The Saga of Francis Younghusband and his Kashmiri saviours - Shukar Ali || By Bhushan Parimoo || LIVE IMAGE


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.
Francis Younghusband & Shukar Ali   at Residency, Srinagar


Sir Francis Younghusband , Lady Younghusband and their daughter Eileen with Maharaja Pratap Singh.


Bushan Parimoo
(The writer is a Jammu based environmentalist and a regular contributor to this Website.)
 (Feedback at: blparimoo@gmail.com)


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