<META content=Word.Document name=ProgId><META content="Microsoft Word 12" name=Generator><META content="Microsoft Word 12" name=Originator><LINK href="file:///C:%5CUsers%5CBASHAR%7E1.KHA%5CAppData%5CLocal%5CTemp%5Cmsohtmlclip1%5C01%5Cclip_filelist.xml" rel=File-List><LINK href="file:///C:%5CUsers%5CBASHAR%7E1.KHA%5CAppData%5CLocal%5CTemp%5Cmsohtmlclip1%5C01%5Cclip_themedata.thmx" rel=themeData><LINK href="file:///C:%5CUsers%5CBASHAR%7E1.KHA%5CAppData%5CLocal%5CTemp%5Cmsohtmlclip1%5C01%5Cclip_colorschememapping.xml" rel=colorSchemeMapping><STYLE> </STYLE> The journey's end
For Wooly's restless soul and his legacy, the journey has not ended. Tracing the footsteps of Lovell Wooldridge, the Assistant Political Agent of Chilas
By Raheal Ahmad Siddiqui
"The heights above are horrifying, but the gorge of Indus is worse. It's more like the bottom of the Grand Canyon, a suffocating, rock-burned desert. Nothing grows there……… an abomination of desolation."
This is how Lieutenant C.G. Bruce described Chilas with its surrounds in 1892, and this is how I found it when I visited Chilas this May. The only difference between 'now' and 'then' is the Karakoram Highway, zigzagging between Abbotabad and the Sinkiang province of China, connecting Chilas with the outside world.
Despite the road connection, it was a backbreaking journey to Chilas, a town still considered remote by the government officers. Sibtain invited me for lunch at the Deputy Commissioner's official bungalow. This bungalow is the finest example of colonial architecture placed at an idyllic setting. A wild stream of foaming ice-cold water gushes down from the defile, dividing the backyard of this bungalow into two unequal halves and a wooden bridge providing the necessary connection. With each fresh breeze, the Mulberry trees drop down juicy dark purple fruits painting the ground underneath with mauve colour. The chirping of the birds is blended with the sound of the water roaring in the stream. A fishpond, vegetables sprouting in patches, tall chinar trees interspersed with green glades -- what else do you need for a celestial paradise. Wordsworth could have spent all his life here writing on nature and its pristine beauty, "Some barriers with which Nature, from the birth Of things, has fenced this fairest spot on earth."
Lunch was served in the dinning room. The aroma of local cuisine was mouth watering, and the taste was simply delicious. With great effort, I had to suppress my gluttony. Sibtain's wife is not only a good cook but had keen aesthetics to keep the house in its true perspective. The wooden floors, fire place with chimney's protruding from the roof, slanting roof top, ventilators for light and air, and the walls adorned by hanging antique guns, takes you down to the colonial past and the good governance associated with it. It seems that Sibtain, the Deputy Commissioner of Chilas, was living in paradise and getting paid for it. But the equation is not so simple. Chilas, with its tribal culture, that too lacking in modern education, had always been a problematic district to administer. But much more than that, Sibtain lamented about the social isolation that he and his wife had to suffer from. Sibtain's dilemmas were the same, as those endured by 'Wooly Sahab', his predecessor, some 80 years ago.
The pressure from the Russian Bear extending its influence in Afghanistan, along the Chinese frontier and above all, in the high passes of Pamirs, gave a new twist to the Great Game. The Gilgit agency was re-established in 1889, with Colonel Algernon Durand as its Agent. Chilas was unnecessarily subdued by the wanton behaviour of Durand in 1892-93 who himself was suffering from depressive psychosis. To manage wild tribes of Yaghistan, as area covering the semi-autonomous tribes of Chilas, Darel and Tangir, an Assistant Political Agent was permanently based at Chilas. Yaghistan was interpreted as the 'land of outlaws.' Chilas was used as a watching post for any threatened tribal incursion, usually because of blood feuds and vendettas, from Tangir and Dariel. Some maintain that Kipling was really thinking of Tangir and Dariel when he wrote The Man Who Would Be King, though the Kafiristan he seems to refer to seems just as dangerous a place.
Was Wooly Sahab the man who wanted to be the king! Most of the people whom I met in Chilas were familiar with the name Wooly, yet nobody could give me any further detail except that he was the Assistant Political Agent of Chilas. What made him so popular? I searched for this character Wooly in the history books but found no reference of him. I gave up my quest for Wooly thinking that his legendary name had only survived because of his good work and his sympathetic approach towards the subjects of the Raj. Wooly was thus another Col. Tyrwhitt of Nagarparker.
It was while reading Walter Trevelyan's autobiography (who was appointed military advisor in Gilgit by the Maharajah of Kashmir) that I accidentally rediscovered some facts about the mysterious Wooly Sahab, and would quote, "Heb's (Todd) assistant at Chilas, while was two-day ride from Bunji (five from Gilgit) and not far from Gor, was Lovell Wooldridge, known as Wooly. He lived alone in a house with three dogs -- a Springer, an Afghan hound, a Yorkshire terrier -- and some pets including an acrobatically inclined lynx, to which the Yorkshire was an anathema. He use to bring the Afghan hound to Gilgit, this 'pyjama dog' as I called it, was a great favourite of mine. Wooly had his gramophone records sent from Regent Street -- 'not one arrived broken' -- and his Christmas fare, such as ham and Wensleydale cheese, from Quetta."
It seems to me now that Wooly's situation, isolated and alone in a spot where once no European would have dared entered without the protection of an army, was typical of one aspect of the administration of British India. I found Sibtain trying hard to continue the same traditions in a fast changing environment where the institutional force had diluted to a large extent. Wooldrige was leading the Chilasis from the front, whether in a polo match or while administrating justice.
In 1931, there were again threats of trouble from the smouldering wild tribes. The first aeroplane had successfully landed at Gilgit and the authorities were planning to build another landing strip at Chilas. Far from being impressed by aeroplanes, the tribesmen had become alarmed and angry. However, Wooly's clever manoeuvring succeeded in cooling down the tempers and the airstrip was finally completed. This airstrip still survives in Chilas, though no aircraft had landed on it for decades. Its existence itself is a monument to Wooly's administrative skills. He was respected by the local people and perfectly content on his own, living the 'larger and nobler life that man should live', as E.F. Knight so grandiloquently put it.
In 1934, Walter Trevelyan was posted out of Gilgit Agency. We find no further mention of Wooly in Reliegh's memoirs. It is expected that Wooly too must have moved to some other place in the Raj. But one last twist remains in Wooly's legacy.
The construction of Diamer Bhasha Dam would commence soon, and the ensuing lake, some 70 km long, will submerge the Indus Gorge, including some houses on the lower slopes of Chilas town. While strolling in the lawn of the Residency, I probed Sibtain regarding the chances of survival of this heritage building. Sibtain stopped, "If this house is destroyed by the Dam, we will lose the finest piece of architectural heritage in the whole region and my restless soul would join Wooly's ghost."
In those days, Chilas could only be reached from Srinagar after a hard trek of three weeks across mountains and the dreaded Burzil Pass. Many had perished crossing this pass, which remains closed for nearly seven months in a year. Some were lucky to escape with only frostbites and lost toes. Reaching Chilas, a god-forsaken town at the extreme edge of the British Raj, after such a hazardous trip, one always needed a break to give rest to the aching body. With no desire (or place) left to travel further, the journey had to be discontinued. And what a remarkable place to the end such a journey -- "a heaven in an abomination of desolation." The journey must end at this house.
'The Journey's End' was the name given to this Residency by Lovell Wooldridge. He had it built and had loved it as the first-born. A marble slab with The Journey's End inscribed on it was plastered on the main gate. Walter and Heb Todd had always referred to this place by its maiden name. This stone disappeared a decade ago, a sad victim of official vandalism. A new one, which reads 'The Journey Ends', replaced it. The letter 'S' was made to charge ends, thereby distorting the whole sense.
Sibtain promised me to correct this historical aberration by putting up yet another stone before my next visit. After all Wooly's English spirit had to be restored. It was here that Wooldridge had kept a Himalayan lynx as a pet -- an unusual animal tamed by an exceptionally unusual man. Servants of the Residency claimed to have seen Wooly's ghost drifting out of the Residency and disappearing between these trees. The sighting of this harmless apparition had been numerous over the last few decades. For Wooly's restless soul and his legacy, the journey has not ended.