Srinagar

Kashmir

India

           

29 October 1937

 

Dear Alex

 

As usual I am very much behind in writing you; I don’t know why letter-writing is chronically difficult in this country.  I have just got your letter from an hotel in Montrose written a month ago, and we were pleased to hear that David is getting on so well. We were much interested in his first photo (sent earlier) and think him a fine young man whose acquaintance we look forward to making next year when we are hoping to come on long leave.  We are glad you enjoyed Tess’s account of her flight which was typed by me as her extempore dictation.  I agree it would be a good subject for an article but meantime (in India) one is rather out of touch with home papers and the style of article they want.  We do not worry, by the way, about the change in climate for Sylvia Ann, for actually going home by steamer to England the change in temperature on leaving Port Said and turning sharp westward into the Mediterranean is much more acute.  We were interested in your new house and “flitting“but can break your record for expenses.  We “flitted“in Bangalore from one house to another (including furniture) for about 7/6d.  This is such a contradictory country for prices.  On the other hand petrol here is 3/6d a gallon as against 2/8d in Lucknow.  A twopenny bar of chocolate costs 6 and the London Sunday Observer 6.

 

We had a wonderful motor trip to Kashmir.  You will be interested in our method of packing the car.  Every available space is used.  The back seat is taken out and left behind and the space left is piled up with overcoats, heavy clothing, blankets, bedding etc and covered with a thick dust sheet.  Ayah and Sylvia Ann sit on this.  SA can lie down as required.  We have one suitcase inside and no less than five on the back.  You will recollect that the car is Standard Ten and quite small really.  Tess shares in the driving and one must keep up a cruising speed 40-45 miles an hour in order to average 30, owing to obstructions, villages, bullock-carts etc.  There is no such thing as a hotel or food fit to eat outside the widely scattered cities where Europeans are settled, so that stores must be carried and picnic meals taken under shady trees or at dak (rest) bungalows.  Or if passing through a large but purely Indian city one may make for the Railway Station, where the chances are, there will be a restaurant.

 

The first night we reached Delhi (300 miles) and for SA’s sake rested there the next day.  We stayed in a hotel which had an open air swimming pool into which we all went.  You will be able to follow most of the other places of the 1,000 mile run in the map  -  Ambala, Lahore, Sielkot, Jaurmin  - then up over the mountains.  It was a wonderful mountain road 150 miles long and finally entering the Vale of Kashmir through a tunnel built through the mountain at Bainhal Pass (9000feet).  I sent you a pc of that part of the road.  Its threadlike ziggy towering above – as we viewed it from the bottom was awe-inspiring.  There were heaps of other interesting things in the way too.  We crossed in turn each of the well known school day Punjab rivers – Suflej, Ravel, Chenab and Jhelium and at Amristar visited the famous Golden Temple (having to go barefoot over sun hot marble stones to see it).  The Punjab was also a network of irrigation canals made from the above rivers, and the countryside looked fertile and rich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent only two or three days in Srinagar, the “capital” of Kashmir, and then set out to explore some of the small offshore valleys and surrounding mountains in camp.  Camping is “the thing” to do in Kashmir, and elaborate arrangements are made, but as everything has to be hired- tents, furniture, crockery etc, and pony transport comes to about 15/- a day, we found it very expensive, though very enjoyable indeed while it lasted.  For Sylvia Ann we had a small pony on which she sat in front of Ayah.  As alternatives we had a wicker basket-bed carried on a pole by two coolies in which she both played and slept in the afternoons.  This she called her “walky-walky bed”.  She reveled in the camp life – as we were told all children do – racing in and out, crawling under the flaps, and trying to climb up the guy ropes.  She delighted to run with verbal messages to the “cook-tent” from us, and when dining one night (our wedding anniversary) on a cloth spread on the ground before a roaring camp-fire of great logs, she described it as a “wuvvy night-time”.

 

There is something Swiss about the Kashmir climate just now – in the excessive drop in temp. at night.  This often acute coldness at nights led to almost Heath Robinson arrangements in the tent to keep warm, sometimes.  One “dressed” instead of “undressed” to go to bed – thick woolen stockings, vests, dressing gowns etc, and on one star night at 10,000ft we had a paraffin stove, and kettle on top to refill the hot water bags at 4am!, and a flask of hot tea also, for zero hour.  But as soon as the sun was up, it was delightful.

 

That forenoon we left Sylvia Ann playing in the camp amongst the pinewood and climbed a bit higher to 13,000ft to see a glacier and the lake it fed, at close quarters, returning after a picnic lunch.

 

After a fortnight in camp we returned to Srinagar and are staying in a houseboat at the estuary of the Dal Labi.  A houseboat resembles a Noah’s ark and is quite roomy – sitting room, dining room, three bedrooms and three bathrooms.  A smaller separate cookhouse boat is attached behind and a small gondola – called a “shikara” – to take one ashore or on shopping excursions along the canals or river, completes the picture.  One can be “punted” up or down river as desired, or along one of the numerous canals.  If one is anywhere within the city area one takes electric light from the shore.

 

A description of Srinagar and its characteristics and people will take another letter.  Indeed Tess’s story of her flight seems to have interested everyone so much at home,  that we have decided to write a detailed account of our holiday in Kashmir for passing round.

 

One more item of news, however, I lent our trusty car that had brought us all the way, without even a puncture to our Indian banker and agent here, for an afternoon.  His driver promptly had an accident – ran into a tree.  In true Indian fashion, when he saw the crash coming, instead of breaking hard, the driver broke the back of his seat and climbed into the back!  The car is completely wrecked, and the chassis has bent like butter and broken in several places.  It has rather lessened our opinion of he strength of chassis’ of British cars.  Fortunately it is fully insured, but it will mean returning to Lucknow over the mountains in a hire car, and then by rail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The motor firm who examined and reported on the damage was a highly amusing Indian effort.  To run such a business then on three essentials, evidently, and three only: (1) A large signboard :- “British Motor House, Automobile Engineers”, (2) Impressive headed notepaper (3) A rubber stamp.  The personnel proved to be a babu clerk (educated to Primary Standard) and an old man wrapped in a blanket who was the “engineer”.  Actually this old man simply loosened screws and things at the behest of the bandaged driver who crashed the car, who seemed to know at least the names of all the parts.  Once it was known that the car was irreparable he announced each new piece of damage with undisguised delight.  They hoisted the front half of the car up on a chain, and a link broke, giving the car another severe bump, upon which he grinned from ear to ear.  Meantime the babu clerk made notes.  When finished, I found I had to type the letter to myself and the list of damage, as the clerk couldn’t type, although there was a typewriter.  This completed he took my letter, etc, on the floor, carefully signed it, rubber-stamped it, made a pen copy and carefully entered a “Reference” for his “file” “Ref L18”.  All Indian businessmen are not of course like this.

 

With love from all to all

 

Yours affectionately

 

Wilson

 

 

 

 

 

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