The preceding is a detail from a colored wood-engraving from 1885, produced in London by J.S. Virtue and Co. It shows (in red) some of the main postal and travellers’ routes that were used to reach the Kashmir valley from the south and west, i.e., through and around the Pirpanjal that forms the southern wall of the valley. To get a sense of the scale here, look at the M in KASHMIR on the map for locating Shapeyan. The postal runner distance north from there to Srinagar was about 30 English miles.
Post-towns in Kashmir: Anant Nag, Bandpura, Baramulla, Berwa, Bijbehara, Bunji, Chakoti, Dachanpora, Danusa, Deosar, Domel, Dras, Garhi, Gilgit, Gulmargh, Gurez, Hasora, Hattian, Karnah, Kargil, Kohala, Krohin, Lar, Leh (in Ladakh), Maharajganj, Muzaffarabad, Nagam, Pampur, Rampur, Randu, Shopayan, Shorayer, Skardo, Sonamargh, Sopur, Srinagar, Ular, Ulla Vehu, Uri, Uttar Machipura.
Post-towns in Jammu: Akhnūr, Banhal, Basoli, Batout, Bhadawar, Bhimbar, Chak Karna, Chomak, Dansal, Doda, Hamipur Sidhar, Jammu, Jasmergarh, Jasrota, Kathua, Kishtwar, Khui Ruttah (Kirutha?), Kotli, Manawar, Mirpur Nowan Shahr, Nowshera, Padar, Parol, Ramban, Rajouri, Riasi, Samba, Seri, Sukchainpur, Tavi, Thana, Udhampur, Veri Nag. Handwara and Parat are sometimes mentioned (as are Chirat and Karolin).
References: Bard, A.S. India Post 09 86 (1975); Staal p 142; Séfi & Mortimer ► on-site link.
There were five main routes for getting to, around, or through the Pirpanjal mountain range. There were of course many other postal-runner lines connecting small post offices for which most Kashmir collectors, alas, will never see covers. The map (minus the coloring) is taken from John Murray’s Handbook for Travellers in India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, 17th ed. 1955. One important line not described here or colored on the map, and for which a significant amount of interesting material is extant, is the trek between Srinagar and Leh, via the spectacular Zoji La, shown on the map.
Pirpanjal Route, the black line on the map above. Strangely enough, mail on this fine old travellers’ passage is not commonly seen. It was known as the Imperial Road, having been used by Mughal rulers in times past. It first takes us north from, say, Gujarat in India the 29 miles to Bhimbar, which is just inside the Jammu border and just south of the Aditak range. (Bhimbar was once the capital and residence of an independent Rajah, the last representative of which was cruelly blinded by Gulab Singh.) The full distance of the black line as shown is about 175 daunting miles.
Compared with the 18000' Karakoram pass and certain Tibetan ordeals, this passage is a walk in the park, which part of it was. But that still did not make it easy, and it was often impassable in winter even for intrepid folk. North of Rajouri, one may spot two junctions that detour west into Poonch on the Blue Line, one at Thanna Mundi and the other at Baramgalla. These were primarily wintertime detours for all but Poonchians. The passage northeast from Baramgalla rises quickly toward the Pirpanjal Pass at 11600'. The traveller then crosses the Rutten Pir (8200') and upward to Poshiana and Aliabad Serai across the border in Kashmir. (A serai is Mughal building.) From here there is a “grand view” from the summit of the pass. Then follows the descent to Hirpur on the road leading onto the plains of the Kashmir valley. The large town of Shupiyan lies farther on and from there directly north to Srinagar was typically a two-day’s march for the traveller (instantaneous for postal runners) on a fairly easy road bordered by poplars. Camping grounds awaited the typical traveller in the European Quarter in the southern section of Srinagar. Special guests received a goat and perhaps an elephant ride. In the synopses the numbers are English miles between the flanking locations:
Synopsis of Pirpanjal Route. Start Gujarat 29 Bhimber 27 Nowshera 28 Rajouri 14 Thanna Mundi 10 Baramgalla 8 Poshiana 11 Aliabad Serai 9 Sukh Serai 3 Hirpur 8 Shupiyan 11 Shadi Marg 17 Sher Garhi 0 Srinagar.
Punćh (► Blue line on the map). Poonch is a region of western Kashmir that used its own postage stamps in the 1876-94 period. Its capital of the same name is a town on the Suran river. It is hardly surprising that its postal doings were somewhat entwined with that of Kashmir and indeed they shared the same stamp and seal engraver, a certain Rahat Ju, who cut the Kashmir implements. Winter mail between Srinagar and points south in the Punjab via Bhimbar was detoured through Punch when the Pirpanjal became impassable. The detour adds 40-some miles to the postal runners’ winter trek. Starting from Srinagar and heading westward along the Jhelum River to Uri, one could opt for the Poonch detour by proceeding south for about 20 miles through the Bitarh valley toward the 8500' Haji Pir pass. After reaching Punch (City) itself the trek southeast to Thanna Mundi is about 30 miles. The mails could then proceed south on the Pirpanjal route. Currently the region between Poonch and Uri sees the India-Pakistan cease-fire line cross twice. The other, harder but shorter, route to Punch was via Gulmarg and over the Firozepur La. Another postal line that originated at Poonch went down-river through Kotli and beyond southward. While the map does not show an obvious route between Kotli and Nowshera on the Pirpanjal line, there was indeed a runner line between the two that passed through Seri and Kirutha (not shown on the map). Seri and Kotli boast fine 3-ring cancellations, among other things we are bound to assume.
Synopsis of Main Punch Detour: Gujarat City 29 Bhimber 27 Nowshera 28 Rajouri 14 Thanna Mundi 16 Suran 14 Punch 9 Kahota 8 Aliabad 7 Hyderabad 10 Uri 26 Baramulla 14 Pattan 17 Srinagar.
Murree Route (► Green lines on the map). Passage into the Kashmir Valley from the West, starting say at Rawalpindi in the Panjab, was effected through the British hill-town of Murree situated some 40 miles northeast of Rawalpindi at an altitude of 7200'. From Murree, three routes could be taken into Kashmir: (a) From Murree 28 miles northwesterly is the large station of Abbottabad (name chopped at left edge of map). This was the easier if longer route that was taken when winter or supply conditions so required. The march proceeds north to Mansehra, then east into Kashmir reaching Muzaffarabad and Domel, where there is connection to the Jhelum River and thus clear passage east to Srinagar via Garhi, Uri, Baramulla, etc. (b) Much more common for the mails was a 21-mile leg going northeasterly from Murree that descended directly to the Jhelum river at the border town of Kohala. Following the river upstream north, one again reaches the vicinity of Muzaffarabad at Domel and on as before. (c) There is also the difficult short-cut from Kohala directly across to Garhi, a saving of 50 miles compared with route (a).
Synopsis of Abbottabad Route: Rawalpindi 40 Murree 28 Abbottabad 14 Mansera 33 Muzaffarabad 1 Domel 9 Garhi 12 Hattian 15 Chakoti 16 Uri 11 Urumbu 15 Baramulla 14 Pattan 17 Srinagar.
Synopsis of the short Kohala Route: Rawalpindi 40 Murree 10 Daywal 11 Kohala 14 Garhi 12 Hattian 15 Chakoti 16 Uri 11 Urumbu 15 Baramulla 14 Pattan 17 Srinagar.
Jammu Link (► Red line on the map). This old route was largely abandoned with the development of the Banihal pass on the Yellow Line, which afforded much quicker passage between the capitals.
Synopsis of the Jammu Link: Jammu City 15 Akhnūr 24 Chauki Chora 10 Thandapani 12 Dharamsala 10 Sialsia 12 Rajouri . . . whence the route heads to the Pirpanjal pass as before.
Banihal Pass (► Yellow line on the map) was and is as shown on the map. Main postal towns:
Synopsis of the Banihal Route: Jammu City, Dasal, Batout, Udhampur, Ramban, Banihal Pass, Veri Nag, Anant Nag, Bijbehara, Panpur, Srinagar.
Tibetan Line. No link for a reason. Well, there must have been some sort of mail making its way to and from points east of Leh. The absence of philatelic material from our period must be reckoned a sad reality of Himalayan philately, which has no doubt helped to cut Kashmir off from that romantic field to which it technically belongs. Wolfgang Hellrigl reports a registered commercial cover from Leh to Lhasa, dated 1925. Alas, that’s a pretty thin base upon which to launch a branch of philately.
Yarkand Line (► On-site link off-page).