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A pilgrimage to Mata Bader Kali

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By Bhushan Parimoo

A long cherished desire to participate in the celebration of Mata Baderkali festival at Handwara, Kashmir was at last realised. The Mata Baderkali Sathapan Committee made it possible for me and I remain indebted to them on this account.

The experience is a matter of satisfaction and revealing one though the wish realized this October at the twilight of mortal frame after seventy plus summers. Slender had become the thread between to be there and the final abode! But well said “better late than never” perhaps it was all predestined.

 

Two things which had baptised the fire to visit this shrine had been the influence of my dear mother who often visited this holy shrine in her childhood days when her father was posted in the Forest Department, sometime about 1930 and resided in village Chanam. The other one as transpired about forty years ago from a book that late Syed Ahmed Shah, who retired as Inspector General of Police, popularly known as Shamji, during his childhood days was not keeping good health, a caused of worry in the family.

It was here at Mata Baderkali shrine his mother Dulhan Begum (from Udhampur) wife of late Syed Ahmed Ali Shah of Teetwal who too served the Forest Department, paid obeisance and prayed for her son’s good health. It is believed that a Sadhu in the shrine assured that her prayers had been accepted and called the child Shamji. From then onwards the name ‘Shamji’ stuck with the boy’s name and later in his adult life.

Just utter the name Mata Baderkali to any Kashmiri anywhere on this planet, irrespective of faith, and the person without hesitation shall respond suffixing it with “of Handwara”. Situated about 7 kms west from Handwara connected by all-weather motor road the abode of Mata Baderkali is situated on a small hilltop amidst a rich and thick coniferous Deodars forest covering an area of about 116 Kanals. Earlier there used to be a wooden structure and wooden idol of Mata. However, as narrated by Late Keshav ji Darbari, my maternal grandfather, the wooden idol was replaced by a Shila. A bi-annual three-days celebration is organised during Navratras with a Maha Yaga performed for peace prosperity for all with of blessings Baderkali.

The Maha Yaga starts from the evening of the 7th of Navratra with Kalash Pooja and followed by the other religious ceremonies amidst Vedic Mantras recited for whole night till its conclusion next afternoon with a Puran Ahuti. And on the third day that is called Ramnavmi, a goat is sacrificed as per rituals and traditions sanctimonious to Maa Kali. Devotees from nook and corner of the country and even overseas make it a point to visit the shrine to pay obeisance.

Apart from the Kashmiri Pandits, once residents in the state, and the business class called Khatris, whose Kuldevi is Baderkali, participate in the Yaga and seek blessing. A little below where the shrine is situated is the village called Baderkal at the foothill which has cent percent population that followers Islam, but as a tradition inhabitants all along ensure the sanctity of this holy shrine is maintained at any cost against all heavy odds .

Down below once thickly populated Hindu population of the village Wadipora ,under whose care primarily the shrine used to be are known to have look after the shrine before the recent migration of the Pandits .It were they who after the biannual celebratory function used to pay daily obeisance to the deity, traversing about 8 kms to and fro throughout the year in all seasons even in inclement weather through mountain of snow , braving the threat of carnivorous and ferocious wild animals like bear and leopards. In that sense their faith complete devotion has been exemplary.
Wadipora at present has a complete deserted look and in ruins. A silence of a grave yard prevails all over and presents very depressing scenario.

Needless to add that in earlier times the devotees from other area also used to participate in full number in the Maha Yaga and offered sacrifice of goats. Even Langars used to be found spreads all around here and there during the occasion. The hustle and bustle gave a festive look. Shops of essential items used to be erected by the locals adding to the look of a big Mela. Tragically, the migration of the Pandits has topsy-turvy to the old tradition.

It followed with the shrine being subjected to desecration by the fanatics that made the army to step in and take control and repair the shrine. Currently the army performs daily Puja. It is learnt that during 2004 the authorities in the army were of the view that tradition be carried by the Baradrian itself to restore confidence as the scenario then appeared inching towards normalcy. Sanatan Dharm Sabha Handwara came forward and revived the tradition even when the entire population of devotees in Kupwara, Baramula districts and other places had shifted per force outside the valley for safety despite this still the heart and memories of the devotees lay in the valley.

During Ramnavmi the devotees conduct Bhandara regularly at Jammu which serves as a meeting point for confabulations to chalk out the future line of action as to how to protect the shrine in difficult times while carrying on and keeping alive the tradition as per faith. Towards this objective a unanimous decision was arrived at to form a Mata Baderkali Asthapan Committee in 2012.

A 15 members committee was constituted through consensus with Dileep Pandita, President, Sh Ashok Kumar Kaw, General Secretary and Chnand ji Pandita as Organiser.

The Committee works in complete cohesion that lends it the strength for a multi-pronged strategy to deliver by way of restoring the biannual Maha Yaga at Mata Baderkali shrine with its earlier traditional gaiety and glory through the spirit of cooperation , volunteerism and devotion .

The committee ensures that those who wish to perform pilgrimage do not encounter any impediment or obstacle. Such efforts have attracted more and more devotees over the passage of time resulting in restoring the glory of Mata’s celebrations at the shrine in its zenith. Apart from these activities the Committee also is making efforts, for persons who cannot undertake arduous journey due to old age infirmity and other reasons beyond control to the holy shrine, to build a replica of the shrine by way of a temple at Jammu itself where majority of devotees live after migration. In these efforts about 13 Kanals of land already stands purchased.

The Committee further intends to add more land subject to funds besides build a complex, apart from the temple of Mata, comprising institutions like school and all going well an old age home as well. For the present writer the pilgrimage was most revealing in its totality and was a satisfying one.

The Mata Baderkali Asthapan Committee over the years has perfected the deliverance system for smooth hassle-free celebration of the event even as every bit of items for Yaga, arrangements for the Yatris at the shrine has to be catered from Handwara with a limited manpower which though is also not an easy job.

However, it may be pointed out that the shrine lacks accommodation for the participating devotees and also, requires sanitation facilities as per requirement besides the electricity facilities. It may be recalled that during his Prime Minister ship of Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad electricity was provided right up to the Holy Shrine.

However, with a passage of time after him all that is gone except that the Baradrian still remembers it vividly and are grateful. In more recent years, the devotees in large numbers have started performing pilgrimage to shrine once again but still miles away what it used to be earlier or has the potential for. It is laudable that the administration renders all necessary help and courteous cooperation to make Yatra a success by providing adequate security from both the ‘gun and wild animals’ for all those who brave during night at temperature of one or two degree centigrade. Essential services such as medical assistance, portable water, food items, fire Services were there. That apart, the Holy Shrine needs a number of Yatri Bhavans, community halls ,adequate modern toilet facilities, assured transport service, reliable electric supply and more importantly reliable Net services for connectivity in the remote and vulnerable area as it is.

The minuscule community of the Yatris deserves ample confidence from the government to convey that their needs are recognised; while as from public it is readily available and that too in plenty which makes this Yatra possible. For greater popularity of the Yatra ritual a master plan needs to be formulated and submitted to government in consultation with the Mata Baderkali Asthapan Committee a duly registered body for the development of adequate facilities of the Yatris.

All praises deserve for the efforts in arranging this Mela which is being revived in its original festivity by the Committee that is inching towards its pristine glory as a model of brotherhood. In order to have a greater festive look of the Mela and connected celebrations, other aspects of the event should cover broader canvass of activities. Stalls of Information Department would be welcome as the Pandit community is book lover who always seek knowledge .

Heard elders during late hours deliberation literature, most of it from the persons of other faith not confined to any particular faith, there lies our strength .The writer learns that Vishvanath Raina nearing eighties from the area is producing a documentary film on his personal experience about the composite culture of Kashmir thrived once despite diversion of faiths got worst beating. The initiative needs to be restored. Culture activities presenting local culture has to be presented for the youngsters who may have heard but never seen, tourism informative activities to be stressed upon area has rich spots both religious and otherwise.

Large number of locals from various villages both male females children thronged to this place to find and meet their acquaintances was a scene to watch which gave joy of one fraternity at the same time pain why a separation befallen and brought suffering on both side. One suffered due to migration, rendered houseless from well off to pecuniary on the other hand those left behind suffer from charged atmosphere. In its totality both sides suffers how long no one knows. It is the Rajwar Tigers Brigade has been managing the Yagna and rendering ever kind of comfort to the yatris since it has taken charge of its protection through one of the Rashtriya Rifles command under whose jurisdiction it falls. With military precession every item is being taken care for the function.
(The author is a Jammu based environmentalist)


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Opinion

Age of Enlightenment: Early Greek Philosophy

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By Amir Suhail Wani

All great philosophies and philosophers of the world have been those who made man premier of their teachings. The first entity that man encounters in this boundless universe is his own self. Centuries before, Socrates, who was influenced by Sophism, but was not a Sophist’, asserted that the real subject of man’s knowledge is the man himself. As Alfred Weber accentuates:-

“He [Socrates] placed the study of moral man and of the duties of the citizen in the very centre of education” Despite his bent of mind towards scepticism in regards of cosmogony he was not sceptic towards the knowledge of human self.

 

Thus the phrase “Know Thyself”, as it stands inscribed in the temple of Delphi, reflects the man-centeredness of Socrates. His greatest contribution lied in moving from Protagoras’s individual and subjective man to objective and universal “Human”. Plato, a disciple of Socrates and the author of “The Phaedrus”, “The Symposium”, “Dialogues” “The Republic” and others, emerged as the next towering figure in Greek philosophy. He made extensive use of Allegories and expressed his ideas in the form of dialogues. His most important concept is one of idealism. He believes that the universe, as it appears to us is rather an illusion and the reality lies in idea. His philosophy was deeply influenced by geometry and he made extensive use of geometrical facts in formulating his “world-view”. Thus Platonic philosophy is the science of ideas, enshrined in geometrical lexicon. In platonic pyramid, man is the end of nature, and the idea the end of man. In his view, the highest end lies in man’s most perfect likeness to God. But then he resembles God with abstractions like “Absolute Justice” or “Truth”, which spirals the whole issue back to idealism. Thus Plato’s philosophy and his concept of man, despite its own legacy suffered a heavy criticism. It considered man as the measure of everything and rejected the existence of external universe out rightly. This concept could have been an ideal playfield for idealists or for those who held the views of scepticism. But for millions of conscious people who pondered upon this paradox found Platonic claims to be vague.

Another dexterous philosopher of this period was Aristotle (Born 385 B.C). His works in included both theoretical sciences like theology, mathematics as well as practical sciences like ethics, politics etc. One of the nuclear doctrines of Aristotle is quadruple of “Matter”, “Idea”, “Movement” and “Final cause”. In other words his entire system is founded on “Trinity of Potentiality, movement and actuality”. To him every being is a combination of form and substratum or idea and matter. Aristotelian picture of human essence is beautifully encapsulated in following paragraph.

“Nous”, the principle of divine reason makes human soul an intermediate being between the animals and God. In sensibility perception arid memory, it resembles the animal; in reason it is like God. This dual aspect constitutes its originality as a moral being. There can be no morality without the coexistence of animal and intellectual principles. The animal is not a moral being, because it is devoid of intellect. Nor can there be any question of morality in case of God, who is a pure thought.

Hence morality is the distinguishing characteristic of human nature, and the end of human life consists neither in one sided development of animal functions nor in changing man into god, but the complete and harmonious expansion of our dual essence’. In this sequence there emerges another figure in the form of Epicurus and his “Epicurean school of thought’, which deemed pleasure (Ataraxy) as the ultimate ideal of life”.

This system was simple and anti-mystical in nature and formalism. Much of the existing knowledge of Epicureanism comes from Lucretius’ poem on “Nature of things”. Epicurus divided philosophy into three parts “Canonic”, dealing with rules for finding the truth, “’physics’, concerned with the nature of world and “ethics”, concerned with morality”.

“Stoicism’’, which was collectively formulated upon the teachings of number of philosophers like Zeno, Seneca, Chrysippus, Soli and others was not merely philosophy but a theistic system raised upon the ruins of polytheism or a kind of compromise between theism and atheism. Stoicism concerned itself with the active relationship between cosmic determinism and human freedom. This triangular philosophy of ‘God, man and universe’ forms the crux of stoic philosophy. They too, like Heraclitus believe that heat or energy is the principle of life. But in stoicism, man occupies a pedestal as Mired glibly puts it “Man is to God-universe what the spark is to the flame, the drop to the ocean”.

Confining ourselves to Greeks, after

Stoicism there ensued periods of “Academic scepticism”, and “Sensationalistic scepticism” both of which stressed upon the uncertainty of knowledge resulting from position, distance and other spatial temporal relations existing between the observers and observed.

The “Neo-Platonist” school of thought presented a picture of God that resembled too closely to Islamic one, with marginal differences. To put it in more subtle form, “He the holy one is beyond the beyond and again beyond the beyond”. And as Alfred Weber eloquently sums it “the God of

Neo-Platonism is superior even to idea and therefore eludes the thought”. Neo-Platonism upholds the belief of reunion of ego (Man) with Super Ego (God).Their chief belief in regards the existence of man is that “personality” is not the only form of existence, but all individuals (creatures) are constantly driven towards the creator. is the same thought which is enshrined in most of the schools of thought of Islamic mysticism and has been adored by Islamic mystics as their chief tenet. Neo-Platonists further hold that each form of life emulates the higher form is “Spiritual evolution”, whereby life is ever dissatisfied by its “present” also echoes in Mathnavi of Rumi in most profound form. . The basic premise of Mathnavi is that the souls in devolution from God realized the pain of egress and became restless to reunite with their source i.e. God. is sentence forms the diagonal for the whole matrix of Rumi’s philosophy. In “Neo-Platonist theory’; man is seen as the part of divine whole and of celestial origin. They believe human souls were first divine souls, conscious of God alone. Before coming to world of nature souls were in world of command where they were intimately close to God. After coming to nature spirits got bridled by earthly elements, particularly by their bodies that detached them from divine world. “Neo-Platonism” believes that it is an inexplicable fact that how and why spirits came about to suffer from egress after being in a state of union with God, but they are in perpetual motion towards their origin-the God. Subsequent to this era eventuated the era of Christian theology that was predominantly the echo of Platonic thought. e concept of man, as was presented by Christianity is discussed somewhere else . Here only a passing reference has been made to maintain continuity of the subject. Continuing its passage via corridors of time, philosophy continued to assume forms and philosophers continued to enrich the subject with their astute and manifold ideas. Each new era led to the synthesis of advanced and more encompassing theories. However the “Questions” remained same, only the methods changed and with changing methods the questions were answered with more precision and accuracy.

Out of copious philosophers that emerged in ensuing phases some assumed prominence in comparison to others. Despite all those had their unique “world-view”, but to discuss them all is out of question in this meagre work piece. The next important person of our interest is Aurelius Augustinus (Alias, St. Augustine).He united in his soul a deep love of Christ and an ardent zeal for philosophy. As Bertrand Russell puts it: – “He is the first of a long line whose purely speculative views are influenced by the necessity of agreeing with Scripture”. In words of George Patrick:- “ The tendency towards the complete spiritualization of the soul and to a decided and uncompromising Dualism, already seen in Plato, culminated in the teaching of Saint Augustine and through him was handed on to medieval church and to modern thought”.

The philosophical lexicon of Augustine is laden with myriad issues of thrilling, instigating and thought provoking nature. His concepts on time, vice and virtue God and hereafter are worth study. His thought, which in its broadest structure was a synthesis of Christian theology, Platonic thought and Jewish traditions influenced the evolution of philosophy to a great extent. But one of the major drawbacks, as it can be called in his thought was the theory of transference of sin from parents to progeny, which indeed, he has borrowed from Christian school of thought. He believes, on part of his religious obligation that:-

“If our first parents had not sinned, they would not have died, but, because they sinned, all their posterity dies. Eating the apple brought not only natural death, but eternal death, i.e., damnation”.

Augustine concerns man to the faculties of passiveness, receptiveness and contemplation. Dexterously, as Alfred accentuates:-

“The inner light, which reveals to the thinker God and the eternal types of things, seems to him grow dimmer and dimmer, the more convinced he becomes of the fall and radical corruption of human nature”.

This doctrine catastrophically reduced the status of man from that of a divine ambassador to that of an amoral biped. It created a veil of diabolic nature between the man and his reality. The “fall of man”, as it is called in Christian lexicon is not a belief, but a dogma, a dogma that kept and keeps man in oblivion. The further ramifications of this doctrine will be dealt separately then.

One thing that must be borne in mind that middle ages, synonymic with dark ages in Europe were predominantly dominated by the

Church. Outside the church, there lied no salvation and all scientific and philosophic progress was stagnated by the seal of Christian dogmas.

The persecution suffered by numerous scientists at the hands of pops and church bear witness to the intellectual bankruptcy of Europe during Middle Ages. Given such dismal state, there was hardly any scope to ponder upon the very nature of man. The political anarchy, religious dogmatism, social instability, economic chaos and class conflict no space to fathom the depths of human existence. It was only with the renaissance and scientific movement that intellectual pursuits gathered momentum and a new science and philosophy emerged out of the pitch dark tunnels of history. Numerous treatises affirm the fact that when Europe was engulfed in deep gloom, the minarets of Spain, Damascus and other Muslim territories were illuminating and irradiating the crimson rays of wisdom and intellect.

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DAL LAKE: GAREEB KI JORU

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By Shabbir Aariz                                                   

It was quite amazing to learn about a seminar organized the other day by the Institute of Engineers in collaboration with Jammu and Kashmir Lakes and Waterways Development Authority supposedly pertaining to Dal Lake conservation and its dwellers. It was as usual use of adjectives and phraseology like improvement of lake hydrology and hydraulics, removal of man-made bunds, preserving its eco-sensitivity and rehabilitation, lacking not only the will to improve anything but the passion that is cardinal to any change, seemed missing. Such events sound more as playing to the gallery than an endeavor out of conviction as much of the fire is from the insiders who make noises about it. Agencies responsible for preservation of Dal’s pristine glory have all along failed it. Otherwise this vast sheet of water and its shore line originally spread over an area of more than twenty-two square kilometers would have not shrunk to an about fifteen over the years. The Lake though guarded by the misty peaks of Pirpanchal mountains and being integral to tourism and recreation is not only encompassed by boulevard and fore shore road but also the vultures clothed by riches and influence who have vandalized ecologically rich ecosystem. The untreated sewage from peripheral localities, settlements and house boats responsible for influx of nitrogen and phosphorus into the Lake has never been properly addressed. Big thanks to the vote bank politics that has been chiefly responsible for the authorities to look the other way while encroachments are made and laws sent to winds. It is not less disheartening and shameful to note that there are people in the west who are genuinely concerned about Dal’s plight and even have been extending financial assistance for its preservation but we have failed and let them down. The Lake presently is Custodia Legis (in the custody of the law) by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court following a Public Interest Litigation in the year 2001 for its preservation. The mighty state is the main respondent in the case pending before the Srinagar wing of the High Court. Besides appointing a senior advocate as an amicus curia to represent the Lake’s interest, a number of directions have been issued by the court and a number of affidavits filed by the state so far. A period of about two decades has shown little progress and compliance of the directions of the court and huge funds spent except for a few cosmetic measures like de-weeding and establishing sewage treatment plants, some of which due to the lack of proper maintenance, find their way to the lake for its waste. There is even a detailed project report that was prepared following the court’s direction but hardly any substantial progress has been made on that report or its implementation. It is worthwhile to mention that one of the Chief Justices personally inspected the Lake to have a better grasp of the problems faced by this second largest lake of the state, jewel in the crown of the state and Lake of Flowers but yet it is craving for real justice. Though it has become fashionable to speak about Dal bereft of sincerity like GAREEB KI JORU, MOHALAY BHAR KI BABI (poor- man’s wife is easy to comment upon), one can’t be oblivion of the fact that the stakes are not ordinary. It is an identity, a heritage, a history and the glory that not many people and parts of the world are as fortunate as we are and proud to boast about. According to the Hindu mythology, area close to it known as Isaber (Ishber) was the residence of goddess Durga. Mughals developed the precincts of the Dal with sprawling gardens and pavilions as pleasure resorts to enjoy its healthiness. Thereafter, it has remained the star attraction for nature lovers, tourists, historians, trekkers, writers, poets, movie makers and many more. It has also remained a source of livelihood for generation after generation. Enormous is the kindness and countless are the bounties of this unmatched treasure. It, therefore, remains the prime concern of all the stake holders from the lake lovers all over the world to the dwellers, shikara wallas, houseboat owners; of whom about five hundred houseboats are of Victorian era making them part of the heritage. It is also an important part of a larger environmental debate. It is time to introspect in penance, seek forgiveness from the Creator and conscience, put our heads together and draw up our sleeves before it is too late though already very late. As such a pledge and an honest effort of all the stake holders—– to whom none of us is an exception—– is required to restore and preserve this gift of nature before the nature’s wrath is unleashed on all. Nature follows its own rules and is ruthless in executing them. When we fight nature, the nature fights back with more powerful weapon and registers the ultimate victory. Let nobody test its patience.

(A leading lawyer and eminent poet, author contributes a weekly column. He can be reached at:  vaklishabir@gmail.com)     

 
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The Saga of Francis Younghusband’s first arrival in Kashmir and his Kashmiri saviours

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By Bhushan Parimoo

The name Younghusband though sounds strange, however, is not unfamiliar to Kashmiris. Well entrenched in the contemporary history of Kashmir, Francis Younghusband was a British Resident in Kashmir for two years between 1906 and 1908 when the state was under the rule of the third Dogra ruler, Maharaja Pratap Singh. Their friendship and personal bonhomie is legendary and deservingly finds place in the recent history of Kashmir.

Younghusband’s fame, however, is not  only preserved in him being the  resident in Kashmir at the beginning of the 20th century but in his other achievements as an extraordinary explorer, mountaineer, spiritual writer and a military spy who led the famous British Military Expedition into Tibet in 1903.

 

Famed for his extraordinary forays into Far East and Central Asia, Francis Younghusband was also the first to cross the Pamirs and Hindukush in 1889, the first to scale Muztagh Pass at 19,000 feet above the sea level in 1887 and the first to photograph the Mount Everest with definite and identifiable pictures in 1904.

Before serving as the Resident in Kashmir, Younghusband also served as the British Commissioner in Tibet. Long after he left Asia, Younghusband also had a distinguished term as the President of the Royal Geographical Society and headed the World Spiritual Council for Peace & Harmony.

Younghusband first arrived in Kashmir in 1887, nearly six decades after William Moorcroft, the first British to do so in 1823. It was no easy time for him. And when Moorcroft finally left Kashmir via the Jhelum Valley he was stopped by a semi- independent chief near Uri to pay the custom duty of a heavenly sum of Rupees 15,000 which Moorcroft denied. This forced him to retreat and finally he reached Punjab by a different route but not before he paid the custom duty on his caravan that was fixed at Rupees 500.

When Younghusband first arrived in Kashmir in 1887, it was already autumn and valley’s glory had already begun to depart. At the time Younghusband had no other set of clothing than what he was clad in. He was clothed in long Central Asian dress that was worn out. His boots were in no better shape. However, the inner and under portion of his dress was of European origin.

Younghusband arrived in Kashmir after a journey of nearly 4,000 miles from Peking in China.

He crossed into Kashmir at Baltistan from the Muztagh Pass that was nothing but a rocky precipice of hard ice slope. Doing so, he and his five servants and other caravan men slid down the cliff holding the turbans and waist-clothes and belts tied together. Fortunately, Younghusband managed to carry with him the little baggage he had brought for himself from the other side of the Pass. Even his roll of bedding and personal kettle was thrown down the mountain slope in the hope that it could be collected safely only if it were not lost in the bowls of the mountain crevices during the tumble.

Having thus arrived in the territorial domains of Kashmir, Younghusband at the time had no money and no tent to cover his head. En route he had slept in the open from one side of the Himalayas to the other with funds completely consumed.

Hence, the first thing Younghusband did, after arriving in Baltistan, was to borrow money from Pandit Radha Krishen Koul, the then Governor of Baltistan.

Pandit Koul was a very popular and respected official of the  State and later for his impeccable character , upright public standing and moral integrity was promoted to hold the office of the Chief Judge in the State during the rule of Maharaja Pratap  Singh. Besides Koul, there was another native of the state who became integral to Younghusband’s life as an explorer.

After all the ordeal of crossing the Pass, Younghusband had the services of only one servant who cooked for him and did all other sundry jobs for  his Master which even a dozen employees would have shirked to do. In all emergencies, this faithful servant carried all the load and evidently he became the most faithful and most trusted of the servants Younghusband ever had in his life. His name was Sukar Ali.  A native of Ladakh, Shukar Ali was an Argon. His father was a Yarkandi man who had married a Ladakhi woman. Younghusband first picked Shukar Ali in Yarkand in Chinese Turkestan.

Shukar Ali was a cheerful person, often happy- go-lucky and an easy going man who though was careless at times. Always found laughing, he dealt with other caravan men of Younghusband’s entourage with great felicity. He always performed the hardest part of the duties and was ever ready to do the most dangerous piece of work, be it in the barren wastes of the Pamirs or the Karakorum or Hindukush.

Shukar Ali was the only Ladakhi who dared to cross the Muztagh Pass. An incident recalled here, by the present writer, of this daring feat must stand as a tribute to this brave but unsung man. It is but only appropriate to narrate it in Younghusband’s own words:

“After crossing the Pass we had to cross a very full and rapid stream straight out of a glacier. Immense blocks of ice were breaking off the glacier and floating down the stream. The bottom was also partly ice and partly boulder.

“Shukar Ali, with his usual readiness volunteered to carry me across this stream on his back. But in mid-stream he slipped. I was precipitated into icy water, while Shukar Ali, in his frantic efforts to regain his own footing, unknowingly kept pressing me under the water.

“We both eventually gained the opposite bank all right”.

As a result of this incident Younghusband was wringing wet with ice-cold water on every stitch he had on and the situation became all the more difficult when he had no substitute clothes. Younghusband almost froze in the chill and cold. It took some time before any respite and rise in temperature followed that brought him some relief.

Having known Shukar Ali’s dedication and skills needed to survive high altitudes, Younghusband, after the conquest of Muztagh Pass, again sought his services. Two years later in 1889, the Government again sent Younghusband to explore all the northern frontier of Kashmir from Ladakh and the Karakorum Pass to the Pamirs and Hunza.  And yet a third time, Shukar Ali accompanied Younghusband when he was sent on a political mission to the Chinese Turkestan and the Pamirs in 1890-1891. On this occasion also both were faced with a near death experience of coming under a snow avalanche.

After Younghusband’s 1891 expedition in the Pamirs, there followed a long silence between him and Shukar Ali. For 17 long years, there was no contact between them. However, in the intervening period another pioneer of the Central Asian and Himalayan expeditions, the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin employed Shukar Ali in his Tibet expeditions.

However, following Younghusband’s appointment as the Resident, Kashmir, Shukar Ali suddenly appeared at the Srinagar Residency after he had walked 240 miles across the treacherous mountain stretches and passes from Ladakh to Srinagar.

Shukar Ali appeared before Younghusband at the Residency in the same old coat the latter had given him 17 long years ago while crossing Muztagh Pass. The sight moved Younghusband and symbolically assured him of the devotion of his former faithful servant. During their meeting Shukar Ali greeted Younghusband in all possible manners.

Younghusband, in his book ‘Kashmir’ writes: “He kept jumping up and down, first kissing my feet, then touching my coat, then salaaming, and all the time ejaculating an unceasing flow of speech, calling me by every affectionate term.”

After this initial exciting encounter, Shukar Ali next  pulled beneath his loose ravine native garments a wooden bowl, a bag  full of sweets, a pair of goat horns for Younghusband and his wife. But the special gift Shukar Ali carried were the multi-colured small stones which he had collected from Tibet during some of his earlier sojourns he had made, for their little daughter.

Shukar Ali during this visit stayed with the Younghusband at the Residency. For all obvious reasons Younghusband gifted Shukar Ali with several gifts that he considered could keep him comfortable in his home.

However, before Shukar Ali’s departure from the Residency, he desired for an order from the Maharaja exempting him from service in his village. Fortunately, His Highness, upon Younghusband’s recommendation, readily acceded to Shukar Ali’s request. The Maharaja made out the order by appending his signature  in the document. It was presented to Shukar Ali during a garden-party hosted by Younghusband at the Srinagar Residency. At the time the Maharaja addressed Shukar Ali in the most kindly manner and invited him to visit the Palace for a meeting.

On the following day, Shukar Ali presented himself at the Darbar where he was presented with a shawl of honour by the Maharaja.

Following these felicitations, poor Shukar Ali left Kashmir with many tearful farewell expressions. Few weeks later, the grateful servant sent a letter to his Master. Illiterate, Shukar Ali as such was incapable to write himself. He took help from his native friend Ghulam Rassul Galwan, another intrepid  mountain caravan bashi of many Himalayan explorers of the late 19th and early 20th century and one who had picked up some English words and learned to write in his own grammar and style the world has never known again, to write on his behalf.

The letter quoted here under and considered unique in the annals of world literature for its  true spirit, entertaining simplicity  and innocent expression bordering laughter but always understandable must stand as a token of glowing tribute to all the three pioneers of Pamir conquest: Sir Francis Younghusband, the recipient; Shukar Ali, the author; and Ghulam Rassul Galwan the scribe.

Thus reads the rudimentary gem:

“Sir, I reached very well home, with very felt and found all my poor family very well happy and showed the all kindly of your they got very glad, and we all family thankfully to you to remember us so much, to little people and my all friends got very glad too, they said thank you, and hope you would not be angry with this English written, please you pardon for this, and could not write myself and could not get munshi write you, because and found Rassul, he was my old friend and let him write this letter. Please give my salaam to Mem Sahib and Baby Baby Sahib. Your obedient servant from poor Rassul plenty salaam”, -Shukar Ali

(The writer is a well-known Jammu-based Environmentalist with special expertise in History)

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