Category Archives: Halcyon Days

Kashmir by Gordon Duff

Published / by Jehangir

In younger days I spent many a late summer wandering the lofty wildernesses that ring the Kashmir Valley on all sides. The outbreak of militancy at the end of the eighties put paid to those adventures, never to be resumed again.

During those glorious years my mother would ask me why I wanted to be ‘paharon mein darbadar‘ on my birthdays (Mid-August). I wish I knew about Gordon Duff then so I could explain my desire in his words:

here among the great mountains
nothing but the grandeur of the world remains.
heaven may not be ‘up there’ but there is no doubt
that here one is in touch with the infinite.
one has only to reach out to touch the great beyond.
the smallness of men’s minds is forgotten, the shallowness of
their ways, the pettiness of so much that surrounds them.
there is nothing tawdry in the world of the high peaks.

dekhna taqreer ki lazzat ki jo us ne kaha,
main ne ye jaana ki goya ye bhi mere dil mein hai

Well better late than never.

Gordon Duff (1921-2001) was born in 1921 in Glasgow, Scotland. During the Second World War he served with the 31 RAF Squadron in India from 1943-1945. In the post war years he returned to Glasgow and got married, and later immigrated to New Zealand in 1953.

Gordon Duff kept detailed diaries and took many photos of his time overseas (India, Burma, Indonesia and Singapore) which were hidden till he passed away – probably because people wanted to forget the war when they got home.

His daughter Marjory Lewis has generously shared his unseen photographs of Kashmir as it was in 1944, some of which are posted here for your viewing pleasure:

Let us raise a toast to the photography of Gordon Duff and the generosity of Marjory Lewis.
Noon chai is the strongest spirit that I imbibe, so here goes.

Three cheers for Gordon Duff.

Radio Blues

Published / by Jehangir

Over the years cellphones have committed virtual genocide.

A snap list of victims would include (alphabetically) address books, airline tickets, alarm clocks, barcode scanners, board games, books, business cards, cable tv, calculators, calendars, camcorders, cameras, compasses, credit cards, ebook readers, flashlights, GPS devices, landline phones, laptops, measurement devices (light meters, measuring tapes, thermostats, timers), movie theatres, newspapers, notepads, paper money, photo albums, physical maps, portable gaming devices, portable music and video players, radios, remote controllers, scanners, sketchpads, snail mail, usb thumbdrives, voice recorders, walkie talkies, webcams, wired internet and wristwatches.

Most of these may die unsung but I feel a twinge of sadness for radio.

I’d sit alone and watch your light
My only friend through teenage nights
… Radio, what’s new?
Radio, someone still loves you*

I read somewhere that the first radio available to the public in Kashmir was a Sky Champion set manufactured by the Hallicrafters Company in Chicago, USA and marketed by Lyra & Co in Lal Chowk.

I was unable to confirm that these radios were actually war surplus receivers with the transmitter removed but the original advertisement is quite suggestive.

Apparently in those days a licence was needed to own a radio set with annual stamps required from the post office!

In the seventies I grew up listening to a relentless barrage of Hindi songs on a leather-covered Philips Commander transistor belonging to the retainer/dastango mentioned in an earlier post. Even today I try to impress my kids (as if !) by identifying old Hindi hits just from the song intro.

In the eighties I managed to get my hands on a Trans-Oceanic transistor radio that had belonged to my father. The superbly-crafted Zenith Trans-Oceanic Royal 1000 has been described as the ‘royalty of radios.’ IMHO, the ‘Rolls Royce of radios‘ would be an equally apt description.

Upon turning a knob the whole dial cylinder would cycle between bands with a soul-satisfying thunk – the effect was akin to James Bond revolving the number plates on his Aston-Martin. The superb reception and separation of channels in the Trans-Oceanic opened up the joys of shortwave surfing. I became a DXer tuning into the BBC World Service, Radio Deutsche Welle, Voice of America (Billboard charts!) et al while keeping my connection to Hindi oldies alive with Chaya Geet and Binaca/Cibaca Geet Mala on Radio Ceylon.

Radio almost faded to extinction in the nineties and the naughts till the FM revival. I did attempt sporadic shortwave surfing on the ubiquitous Sony digital radios (de rigueur for any one with a relative in the Middle East) but the experience was never the same. I exchanged mine for an iPod which was swiftly rendered obsolete by the iPhone 🙁

Radio/Transistor sets may be history but fortunately FM (and USB drives) saved one gadget from oblivion – the car FM radio. In Kashmir thousands are tuning into the plethora of new FM Radio channels (and annoying RJ’s) on their morning drives. Future generations are thankfully no longer in danger of missing out on the joy of a favourite song playing unexpectedly on the radio – as opposed to the ho-hum availability of the MP3 on one’s hard drive.

You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour

*Queen – Radio Ga Ga

Motorsport in Kashmir II

Published / by Jehangir

Half a century after the adventures of the 1931 Citroën-Haardt Trans-Asiatic Expedition, Motor Rallying proper was introduced to Kashmir in the 1980’s when JK Tourism and Maruti-Suzuki jointly sponsored a local team for the 1st Great Desert Himalaya Raid.

I attended the trials conducted by Rajeev Khanna on the track leading to the top of the Kral Sangri hillock. Rajeev Khanna (grandson of the founder of the Oberoi Group and one of the most famous rallyists in India) had been selected as Team Leader for the event. The track was rarely used and had been declared out-of-bounds for traffic that day. Rajeev and I were on timekeeping duty at the top of the hill when my brother Javid Bakshi started his trial run from the base of the hill. From our vantage point we could see a truck stray on to the road from some side trail on course for a head-on collision with his car.

Rajeev jumped into the driver’s seat of my car and for some reason I clambered into the passenger seat. ‘Seat belt please‘ is the last thing I remember hearing. The rest was a visual blur. A wheel-spinning turn, smothering dust-clouds, the smell of burning rubber, and the screaming agony of an engine being tortured beyond its endurance are etched into my memory. Somehow we managed to stop the truck off the racing line. My brother qualified for the JK Tourism team but my fleeting drive as a passenger had convinced me that while I could drive fast cars competently enough, motor rallying required a much higher level of skill and courage.

The JK Tourism team performed very creditably that year, claiming 3rd National and 5th position overall driving a stock Maruti Suzuki Gypsy against highly-fancied opposition in the Great Desert Himalaya Raid. The rally had been flagged off on August 28, 1988 in New Delhi and concluded at Cheshma Shahi after covering 5,000 gruelling kilometers over 10 legs passing through Jaipur, Bikaner, Jaislamer, Jodhpur, Dehradun, Shimla, Manali, Sarchu,and Leh.

Next year the team again secured 3rd National and 5th position overall in the 1989 International Great Desert Himalayan Raid which incidentally featured another team from J&K (Aslam and Ashraf Goni who secured 4th position).

1988 was the first time that rally cars with their racing livery and free-flow exhausts had torn up Kashmir’s roads and they caused quite a stir. The irrepressible Zahid Khan, the navigator of the JK Tourism Team, used to drive around town in his Gypsy with a huge sticker that read RALLY DRIVERS DO IT SIDEWAYS. Irfan Ahmed, who drove the JK Tourism Gypsy, is the fastest driver I know personally. I was the only one crazy enough to ride pillion with him during our glory days – riding the monster Yamaha RD 350 at speeds I do not believe can have been matched on regular public roads anywhere in India.

I don’t remember how Rajeev Khanna fared with his famous Opel Manta.

Incidentally the first time I saw Rajeev (or didn’t actually) was when a red streak whooshed by at warp speed at a red-light crossing one late night in Delhi. The unforgettable whine of that finely-tuned Kawasaki Ninja engine got me addicted to MotoGP. A few years back my kids dragged me halfway around Delhi just to see Valentino Rossi‘s bike. Sometimes we fantasize about a F1/MotoGP track in Kashmir. ‘The Doctor‘ thrashing a ‘46‘ monster round Gulmarg would really be an experience to remember.

Javid also owned the first true-blue dirt bike in Kashmir – a Yamaha 175. That bike blazed a glorious trail from inacessible peaks in the Pir Panjal to the desert wildernesses of Ladakh. In winter we would do the Chinese Downhill – illegal night runs in pitch darkness down the frozen Poma lift tracks of the Highland and 185 slopes in Gulmarg – on skis (nah too easy), on ‘borrowed’ sleds (one biggish bump and you are history), and finally kamikaze runs on that never-say die Yamaha.
Motorcycling Nirvana!

Imagine achieving these adventures after years of dull Jawas and Yezdis when the height of motorcycling excitement was fixing the YEZDI decal upside down so that it read IPZAH (Yup, that dull).

The 10th International Himalayan Car Rally was the last rally held in Kashmir in 1989 before the outbreak of violence in the early 1990s. In recent years motor rallying returned to the valley with the Raid-de-Himalaya Rally and the Mughal Rally.

In 2018 Abrar bin Ayub riding a Hero Impulse won the Alpine category of Xtreme Moto at the Raid de Himalaya marking the first time that a Kashmiri has won an Xtreme category at a major rally.

The local scene is nowadays quite established with regular tarmac, mud and snow events being held by off-road adventure and motor-sport outfits like Kashmir Off-Road. I only hope they prioritise ecological sensitivity while planning their events.