The days of the jackals
Hunting was a favourite pastime in the Indian subcontinent from the mid 19th century, with the Peshawar Vale leading the field
Major General Syed Ali Hamid on a golden era of hunting in India
Hunting was one of the mounted sports that the British savoured in the subcontinent. Madras hosted the earliest hunts but the country was not ideal, alternating between the mire of paddy fields during the monsoon and hard, dusty plains in winter; the plains they hunted around Delhi and Lahore were hard and dusty, too. On the other hand, the Ooty Hunt, whose first regular pack was formed in 1869 (the hunt itself dates back to 1835), hunted over the Wenlock Downs – 30 square miles of reserve forest and grazing land described as home country the likes of which no other pack in India can boast.
Of all the hunts in India, and there were 12 of them, the Peshawar Vale Hunt (PVH) was by far the most famous. The private bobbery packs of the 1860s, comprising local dogs, were gradually replaced by foxhounds from the UK. By the late 19th century, regiments and brigades maintained their own packs. Some also went to war. During the Second Afghan War, the pack of 16th (The Queen’s) Lancers marched with the regiment from Peshawar to Kabul and back. Since it was expensive for regiments to maintain their hounds, local hunts were established. The station pack at Peshawar was formed at a general meeting that decided to purchase a well-ordered pack of hounds owned by Captain Markham, Royal Horse Artillery.
The most popular quarry was the jacks (short for jackals) and occasionally the small Indian silver fox, which afforded little sport as it left very little scent. Some were of the opinion that the jacks were not as cunning or as fast as the British fox but an American who rode with the Lahore Hunt during the Second World War was favourably impressed by its qualities. “The jack in question carried us a good eight miles with ruler precision before hounds came to their noses beside an apparently empty wooden bridge across a dry ditch. The Master cast in all directions and was just about to give up when up popped the jack from a hidden hole in the bank under the bridge. Taking a broken field run that would have done credit to a Notre Dame back-fielder, he zigzagged through the astonished pack and made good his escape. He then led us another five miles in an equally straight line before hounds nabbed him in a brush-cutter’s hut and broke him up.”
The jack in question carried us a good eight miles with ruler precision
The record of the PVH boasts that “the far-famed shires of the Eusufzaie Valley have long been acknowledged to be the only real hunting country in India”. The hounds hunted some 400 square miles of fertile land watered by the River Kabul and its tributaries, in which the going was generally soft and light, and the scent good. In addition, there was a variety of obstacles to be negotiated, including larger watercourses, open brooks, dykes and small streams lined with willows. A book titled The PVH, published in 1934, provides a wonderful description of “the charms of the countryside with its successive changes of scenery as the seasons pass”, and the shires of the Peshawar Vale were sketched by Snaffles, who partly illustrated the book.
Many a hunt was exceptional for pace, country and distance. Some of the good runs of more than 6½ miles lasted 40 minutes, with
only the odd check. However, larger runs are on record. The hounds met once or twice in a season at Mardan at the invitation of the Guides, and at Risalpur for the benefit of the 1st (Risalpur) Cavalry Brigade. A meet near Risalpur in 1911 lost their jack after racing for 12¼ miles in an hour. Riding with the pack was never safe and it seems injuries and deaths occurred more commonly with the Masters. In 1880, while jumping over a wall, Major Princep, 11th Bengal Lancers, fractured his skull on the branch of a tree. In 1912, Captain Heyworth, North Stafford Regiment, was invalided home after he was kicked in the head by a horse that he was trying to extricate from quicksand. Ten years later, a third Master, Lieutenant Colonel Irvine, of the Indian Medical Service, drowned in a tributary of the River Kabul.
The PVH went through many vicissitudes but always managed to keep going. Though it was supported by subscriptions, finances suffered due to interruptions caused by
Frontier expeditions and during the Second Afghan War they were in such a serious state that a meeting considered breaking up the pack and selling the hounds. Fortunately, the Royal Artillery and the 25th King’s Own Borderers arranged for its continuation. Following the First World War, there was another proposal for abolishing the PVH because “polo was being so much played, officers could not afford to keep the animals for both”. Major General Sir Hugh Gough, VC, Commander Peshawar District, considered it a monstrous proposition, stating he “would die of shame if, after all these years, the PVH ceased to exist during my tenure here”. The hunt carried on under Colonel Gartside-tipping, one of the ablest Masters in all of India. “He was a real hound lover, with a voice that seemed to go to the heart of every hound in the pack, whether outside or inside a covert. He was always talking to them, but musically and ever so quietly.”
It is creditable that neither the First World War nor the Third Afghan War caused the Hunt to close. Even during the Frontier uprising of 1930-31, “only one day’s hunting was lost owing to the presence of hostile Afridis close to Peshawar”. The field included a cavalry escort and revolvers were carried. The Hunt’s continuation did much to restore British prestige.
The rigors of the Indian climate, particularly in the south, were hard on the hounds. In the season of 1892-93, the Bombay pack lost seven couples (out of 30) from malaria and lung trouble caused by dust. Six years later, five couples were ridden over by the field. Survival was compounded by the jackal being a silent carrier of rabies. Around 1890, the pack of the PVH was decimated by dumb rabies and in 1910, 22 couples died due to rabies and distemper. Since the hounds did not adjust well to hot weather, those at Bombay and Madras travelled to Ooty and the ones in Peshawar to the foothills of the Pir Panjal. Before the advent of rail and truck, the PVH hounds walked 130 miles by night to their summer quarters in Nathia Gali (and later Murree), via Abbottabad.
“Let it not be thought,” states the PVH, “that it was too easy for the hounds to account for their quarry.” From 1870 to 1934, on average there were 35 meets a season and the average number of jacks killed were eight brace. The jacks that migrated from the surrounding hills in spring were able to take hounds at speed for any distance. The stay-at-home jacks were not by any means easier to take as they knew the coverts well. An attempt was made to stock with red foxes from the hills, which appeared almost identical to the hill foxes in the UK, but they did
not survive in the plains. In the last quarter of the 19th century, the field hunted a wolf on five occasions. Being a relatively big animal it gave the pack a hard run and only one was broken up. In 1899, when the hounds flushed a wolf, it “took them past Babazai to the Kabul River, where they literally raced over the grass along the banks. Crossing the branches of the river… this grand old wolf was viewed only 200yd ahead of the pack cantering along as if out for exercise. At the sound of a view holloa, however, he laid himself out and just strode away from the pack.”
When jacks became scarce, the pack hunted black bucks carted from Punjab, which gave a good run and, during one chase, entered Peshawar. “The hounds ran to view straight through the city and came out through the gate next to the railway station, and finally the buck was taken in the Bundi River near the racecourse.”
The PVH was one of the four hunts that survived Independence but, in 1950, tragedy struck. Before leaving for the UK, a British couple who had been caring for the hounds shot the entire pack as they considered that Pakistanis were incapable of looking after them. John Dent, the home secretary of the North-west Frontier Province, re-raised the pack by importing hounds from the UK and Colonel Khushwaqt (Khusi) ul-mulk, from the princely family of Chitral, was the whipper-in. He was amongst the first Indians to be admitted as a member of the Peshawar Club that, until the late 1930s, was exclusively for the British. The change to the club rules occurred with the arrival of the 16th Light Cavalry. The commanding officer refused to let out his horses to the members if his Indian officers could not receive equal treatment. “As his embargo meant literally the closing down of the PVH, the club’s executive committee asked for a joint meeting, hoping that our delegation would consist of British officers. On the contrary, Bill Williams nominated all Indians and gave them clear instructions to withdraw our regiment’s cooperation should the going prove to be rough. The result was a foregone conclusion.
With a number of armoured regiments stationed in and around Peshawar in the early 1950s, the hunt met every Sunday. However, as the regiments shifted south to the Punjab, the PVH met a slow death but it still had about 15 to 20 couples and was revived in Kharian by Major General Sahabzada Yaqub Khan when he was commanding the armoured division. Following the disruption caused by the 1965 war, the hounds were kennelled at the Army Dog School at Rawalpindi. Occasionally, in winter, they were taken for a hunt that terminated for brunch at the farm of my father. With no fresh additions to the hounds, the pack faded away and all that is left is a memory of the PVH. Maybe, on some misty winter morning, a farmer tending his orchard in the shires of Yusufzai country hears in the far distance the doubling call of the hunting horn accompanied by the hounds speaking and the faint call of the Master: “Tally-hooooooo. Gone awaaaaaaaaayyyy.”
The PVH was one of the four hunts that survived Independence
The opening meet of the Ooty Hunt in India, July 2004 – it is now the only hunt club in this part of the world but no longer pursues live quarry
Top: the Christmas 1951 meet of the Peshawar Vale Hunt, including (second from the left) John Dent, home secretary of the North-west Frontier Province. Above: members of the PVH at a traditional brunch hosted by a tribal malik – General Ayub Khan, Commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army, is talking to the host
Top: officers of the 7th Light Cavalry at a Vale Hunt in Ootacamund (Ooty) in 1933/4; HH Jagaddipendra Narayan, Maharaja of Cooch Behar, is on the left. Above: a PVH meet in 1896; the hunt was formed by the Army in 1870 out of the regimental and private packs stationed around Peshawar and it hunted jackal
Above: the Ooty today. Below: a jackal, once the prevalent quarry of the PVH, caught in the 1930s
Above: the Ooty’s bloodlines have been improved due the import of British foxhounds, including Shepherd from the Hurworth in 2004 and Dabbler from the Tedworth in 2011. The hunt was formed by the 74th Highland Regiment in 1835 and has hunted every year since, with only a brief pause for the Indian Mutiny of 1857