Now, Kashmir’s hospitality sector is modern, sophisticated and fast. But imagine how tourism was conducted in Kashmir in the 1880s, in absence of proper transport, hotels and other luxu.ies? Then horse-carts, palanquins the boats were the main transport for visitors who invariably would end up as guests of the Maharaja. In this chapter John Collett, the author of 1898’s ‘A Guide For Visitors To Kashmir’ offers European visitors his guidance about do’s and do not’s while visiting the vale.
The majority of visitors to Kashmir will naturally select the easiest route, which runs up the Jhelum valley. On arrival at Rawalpindi, the large military cantonment on the North-Western Railway, the traveler will find accommodation either in the dak bungalow or in one of the many hotels. Here Messrs Dhanjibhoy and Son, whose office is close to the dak bungalow, should be communicated with.
This company will furnish every information regarding the condition of the road, make arrangements about the journey, and furnish tongas and ekkas. Visitors will find dak bungalows all along the road, but it often happens that tired arrivals find all the rooms fully occupied. Whenever, therefore, there is a rush, it is advisable for those who are travelling with their families to take tents.
These moreover are indispensable when the valley is reached. Besides the usual baggage, several kiltas – long-barreled baskets covered with leather— will be found useful for stores and cooking utensils. Sportsmen who have to carry their camps through jungles and over bad mountain paths will find kiltas, which are easily strapped on to the shoulders of coolies, leaving their arms free, absolutely necessary. Tents and camp furniture can be hired at Srinagar.
Travellers on their arrival in Kashmir have to make their own arrangements for cooking, etc. Khansamahs are to be found at
Srinagar, and can be temporarily engaged. But those travelling with their families would do better to bring with them a good Khansamahs and a sweeper. The latter class of servants is not easily available in Kashmir.
During the winter months tongas cannot run through to Kashmir, and in the early spring, when there is a good deal of rain, there are usually many slips on the Jhelum valley road, and the journey is not only likely to be interrupted but is often dangerous. The Kashmir season, therefore, generally commences in the beginning of May and closes by the end of October. In Kashmir, the autumn is most lovely.
On arrival in Kashmir the traveller, who has not brought his servants with him, will require a Khansamahs and a bhistie, who besides supplying the camp with water, should assist in pitching tents and packing and unpacking the baggage; another servant will be wanted to assist the khansamah. All should be obliged to do any necessary work which falls outside the usual routine of their duties.
If a boat is hired, the boatman is a very useful general servant. When ladies and children are of the party, an ayah and a sweeper will be wanted. The climate of Kashmir, though always bracing, is very variable. Waterproof coats, a mosquito curtain in summer, and waterproof coverings for the bedding are essentials. A suit of Putoo – a rough serge manufactured in the country – may be had at Srinagar for about Rs 8, and though the style and fit would scarcely suit Bond Street, it makes a capital and comfortable wear for mountain travel. Visitors should not forget their dress suits, for Srinagar is not altogether uncivilised.
Every season there are a large number of Europeans at the capital. On the Queen’s Birthday a State dinner is held, to which visitors are invited. Military officers attending are obliged to wear mess uniform.
On arrival at Srinagar, the Maharajah’s Native Agent, Babu Amar Nath Rai Sahib, is the first person to be communicated with. He speaks English fluently, and is a very obliging and civil officer. He will afford help of every kind and give any information in his power. He makes the arrangements for the hire of boatmen, coolies, servants, etc., and settles all disputes that may arise with regard to fares and the prices of purchases.
House accommodation is very limited in Kashmir; many of the old bungalows that were formerly available for visitors are now occupied by the State officials. There are no dak bungalows or hotels. Travellers must, therefore, be prepared to live in boats or tents. House-boats are very comfortable to live in, but their number is limited, and unless previous arrangements have been made for the hire through an agent or a friend, it is difficult to get one. The rent varies between Rs 30 and Rs 50 a month.
Bachelors can only pitch their tents in the Chinar Bagh, the other camping ground, the Hari Singh Bagh, now being built over. The Chinar Bagh is, however, large enough to accommodate all the visitors ever likely to require it. The Munshi Bagh is set apart for the tents of married visitors. It contains a row of pucca houses, but these are all occupied by permanent residents. Further up the river is Ram Munshi Bagh, an excellent camping ground.
The Resident lives in Srinagar during the summer at the Residency – a fine house with a large garden by the river side. It is customary to call on him and sign one’s name in the Visitors’ Book. A similar respect should also be shown to the Maharajah by entering one’s name in the book kept for the purpose at the Palace Gate. The Maharajah and Resident leave Srinagar in the winter, but the Assistant Resident is at the capital when the Resident is away.
When out of Srinagar, the traveller should always take his servants with him. One of them should be allowed to have control over the others in all details; he will like to use the authority given him, and the others will obey him readily. The traveller will thus be relieved of a good deal of trouble. It is a good plan to make sure before every March that the proper number of coolies and ponies are present.
The Kashmiris are willing workers, but they are ignorant of the ways of Europeans, and should be treated with patience and consideration. A traveller should avoid giving too much attention to details and little matters, and confine himself to stating his orders clearly and sticking to them. Attention to this will avert much unpleasantness and add materially to the enjoyment of a trip.
On arriving at the end of a march, arrangements should be made with the Tahsildar or Naib Tahsildar at the nearest village for the hire of coolies and ponies for the next march. As long a notice as possible is needful, as the men and animals are often taken from the fields, sometimes some miles distant. For supplies during the journey, eggs, milk, butter, and fowls can always be had at a reasonable price. Those who penetrate out of the beaten tracks for shikar purposes, should provide themselves with all necessaries from Srinagar, where all kinds of European stores of excellent quality are obtainable.
The traveller should personally pay the coolies at the end of each day’s march, and a good supply of two anna, four anna, and eight anna pieces should be kept, so that each man can be paid separately. If a rupee is to be divided amongst three or four, there is frequently a quarrel.
Indian coin is accepted eagerly everywhere in Kashmir. In Srinagar currency notes and cheques are easily negotiable. The Punjab Banking Corporation has a branch in Srinagar, where every kind of banking business is transacted. At Srinagar supplies are fairly good. Imported articles, such as kerosene oil and sugar, are expensive, but all indigenous articles are cheap. Pure milk can be obtained everywhere. The water-supply of Srinagar is now abundant and good. Fish can be had in abundance.
It may be noted here that the roe of Kashmir fish should on no account be eaten, as the result is fearful gastric irritation. Bread can be had at Srinagar. A basket of excellent vegetable can be obtained from the Library garden for the modest sum of four annas.
For the return journey from Srinagar, tongas should be booked beforehand either at Dhanjibhoy’s Srinagar office or by telegraph to the Agent at Baramulla.
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