such unsatisfactory accounts, we may repeat, that to Europe, Kashmir was in a measure unknown, till the subjects of Portugal first trod its valleys. The Jesuit Xavier, a Navarese of high birth, is supposed to be the very first European whoever had the glory or the courage to penetrate to this remote region. Another of the same family, Francis Xavier, animated with like fervent zeal to diffuse the light of Christian truth throughout the East, had already gained, and not undeservedly, the glorious title of the Apostle of the Indies. In the year 1572, exactly twenty years after Francis Xavier had fallen 8 martyrs to his high and holy calling, his kinsman landed on the shores where Xavier had been foremost to plant the cross. His apostolic mission carried him first to the residence of the Moghul Emperors, which Father Rudolf Aquaviva had recently visited. Xavier appeared at the court of Akbar the Great at Agra, accompanied by another fellow-labourer, Benedict Goez, a native of the Azores; and by their shortly afterwards attending the Emperor to Kashmir, it would seem that the tolerant spirit of Akbar had actually entertained some thoughts of establishing, or at least of favouring the progress of, the new faith in India. Xavier’s remarks on Kashmir, which are published in that very scarce work, Hajus de Rebus Japonicis, Indices, & C., (Antwerp, 1605,) are of no particular value.
The second traveller who made us acquainted with this country was Bernier, whose motives for undertaking the journey were widely different from those of his predecessor. Xavier prosecuted what he believed to be a high and holy office; Bernier’s sole object was, increased knowledge of the world; but the bent of his genius as well as the advantages under which he travelled, render his observations on the countries he visited, more valuable than any that had then appeared. He was a young physician, of engaging appearance, of enterprising mind and pleasing manners, qualities which would insure to most travellers a hearty welcome in foreign lands. Urged by an unconquerable desire to see the world, he left his native country, France, in 1654, in his twenty-ninth year, (Voltaire says he was born at Anger in 1625,) and without any settled purpose or plan, wandered first through Syria and Egypt. In the year 1657, during the reign of Shah Jahan, he came to Surat, then a place of some importance in the commercial world, at the very period when the emperor's four sons were contending for the Moghul throne. Aurungzeb was the conqueror, and under the name of Alumgir ascended the throne of Delhi. To that city, Bernier repaired, and there entered the service of DanishmandKhan, an Omrah in the court of Alumgir, as his personal physician, with a monthly salary of 300 rupees. In 1665, he attended the Emperor and Danishmand Khan to Kashmir, for the purpose of restoring the health of the former, which had long been declining. Kashmir at that time was in all the plenitude of its glory. For fifty years it had been the favourite summer resort of Aurungzeb’s grandfather Jahangir, and his father Shah Jehan, but the latter had more particularly occupied himself in embellishing the valley with palaces and gardens. The wealth thus brought into circulation by the protracted visits of the Court, had produced general abundance; while the grandees vied with their sovereign in every predilection for luxury and extravagance. The patron of Bernier was a friend and protector to science, and afforded him every facility for exploring the country; but unfortunately, speculative philosophy so preoccupied his mind, that the study of nature and even statistics, had little or no charm for him. This deprived his work of much value, notwithstanding which, it is an interesting record of the history of that time, as its pages have the evident impress of truth; nor is it any slight praise when we say, that Bernier is one of the most faithful writers that ever travelled, merit the more uncommon in those days, when reader, longed to be surprised by the marvellous, rather than instructed by the true, and when, at all events, Bernier had nothing to fear from the superior information of any European.
After twelve years’ abode in India, he returned to his fatherland, and fixed himself at Paris, where his travels were published in 1670, cannot forbear relating the cause of his end, as it seems to me peculiarly affecting and instructive. Befriended by Ninon de l’Enclos, and in the literary coteries were Racine, Boileau, St. Evremond, and other stars of Louis XIV.’s brilliant reign, moved along with him, distinguished ag the handsome philosopher, Bernier could not withstand the general corruption around him, and at length died, in consequence of the mortification, he experienced at a bitter satire of the President du Harlay, in 1688, a proof that his philosophy, the Epicurean philosophy of Gassendi, was merely a mask to cover the extreme of folly.
As a traveller, however, Bernier surely deserves a high place among those who unite courage to talent, and whose enterprises are undertaken, not from any low or sordid motives, but from an honourable thirst after knowledge and truth. His travels are now almost forgotten. It has, unhappily, been too much the habit of most readers, to expect something wonderful and fantastic from writers on India; his work, nevertheless, is not a whit the less valuable and is entitled to every confidence as an authority, from which modern writers may well derive much information, and may justly find 3 places in every library. Nowhere shall we read a more faithful and impartial account of the manners and usages of India; his descriptions are, to this moment, as striking and appropriate as when his hand first penned them.
Father Desideri, a Jesuit, was the third European visitor to Kashmir; he undertook a mission to Tibet, reached the valley in 1714, and was compelled to remain there during the winter. His observations on Kashmir, contained in a letter from Lassa in 1716, are wholly undeserving of notice.
Then came George Forster, in the year 1783, a civil servant in the Company’s Presidency of Madras, who journeyed through Bengal, Lucknow, Srinagar, Nadaun, and over the mountains of Kashmir, returning by way of Kabul, the Caspian, and St. Petersburg, home, altogether a most arduous enterprise, at a period when Northern India and Central Asia were overrun with freebooters, and a number of petty states had arisen on the ruins of the Moghul kingdoms, whose very weakness made them suspicious of each other. Kashmir had then been, for some years, rent from the crown of Delhi, Ahmed Shah Abdali having conquered the whole province in 1754, and annexed it to Afghanistan. Originally Ahmed had been Nadir Shah’s armour-bearer and had learned the art of government in the Persian court. In the year 1739, as Nadir Shah gazed from the terrace before the little mosque of Rokn-ud-doula, on the burning of the plundered houses of Delhi, he exclaimed to those around him, among whom Ahmed stood, “So will I deal with all the kingdoms of India until the wealthiest of the land shall beg before seven doors, ere he finds an earthen pot to cook his rice in.” His threat was not fulfilled by himself, but his servant Ahmed trod in his footsteps in Hindustan and plundered Kashmir, which even Nadir had spared. When Forster visited the valley, Timur Shah, the son and successor of Ahmed, had been ten years on the throne, enjoying the fruits of his father’s conquests, in as much quiet as his restless neighbours to the north and west would permit. A despotic viceroy, Azad Khan, then governed Kashmir, and to avoid persecutions, which had nearly cost him his life, Forster was obliged to have recourse to disguises and concealments which, during his short stay there, under a perpetual dread of discovery, prevented him from making any very important use of his time; his little work is, nevertheless, very attractive, and one cannot help feeling interested in the unassuming kind-hearted man, who relates his adventures and dangers so unpretendingly.
Forty years passed away before another traveller went to Kashmir, and, during this long period, many changes had taken place in the aspect of affairs in this part of Asia. The English had begun to aspire to universal dominion in India; the sums of money, yearly expended for the shawls of Kashmir had not escaped their attention, and it had become a question, which engaged their merchants, whether it would not be more profitable to manufacture the wool in Hindustan or in England, or even, whether it would not be possible to introduce the breed of sheep into their own country, and secure the exclusive production of that material. Mr Moorcroft, an enterprising man, who had gone out to India as a veterinary surgeon, was commissioned, by his government, to make a journey through the Himalaya to the table-land of Tibet, and report on this matter. Both regions were then imperfectly known, and made the subjects of many fabulous narratives; but, however important the result of his journey, in a geographical view, he altogether failed in the object of his mission. It is true that he sent a number of goats to Bengal, which was despatched afterwards to England, but they proved to be of a different breed from the finest shawl-wool goats of Kashmir. In 1820, Moorcroft, then officiating as director of a large stud in Bengal, was commissioned once more to visit Central Asia, and with their usual liberality, the East India Company permitted him to make his own arrangements for the journey and gave him authority to draw upon them for any sum he might require for his expenses.
Accompanied by two young men, named Trebeck and Guthrie; Moorcroft commenced his adventurous journey at Lahore. Ranjit Singh, the Maha Raja of the Sikhs, King of Lahore, had just taken possession of Kashmir, and Moorcroft found no difficulty in obtaining the Prince's permission to traverse his dominions on his way from Ladakh to Bokhara. In his character of a horse-dealer, attended by a numerous retinue, he passed by Bilaspoor and Mundi, to the strong fortress of Dankar, and reached Ladakh in safety. There, however, forgetting that he had nothing to do with politics, he drew up, and signed, in the name of the Company, a formal treaty with the Rajas of Ladakh. Although a stranger in an unknown and dangerous country, he might be excused, if, environed with difficulties, he consented to negotiate where he had no authority, and promised without any power of fulfilment, with the view to gain some specific object. But Moorcroft could plead no such necessity, for he was kindly received, and met with no impediments at all; and hence, the treaty which he executed in the Company's name, can be defended on no one ground; and during my residence in Kashmir, it caused the Raja of Ladhak to brave the consequences of » war which may cost him the half of his dominions.
From Ladhak he journeyed to Kashmir through the Naubuk-Pansal; and after remaining there nearly two years, proceeded, with a princely retinue, towards Balkh. His baggage, worth several lacs of rupees, was carried by 300 bearers, exclusive of all the animals employed; and this parade being displayed insight of the natives, induced the Sikh Viceroy, Moti Ram, to offer him a friendly warning, while his friend Mahommed Shab Nakshbandi, of a Turkistan family, sent him a strong escort to serve him in case of danger. From Balkh, he proceeded to Andkhoo. There he felt symptoms of a fever gaining on him; but he wrote to one of his Indian friends, full of hope, that the medicines he had taken to remove them, would be effectual. In this hope, he deceived himself; in three days from that time he was a corpse, and the same disease speedily cut off his two young English companions.
Naturally enough, the premature death of the three European, was ascribed to the half-civilized people among whom they were they residing, and their plundering habits, joined to the circumstance, that Moorcroft’s baggage was entirely lost, certainly favoured thy suspicion; but a strict investigation, instituted among his retinue, has proved it to be wholly unfounded, and every well-informed person in Kashmir, and Hindustan, is now satisfied, that his death was occasioned by fever; the declaration that Trebeck and Guthrie fell victims to the same disease, does not seem to me, however, quite so well substantiated.
His papers were saved and transmitted to the Political Agent in Ludhiana, who sent them forthwith to his superior, the Resident at Delhi. The expectation of the Indian public to know the results of a journey, which had cost such vast sums, and terminated so fatally, was long strained to its highest pitch, but in vain; the nonappearance of the papers was attributed to the narrow policy of the government, which desired not to admit the world to a participation in their unknown treasures, and as all things in India are of brief interest and duration, poor Moorcroft, his travels, and his death, were soon forgotten. A fresh and more tragical event, however, transpired, to shew how unfounded were these accusations of the Company. In March 1835, Mr Fraser, Assistant Resident at Delhi, was basely murdered by a hired assassin of Shams-ud-din, the Nawab of Ferozpur, and on examining his papers those of Moorcroft were discovered, lying forgotten in his desk, and were then, for the first time, brought to light*. What they may contain, I know not; but certainly the long and uninterrupted residence of Moorcroft, in the valley of Kashmir, must have made him very well acquainted with it.
Under what different aspects and governments were Kashmir seen by these three travellers! Bernier knew it as the summer residence of the haughty Moghul Emperors, a retreat they took pride in adorning, though such embellishments could in no way add to its beauty; on the contrary, throughout the East, the builder of a palace cares little what there may be around and beyond its walls, enough, if within, all its pomp and splendour, and indicative of the lavish prodigality of its wealthy occupant. Hence, too frequently, the road leads to it through a dismal series of ruins, or by a narrow street, bounded by half dilapidated huts, and as no one cares to keep such buildings in good repair, in the course of a few years’ signs of commencing dilapidation appear. Indifferent soever as Indian monarchs may be, whether the precincts of the royal domain be laid out in gardens or destitute of culture, they are no less so to the condition of their people, whether they dwell in comfort, or languish under the most grievous extortions, nor can anything be more erroneous, than the opinions of many Europeans, that the dwellings of these Eastern Sovereigns were alike splendid within and without. This is very far from being the case, although Kashmir did, perhaps, more resemble the park-like vicinity of our palaces, than most other tropical regions.
When Mr Forster visited Kashmir, he found it in a measure independent; the governor left behind by the plundering Afghans, considered himself as absolved from all authority, sending only to the capital, Kabul, whatever tribute he thought proper to spare, and no more. Though he grievously oppressed the people, the extravagant mode of life of this Mohammedan caused the money collected from the revenue and taxes to circulate again into the hands of the natives indirectly, who derived, also, immense profits by the increased exportation of their manufactures. The system of government prevailing on the occasion of Moorcroft’s visit was much the same as at present and will be explained in a future chapter.
Victor Jacquemont was peculiarly favoured by circumstances when his travels led him to Kashmir. He was commissioned by the Jardin des Plantes, to form a collection for them in India, and General Allard, a Frenchman in Ranjit Singh’s service, proposing to him to visit Kashmir on his route, he gladly accepted the offer and obtained Ranjit’s permission and every facility for the journey. I was personally acquainted with Jacquemont, who had improved his, natural talents by the most persevering course of study. What he really did while in Kashmir has not yet been made known to the world; all that we have hitherto perused are his familiar letter, to his family and friends, which have been published contrary to his expressed wish. These letters, as we might naturally expect, throw no new light on science; they shew the man of talent, but they have done immense injury to his memory in India. They who assisted him with advice and their good services, now stigmatize him as an ungrateful slanderer, and many, who really liked and esteemed him, feel deeply hurt and disappointed.
The missionary travels of Mr Wolff are before the public. Whose missionary was he? From the Propaganda Fide? No; first a Jew, then a Papist, converted in Rome, and now a Protestant; Mr Wolff is not a delegate either from Rome or the Church of England, but according to his own declaration, derives his mission direct from Christ, to spread the knowledge of the Bible among the Jews, and to fulfil this appointment he has undertaken, at the expense of different zealots, various adventurous and hazardous journeys. His conduct is of an extraordinary nature, however, when he finds himself in the midst of those formerly of the same faith with himself; like a meteor, he appears, and then deeming it enough to enlighten them with one or two speeches, he straightway departs again. Those who are well acquainted with Central Asia and India find in his little work a good deal of useful information; but, to the uninitiated, it is a confused mass of materials ill put together, in which the ever-present is mixed up in the most familiar terms with the name of our blessed Lord and Saviour. But, in extenuation of this celebrated missionary, it is to be observed, that the grand objects which he had in view in his intercourse with his brethren have been to inquire into their situation and circumstances in the different lands of their dispersion, and to excite them to the religious inquiry. He has all along professed to be merely a pioneer, leaving the work of systematic and continuous instruction to his successors.
Author: Navin Kumar Jaggi
Co-Author: Gurmeet Singh Jaggi