A trip to Khagan--The Vale of Kashmir--With the Horse Artillery --My first visit to Simla--Life at Peshawar--A staff appointment --The bump of locality
I had had a great deal of fever during my eighteen months' residence at Peshawar, and in April, 1854, I obtained six months' leave to Kashmir. I travelled viâ Murree to Abbottabad, along the route now well known as the 'Gullies.' Here I was joined by Lieutenant George Rodney Brown, a subaltern of Horse Artillery, with whom I chummed at Peshawar.
Abbottabad was a very small place in those days. It was named after its first Deputy-Commissioner, James Abbott, famous for his journey viâ Bokhara and Khiva to Russia in 1839, undertaken for the release of Russian prisoners who were kept as slaves by the Turkomans. He had just left, and had been succeeded as Deputy-Commissioner by a Captain Becher, who, fortunately for us, was away in the district. I say fortunately, because we were bent on visiting Khagan, and had obtained permission from the Commissioner of Peshawar to do so. He had told us to apply to Becher for assistance, but from what we heard of that officer, it did not seem likely he would help us. Khagan was beyond our border, and the inhabitants were said to be even more fanatical than the rest of the frontier tribes. The Commissioner, however, had given us leave, and as his Deputy appeared to be the kind of man to create obstacles, we made up our minds to slip away before he returned.
We started on the 21st May, and marched to Habibula-Ki-Ghari. Here the road bifurcates, one branch leading to Kashmir, the other to Khagan. We took the latter, and proceeded to Balakot, twelve miles further on, which was then our frontier post. There we found a small guard of Frontier Police, two of whom we induced to accompany us on our onward journey for the purpose of assisting to look after the baggage and collecting coolies. Three days' more marching brought us to Khagan. The road almost the whole way from Balakot ran along a precipice overhanging the Nainsukh river, at that time of year a rushing torrent, owing to the melting of the snows on the higher ranges. The track was rough, steep, and in some places very narrow. We crossed and recrossed the river several times by means of snow-bridges, which, spanning the limpid, jade-coloured water, had a very pretty effect. At one point our shikarris stopped, and proudly told us that on that very spot their tribe had destroyed a Sikh army sent against them in the time of Runjit Sing. It certainly was a place well chosen for a stand, not more than fifty yards wide, with a perpendicular cliff on one side and a roaring torrent on the other.
The people apparently did not object to our being in their country, and treated us with much civility throughout our journey. We were enjoying ourselves immensely, so when an official cover reached us with the signature of the dreaded Deputy-Commissioner in the corner, we agreed that it would be unwise to open it just then.
Khagan was almost buried in snow. The scenery was magnificent, and became every moment more wonderful as we slowly climbed the steep ascent in front of us; range after range of snow-capped mountains disclosed themselves to our view, rising higher and higher into the air, until at last, towering above all, Nanga Parbat in all her spotless beauty was revealed to our astonished and delighted gaze.
We could not get beyond Khagan. Our coolies refused to go further, alleging as their reason the danger to be dreaded from avalanches in that month; but I suspect that fear of hostility from the tribes further north had more to do with their reluctance to proceed than dread of falling avalanches. We remained at Khagan for two or three days in the hope of being able to shoot an ibex, but we were disappointed; we never even saw one.
We retraced our steps with considerable regret, and reached Habibula-Ki-Ghari on the 31st May. Here we received a second official document from Abbottabad. It contained, like the previous letter, which we now looked at for the first time, orders for our immediate return, and warnings that we were on no account to go to Khagan. Since then Khagan has been more than once visited by British officers, and now a road is in course of construction along the route we travelled, as being a more direct line of communication with Gilghit than that viâ Kashmir.
We made no delay at Habibula-Ki-Ghari, but started at once for the lovely Vale of Kashmir, where we spent the summer, amusing ourselves by making excursions to all the places of interest and beauty we had so often heard of, and occasionally shooting a bear. The place which impressed me most was Martund, where stand the picturesque ruins of a once renowned Hindu temple. These noble ruins are the most striking in size and position of all the existing remains of the past glories of Kashmir.
From Martund we made our way to Vernag, the celebrated spring which is supposed to be the source of the Jhelum river. The Moghul Emperor Akbar built there a summer palace, and the arches, on which it is said rested the private apartments of the lovely Nur Jehan, are still visible.
We wandered over the beautiful and fertile Lolab valley, and pitched our little camp in the midst of groves of chunar, walnut, apple, cherry, and peach trees; and we marched up the Sind valley, and crossed the Zojji La Pass leading into Thibet. The scenery all along this route is extremely grand. On either side are lofty mountains, their peaks wrapped in snow, their sides clothed with pine, and their feet covered with forests, in which is to be found almost every kind of deciduous tree. From time to time we returned for a few days to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, to enjoy the pleasures of more civilized society. Srinagar is so well known nowadays, and has been so often described in poetry and prose, that it is needless for me to dwell at length upon its delights, which, I am inclined to think, are greater in imagination than in reality. It has been called the Venice of the East, and in some respects it certainly does remind one of the 'Bride of the Sea,' both in its picturesqueness and (when one gets into the small and tortuous canals) its unsavouriness. Even at the time of which I am writing it was dilapidated, and the houses looked exactly like those made by children out of a pack of cards, which a puff of wind might be expected to destroy. Of late years the greater part of the city has been injured by earthquakes, and Srinagar looks more than ever like a card city. The great beauty of the place in those days was the wooden bridges covered with creepers, and gay with booths and shops of all descriptions, which spanned the Jhelum at intervals for the three miles the river runs through the town--now, alas! for the artistic traveller, no more. Booths and shops have been swept away, and the creepers have disappeared--decidedly an advantage from a sanitary point of view, but destructive of the quaint picturesqueness of the town.
The floating gardens are a unique and very pretty characteristic of Srinagar. The lake is nowhere deeper than ten or twelve feet, and in some places much less. These gardens are made by driving stakes into the bed of the lake, long enough to project three or four feet above the surface of the water. These stakes are placed at intervals in an oblong form, and are bound together by reeds and rushes twined in and out and across, until a kind of stationary raft is made, on which earth and turf are piled. In this soil seeds are sown, and the crops of melons and other fruits raised in these fertile beds are extremely fine and abundant.
The magnificent chunar-trees are another very beautiful feature of the country. They grow to a great height and girth, and so luxuriant and dense is their foliage that I have sat reading and writing for hours during heavy rain under one of these trees and kept perfectly dry.
The immediate vicinity of Srinagar is very pretty, and the whole valley of Kashmir is lovely beyond description: surrounded by beautifully-wooded mountains, intersected with streams and lakes, and gay with flowers of every description, for in Kashmir many of the gorgeous eastern plants and the more simple but sweeter ones of England meet on common ground. To it may appropriately be applied the Persian couplet:
'Agar fardos baru-i zamin ast, hamin ast, hamin ast' (If there be an Elysium on earth, it is this, it is this).
The soil is extremely productive; anything will grow in it. Put a stick into the ground, and in an extraordinary short space of time it becomes a tree and bears fruit. What were we about, to sell such a country for three quarters of a million sterling? It would have made the most perfect sanatorium for our troops, and furnished an admirable field for British enterprise and colonization, its climate being as near perfection as anything can be.
How sad it is that, in a country 'where every prospect pleases, only man' should be 'vile'! And man, as he existed in Kashmir, was vile--vile, because so miserable. The Mahomedan inhabitants were being ground down by Hindu rulers, who seized all their earnings, leaving them barely sufficient to keep body and soul together. What interest could such people have in cultivating their land, or doing any work beyond what was necessary to mere existence? However hard they might labour, their efforts would benefit neither themselves nor their children, and so their only thought was to get through life with as little exertion as possible--in the summer sitting in the sun absolutely idle the greater part of the day, and in the winter wrapped up in their blankets, under which were concealed curious little vessels called kangris, holding two or three bits of live charcoal. Every Kashmiri still carries one of these kangris, as the most economical way of keeping himself warm.
Early in September we said good-bye to the happy valley and returned to Peshawar, where I rejoined the Mountain Battery.
In November, to my great delight, I was given my jacket. At first my happiness was somewhat damped by the fact that the troop to which I was posted was stationed at Umballa. I did not want to leave Peshawar, and in the end I had not to do so, as a vacancy most opportunely occurred in one of the troops of Horse Artillery at that station, which was given to me.
Life on the frontier in those days had a great charm for most young men; there was always something of interest going on; military expeditions were constantly taking place, or being speculated upon, and one lived in hope of being amongst those chosen for active service. Peshawar, too, notwithstanding its unhealthiness, was a favourite station with officers. To me it was particularly pleasant, for it had the largest force of Artillery of any station in India except Meerut; the mess was a good one, and was composed of as nice a set of fellows as were to be found in the army. In addition to the officers of the regiment, there were a certain number of honorary members; all the staff and civilians belonged to the Artillery mess, and on guest-nights we sat down as many as sixty to dinner. Another attraction was the 'coffee shop,' an institution which has now almost ceased to exist, at which we all congregated after morning parade and freely discussed the home and local news.
The troop to which I was posted was composed of a magnificent body of men, nearly all Irishmen, most of whom could have lifted me up with one hand. They were fine riders, and needed to be so, for the stud-horses used for Artillery purposes at that time were not the quiet, well-broken animals of the present day. I used to try my hand at riding them all in turn, and thus learnt to understand and appreciate the amount of nerve, patience, and skill necessary to the making of a good Horse Artillery 'driver,' with the additional advantage that I was brought into constant contact with the men. It also qualified me to ride in the officers' team for the regimental brake. The brake, it must be understood, was drawn by six horses, each ridden postilion fashion by an officer.
My troop was commanded by Captain Barr, a dear old fellow who had seen a good deal of service and was much liked by officers and men, but hardly the figure for a Horse Artilleryman, as he weighed about seventeen stone. On a troop parade Barr took up his position well in advance and made his own pace, but on brigade parades he had to conform to the movements of the other arms, and on these occasions he used to tell one of the subalterns as he galloped past him to come 'left about' at the right time without waiting for his order. This, of course, we were always careful to do, and by the time we had come into action Barr had caught us up and was at his post.
During the winter of 1854-55 I had several returns of Peshawar fever, and by the beginning of the spring I was so reduced that I was given eight months' leave on medical certificate, with orders to report myself at Mian Mir at its expiration, in view to my going through the riding course, there being no Riding-Master at Peshawar.
I decided to return to Kashmir in the first instance, and thence to march across the Himalayas to Simla.
On my way into Kashmir I was fortunate enough to fall in with a very agreeable travelling companion--Lieutenant John Watson. He was then Adjutant of the 1st Punjab Cavalry, and was looked upon as one of the most promising officers of the Frontier Force. We spent a very enjoyable time in Kashmir, and early in August I started for Simla with two brother officers named Light and Mercer, whose acquaintance I had only recently made, but who turned out to be very pleasant fellow-travellers.
We marched viâ Kishtwar, Chamba, and Dharmsala, a distance of about 400 miles, through most beautiful scenery. At the last-named place I parted from my companions, who travelled onwards to Simla by the Kulu valley, while I took the shorter route viâ Bilaspur.
The Simla of those days was not the busy and important place it has since become. The Governor-General seldom visited it, and the Commander-in-Chief only spent a summer there occasionally. When I arrived, Sir William Gomm, the Commander-in-Chief of that day, who had been spending the hot weather months there, was about to give up his command, and Colonel Grant, who had been his Adjutant-General, had left not long before.
The only thing of interest to myself which occurred during the month I remained at Simla was that I lunched with Colonel Arthur Becher, the Quartermaster-General. I think I hear my reader say, 'Not a very remarkable event to chronicle.' But that lunch was a memorable one to me; indeed, it was the turning-point in my career, for my host was good enough to say he should like to have me in his department some day, and this meant a great deal to me. Joining a department at that time generally resulted in remaining in it for the greater part of one's service. There was then no limit to the tenure of staff appointments, and the object of every ambitious young officer was to get into one department or another--political, civil, or the army staff. My father had always impressed upon me that the political department was the one to aspire to, and failing that, the Quartermaster-General's, as in the latter there was the best chance of seeing service. I had cherished a sort of vague hope that I might some day be lucky enough to become a Deputy Assistant-Quartermaster-General, for although I fully recognized the advantages of a political career, I preferred being more closely associated with the army, and I had seen enough of staff work to satisfy myself that it would suit me; so the few words spoken to me by Colonel Becher made me supremely happy.
It never entered into my head that I should get an early appointment; the fact of the Quartermaster-General thinking of me as a possible recruit was quite enough for me. I was in no hurry to leave the Horse Artillery, to which I was proud of belonging, and in which I hoped to see service while still on the frontier. I left Simla very pleased with the result of my visit, and very grateful to Colonel Becher, who proved a good friend to me ever after, and I made my way to Mian Mir, where I went through the riding-school course, and then returned to Peshawar.
(1856) The winter of 1855-56 passed much as the cold weather generally does in the north of India. Our amusements consisted of an occasional race-meeting or cricket match. Polo was unknown in those days, and hunting the jackal, a sport which has been a source of so much recreation to the Peshawar garrison for thirty odd years, had not then been thought of. It was a pleasant change to visit the outposts, and whenever I got the chance I rode over to Mardan, where the Corps of Guides were stationed, commanded by that gallant soldier, Harry Lumsden, who had raised the corps in 1846 under the auspices of Henry Lawrence. Many were the good gallops I enjoyed with his hawks, hunting the aubara. Of work there was plenty at Peshawar, for the Brigadier, Sydney Cotton, kept us alive with field days, carefully instilling into us his idea that parade-grounds were simply useful for drill and preliminary instruction, and that as soon as the rudiments of a soldier's education had been learnt, the troops should leave their nursery, and try as far as possible to practise in peace what they would have to do in war. Sydney Cotton was never tired of explaining that the machinery of war, like all other machinery, should be kept, so to speak, oiled and ready for use.
My dream of a staff appointment was realized more quickly than I had expected. In the early part of 1856 the Surveyor-General applied for the services of two or three experienced officers to assist in the survey of Kashmir. Lumsden, the D.A.Q.M.G., was one of those selected for the duty, and I was appointed to officiate for him. So delighted was I to get my foot on the lowest rung of the staff ladder, that I cheerfully agreed to the condition my Captain insisted upon, that I should perform my regimental duties in addition to the staff work. Things went merrily with me for a short time, when most unexpectedly my hopes of some day becoming Quartermaster-General of the Army in India were dashed to the ground by the Governor-General refusing to confirm my appointment, because I had not passed the prescribed examination in Hindustani. A rule existed requiring a language test, but it had seldom been enforced, certainly not in the case of 'acting appointments,' so that this refusal came as a great blow to me. It had, however, excellent results, for it made me determined to pass in Hindustani. It was then May, and in July the half-yearly examination was to be held. I forthwith engaged the best munshi at Peshawar, shut myself up, and studied Indian literature from morning till night, until I felt pretty confident of success.
Just before the examination took place, the officer who had stepped into my shoes when I was turned out (Lieutenant Mordaunt Fitz-Gerald, of my own regiment) was offered an appointment in the Punjab Frontier Force. He consulted me as to the advisability of accepting it, and I told him I thought he ought not to do so. I considered this most disinterested advice, for I had good reason to believe that I should be re-appointed to the staff, should the appointment again become vacant. Fortunately for me, Fitz-Gerald followed the usual procedure of those who delight in consulting their friends. He listened to my advice, and then decided not to follow it. Accordingly, he joined the Punjab Frontier Force, whilst I, having passed the examination, went back to the coveted appointment, and continued in the department, with the exception of one or two short intervals, until 1878, when I left it as Quartermaster-General.
The autumn of 1856 was a very sickly one at Peshawar; fever was rife amongst the troops, and in the hope of shaking it off Brigadier Cotton got permission to take a certain number into camp. It was September, and the sun was still very hot, so that it was necessary to begin the daily march long before dawn in order to reach the new camping ground while it was still tolerably cool. We crossed the Kabul river at Nowshera, which place was then being made into a station for troops, and marched about the Yusafzai plain for three weeks. The chief difficulty was the absence of water, and I had to prospect the country every afternoon for a sufficient supply, and to determine, with regard to this sine quâ non, where the camp should be pitched the next day. On one occasion the best place I could discover was between two and three miles off the main road. There was no difficulty in reaching it by day, but I was afraid of some mistake being made when we had to leave it in the small hours of the morning, few things being more bewildering than to find one's way in the dark from a camp pitched in the open country when once the tents have been struck. It was my duty to lead the column and see that it marched off in the right direction; knowing how anxious the Brigadier was that the new ground should be reached while it was cool, and the men be thus saved from exposure to the sun, I was careful to note my position with regard to the stars, and to explain to the officer who was in orders to command the advance guard the direction he must take. When the time came to start, and the Brigadier was about to order the bugler to sound the march, I saw that the advance guard was drawn up at right angles to the way in which we had to proceed. The officer commanding it was positive he was right, and in this he was supported by Brigadier Cotton and some of the other officers; I was equally positive that he was wrong, and that if we marched as he proposed, we should find ourselves several miles out of our course. The Brigadier settled the question by saying I was responsible for the troops going in the right direction, and ordering me to show the way. The country was perfectly bare, there was not a tree or object of any kind to guide me, and the distance seemed interminable. I heard opinions freely expressed that I was on the wrong road, and at last, when the Brigadier himself came up to me and said he thought I must have lost the way, I really began to waver in my conviction that I was right. At that moment my horse stumbled into a ditch, which proved to be the boundary of the main road. I was immensely relieved, the Brigadier was delighted, and from that moment I think he was satisfied that I had, what is so essential to a Quartermaster-General in the field, the bump of locality.
In October the Artillery moved into the practice camp at Chamkanie, about five miles from Peshawar. It was intended that we should remain there for a couple of months, but before the end of that time I had to join the General at Rawal Pindi, where he had gone on a tour of inspection. Being anxious not to shirk my regimental duty, I did not leave Chamkanie until the last moment, and had but one day in which to reach Rawal Pindi, a distance of one hundred miles, which I accomplished on horseback between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., only stopping at Attock a short time for refreshment.
This tour with General Reed ended my staff duties for a time, as the survey in Kashmir had come to an end and Lumsden rejoined his appointment before Christmas.
[Footnote 1: Now a retired Major-General.]
[Footnote 2: Now General Sir James Abbott, K.C.B.]
[Footnote 3: Men who carry the guns, and point out the most likely places for game, etc.]
[Footnote 4: 26,000 feet above the sea-level.]
[Footnote 5: Three miles east of Islamabad.]
[Footnote 6: Now General Sir John Watson, V.C., K.C.B.]
[Footnote 7: The late Field-Marshal Sir Patrick Grant, G.C.B., G.C.S.I.]
[Footnote 8: The late General Sir Harry Lumsden, K.C.S.I., C.B.]
[Footnote 9: Bastard florican.]
[Footnote 10: This officer arrived in India as a Cornet in the 24th Light Dragoons in the year 1810, and although, when he reached Peshawar with his regiment--the 22nd Foot--in 1853, he had been forty-three years in the army, and was sixty-one years of age, he had not even succeeded to the command of a battalion. He was an officer of unusual energy and activity, a fine rider, a pattern drill, and a thorough soldier all round. He was not fortunate enough to see much active service, but it must have been a source of consolation to him to feel, when ending his days as Governor of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, that it was in a great measure owing to his foresight and decision that there was no serious disturbance at Peshawar during the eventful summer of 1857.]
[Footnote 11: Instructor in Oriental languages.]