1874 – Military Captain’s Letterbook with Manuscript Vellum Document Written by Maharajah Ranbir Singh

Letterbook of a Military Captain
With a Manuscript Document on Vellum
Written by Maharajah Ranbir Singh

Travels from Punjab to Kashmir
Lahore – Srinagar – Gulmarg – Kishtwar
Treks Through the Pir Panjal Range
Accounts of the Maharajah of Kashmir
And British Administrators


Kashmir, Punjab Province, 26 June – 18 August 1874. Manuscript letterbook of Captain Kenneth Howard-Bury, stationed in India with the Royal Horse Artillery during the British Raj, being an account of his travels from Punjab Province to Kashmir in North India and a trek through the Himalayan Pir Panjal Range, in the form of his own retained manuscript copies of letters written whilst travelling at Lahore, Jhelum, Rawalpindi, Srinagar, and Gulmarg in the Himalayas, during which time he met some notable colonial administrators, and was a guest of the Maharajah of Kashmir. 8vo. 48 pages in manuscript, comprising four long letters penned in diary format at 11 unique locations, with one small in-text sketch diagram. Red cloth boards with gilt ruling, marbled edges. Volume measures approximately 11,5 x 17, 5 x 1 cm. Indication of a former label to front of volume, slight wear to boards, otherwise in very good condition, a most pleasing account.

Accompanied by an original manuscript document on vellum, written by the Maharajah of Kashmir, Ranbir Singh, in the Kashmiri version of the Persian Nasta’liq script, to grant Mr. Howard assistance for his travels, presumably to Gulmarg and beyond, featuring an official ink stamp, and contained in the original small oblong envelope docketed “K. Howard Esq R.H.A. Siri Naggar [Srinagar]” and inscribed by the recipient “Order from the Maharajah of Cashmere to grant me coolies & supplies.” Letter measures 32 x 17 cm; envelope measures 17,5 x 4 cm. Very good, original condition.

The Offaly County Council Libraries holds an archive of Charleville Forest & Howard Bury papers from 1795 to 1919.

Captain Kenneth Howard, (1846-1885), of Charleville Forest in King’s County, Ireland, was a Deputy Lieutenant, Justice of the Peace, High Sheriff, and a Captain in the RHA Royal Horse Artillery, from which he retired in 1883. He married Lady Emily Alfreda Julia Bury whose father was Charles William the 3rd Earl of Charleville in September 1881. By this union he gained, by royal charter dated 14 December 1881, the additional surname and the arms of Bury, appending Bury to his surname. The Captain and Lady Bury settled at Charleville Castle, Tullamore, and had four children. He was the son of the Honourable James Kenneth Howard (1814-1882), Commissioner of Woods and Forest, and grandson to the 16th Earl of Suffolk and the 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne. He died at the young age of 39, and his legacy has faded into the shadow of his first son’s mountaineering fame (Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury who led the 1921 Mount Everest expedition and published an account the following year).

Ranbir Singh, CIE (1830-1885 CE), Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir and head of the Jamwal Rajput clan, was a great scholar of Sanskrit and classical Persian. He was also learned in Swedish and English. He established a substantial translation department in Jammu, called “Daarul Tarjumah,” under the patronage of a learned Hakim of Turkish Afghan ancestry, Agha (Hakim) Muhammad Baqir who was also his chief physician. There he employed pandits (Brahmin scholars) from Kashmir to transcribe Sarada manuscripts into the alphasyllabary Devanagari script. The Devanagari written by these Pandits came to be known as Kashmirian Devanagari. It was under this bureau that Maharaja Ranbir Singh got “Tibb-e-Unaani” translated from Arabic and Latin into Persian and Dogri. [These manuscripts are presently held by the Ranbir Sanskrit Research Library, formerly the Raghunath Temple Library.]

From 1857-1885 Maharaja Ranbir Singh ruled the territory of Kashmir independently from the Lahore Durbar after his father Gulab Singh, the founder of royal Dogra dynasty and first Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which was created and purchased from the British for 7,500,000 Nanakshahee Rupees after the defeat of the Sikh Empire in the First Anglo-Sikh War, Gulab Singh having allied with the British during the war. Ranbir was a contemporary of Naunihal Singh and witnessed the Lahore successors being killed. Like his father, Ranbir Singh generally collaborated with the British, in his first year as ruler, sending some 3,000 soldiers to aid the British in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, for example. The trans-Himalayan territories of Gilgit, Astore, Hunza-Nagar were conquered and made part of Jammu and Kashmir in his time. However, in 1874 (contemporary to Howard’s travels) there was some conflict and distrust between the Maharaja and the British government, the latter trying to establish a permanent Resident at Gilgit or elsewhere, but having been denied by Singh.

Accompanied by an exceedingly scarce manuscript document penned by the Maharajah of Kashmir in 1874, the writer’s private letterbook forms a superb account of an adventurous journey from Punjab Province to Kashmir, of trekking through the Pir Panjal range, and of most fortuitously becoming a guest of the Maharajah of Kashmir and Jammu – the notorious oppressor Ranbir Singh.

A journey which could only be achieved by a man as fit as the writer, a man of military endurance and mountaineering novice, unfolds with excellent detail. Not always prepared for the conditions, he still presses on, tenting in isolation in the wild, visiting military stations when possible and occasionally settling in the “däk bungalows” of North India. Howard meets indigenous people living high in the mountains, learning of and describing their means for self-sufficiency. Two chance meetings with notable British colonial administrators provided him with luxuries which would not have otherwise been available to him, and also helpful firsthand information for travelling into little-known parts.

The volume begins with a letter written in Lahore, stating that two days earlier on 24 June 1874 he departed the cantonment town of Morar, for Agra where he visited the great marble mausoleum of Etmad Dowlah [Itimad-ud-Daula], and from there proceeded to Ghageerabad [Ghaziabad] near New Delhi. As he travels in a military horse-drawn carriage, he describes the sense of desolation on this route, “…not a mole hill visible, no hedges, a few trees here & there near a town or village, the rest grassless bare sand…” Addressing his father, the Honorable James Kenneth Howard (1814-1882), he reveals his plans to continue to Rawul Pindee [Rawalpindi], Murree and Cashmere [Kashmir].

At Jhelum 27 June, he writes of his passage through Gujranwala where a meal was provided to him at the däk bungalow, his subsequent encounter with Lieutenant A.K. Macpherson, a magistrate and then the Assistant Commissioner of Googerat [Gujarat]. MacPherson joined Howard here for the remainder of the journey to Jhelum, having with him, “some ice which was a luxury unattainable by me [Howard], as it is made in the jail by the prisoners during the winter from ice pits.”

“We had such a terrific storm… my wretched servants were drenched… I got dampish in the gharry & thought the whole machine was going to blow over,” he writes after safely arriving at Rawul Pindee [Rawalpindi] on the 28th. Eager to reach Srinagar, he tallies the journey’s travel costs thus far for 200 rupees, about 600 miles by rail and 340 miles by carriage.

The next letter is written to his mother, from Srinagar on 12 July. After a pleasant account of the journey through the exquisite natural vistas of the Jhelum Valley by way of Hattian Bala, he mentions having met Douglas Forsyth, an administrator in India, and with him, army medical officer Henry Bellew, who were returning from the 1873-1874 embassy to Yarkand intending to negotiate a commercial treaty with the Amir. Howard remarks, “Forsyth & Dr. Bellew… on their return from their mission to Kashgar… the talk was purely Turkestan & very interesting to me.” At Baramulla, he had not satisfied with the local dak bungalow and decided to overnight on a small boat on the bank of the Jhelum River, his servants following on a second boat, as they were ferried to Srinagar and along the canals within the city to their destination. Here he had the unique opportunity of meeting an albino family, that of the boatman. Finally arriving at Srinagar he also met Robert Barkley Shaw the newly-appointed British joint commissioner in Ladakh, with whom he enjoys much conversation and gains insight for formulating his route in Kashmir.

It is here at Srinagar that the writer met with the Maharajah of Kashmir, Ranbir Singh, being a guest in his court and receiving a personal benefaction from the ruler in way of a manuscript “Order to Grant Coolies & Supplies,” for his Himalayan travels to the high altitude hill station town of Gulmarg, and through the valleys of the Pir Panjal Range. (Document shown above)

Excerpts from the text:
“I found the Rajah had prepared his bungalow for Shaw & Sully & they insisted on my coming too, so here I am in a huge room painted all over ceiling & all with Cashmere patterns of sorts in bright colours…” 
“Shaw… is the newly appointed Political Agent at Yarkand & is the man who wrote an interesting book on Kashgar & Yarkand… having travelled a great deal… I enjoy hearing his stories & conversation very much…”
“We went yesterday to see some of the gold & silver work that this place is famous for… I felt inclined to spend lots of money… a wonderfully ingenious people…” 
“I have been discussing matters with Shaw who knows Cashmere well & I have mapped out a journey from here to Dras, thence camping one night on a glacier & to Sooroo, on down the Wardwan valley [Warwan Valley] to Kishtwar, thence through Budrawar to Chamba & Dalhousie…” 
End Excerpts.

On the 21st of July he writes from Goolimarg [Gulmarg], announcing that he had digressed from his planned route, to travel with a group of Russians and indulge in a bear-hunting expedition, ultimately arriving at this place in the western Himalayas which was popular with British civil servants for hunting in summer months. He is awestruck by the flora here, an abundance of flowers and fruit growing wild, describing the region as “a perfect paradise”.

Interestingly, he makes a disparaging remark about the Maharajah after learning of how the civilians are treated, indeed the same ruler who gave him the letter granting him assistance in his mountain expedition, describing the Maharajah as “a brute who oppresses his wretched people in the most fearful way,” and questioning why the British government does not interfere. He goes even further to explain his dissatisfaction with the Maharajah, stating that he intends writing a letter to Clan [his cousin, Henry Charles Keith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th marquess of Lansdowne, formerly titled Viscount Clanmaurice] of “how this Rajah mismanages & oppresses the people here,” and going on to explain, the country is nominally feudatory to England, & though we prevent all the other Rajahs from ill treating their people, yet we allow this brute, who has no right whatever to the throne beyond purchase, to treat his people worse than slaves.” [The Maharaja Ranbir Singh (1830-1885) oppressed religious groups and rituals, and perpetuated the severity that marked his father’s reign.]

From the remote mountain regions, a letter dated 24 July 1874 is written upon his arrival at a place calls Gojchuhattar. Taking in the splendour of the western Himalayas by trekking from Gulmarg through the valleys “bounded by snow-capped mountains” Howard peers at the Nanga Parbat. So remote and pristine were the places he ventured to, that he speculates, “as far as I can make out no Shaib [man] has been this road before.” An alpine adventure indeed, he walks in the heat along a steep hill, climbing and descending every two miles, crosses a “rapid mountain torrent… the water being cold as ice,” through spectacular open meadows and into the woods. After a few days’ march, he camped at a peak which overlooked a “crystal clear lake.”

29 July, in the heart of the Pir Panjal range, at a place called Kamnau, again remarking on the Maharajah, “… my tirade against the Rajah… his silver is so bad that the natives here won’t take his rupees in payment!”Here he received a written invitation to dine with Major Blake of the 5th Lancers. In a small village he took refuge from rain in a “Goojar’s hut” describing these Gujarati and his experience there as follows,

“The Goojurs [Gujarati] are people who look after the vast herds of cows, sheep & horses that are sent to graze on the hills when the snow melts away. It was a very clementary house consisting of one room… with its back to the ground so that you walk from the hill on to the roof which is covered with earth & flat… the sides were half covered … in this house lived the old man, his wife & how many more sons & daughters in law & their children I don’t know for they kept coming in, in a stream from the forest, bringing dandelions, berries, toadstools… which they eat…”

In this letter he also describes a monumental climb in the Pir Panjal range, to Aliabad Serai – a seventeenth century shelter in the Shopian District which had become a resthouse. Also settled there, it just so happens were Captain Gillies of the Royal Artillery, and Colonel Molyneux of the 10th Hussars.

Howard writes,
“Next morning I started early for Aliabad Serai on the top of the Pir Punjal 11,400 feet from sea level… an icy cold rain with the wind blowing over the snow… ten miles of stiff uphill, crossing a big sort of glacier of snow… I found the serai to be one of the old serais of the Mogul Emperors who used to come into Cashmere this way… immensely thick walls & vaulted roofs… an arched gateway & facing you are the travellers apartments…”
“I heard someone… Captain Gillies of the RA at Morar… had slipped down 2 or 3 times… We had a long talk over Morar & its doings… the wretched Gillies had been living for 5 days on Chupatties & eggs with brandy & water… I told my man to kill the fatted calf & feast poor Gillies…”
“… a lady & gentleman who turned out to be Capt. Molyneux of the 10th Hussars & his wife who were camped outside preferring tents to the dirty dungeon… walked up and down with them for a long time… They were on their way back from Muttra…”

[Aliabad Serai’s stone walls guard over the magnificent 3,182-metre Pir Panjal pass, and are part of the string of magnificent shelters built along the Mughal Road by Emperor Nuruddin Mohammad Jehangir from 1605 to 1627.]

Howard’s riveting mountaineering adventure continued as he “started up the hill… to the top & then down the precipices the other side, such climbing as I never had in my life… some 2000 feet to ascend…”, after which he arrives on the 2nd August at Shupiyan to write a briefing of his subsequent travel plans, to ultimately reach Dalhousie.

From Shupiyan he treks for several days across water-logged meadows to Islamabad, overnighting near a sacred spring, passed the ruined pleasure garden of an ancient palace, camping at quaint villages nestled in the valley – one of which was “inhabited by a wild looking sort of men… their hair long & down…,” and sixteen miles through a forest, finally settled and writing of all this in a letter at Camp Mogul Maidan dated 11 August.

Camp Kishtwar, he describes on 13 August, as a most charming place on a high plateau, reached after some river crossings and a long ascent past the remains of old Hindu temples. Behind his camp is a “quaint old sigarat [ziggurat] or Mahomedan Temple… the town with a rather handsome palace belonging to the Wazuur [Wazir of Kashmir].”

The final letter is penned at Camp Budrawar on 18 August, reminiscing on the final leg of the journey, and mentioning that he was an overnight guest at a bungalow of the Maharajah situated at Jungulwar. Intending to “stay a week or so at Dalhousie before returning to barrack life again”, his final statement reveals that he had been on leave, exploring, since the 23rd of March, and was serving somewhere in India with the Royal Artillery in 1874.

dak bungalow, or dak-house, was a government building in British India, under Company Rule and the Raj, which provided free accommodation for government officials and, upon their permission inexpensive lodging for other travellers. The dak bungalows carried on a tradition of caravanserais, dharamshalas, and other guesthouses erected by Indian rulers for both Hindu and Muslim pilgrims. Beds were uncommon, as the Raj officials were expected to travel with their own bedding and servants. The khansamah could provide dining for those without their own cook.


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