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.

risky busi­ness

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.”

carted bucks

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.