The purpose of my recent trip to Kashmir was to identify a European hunter who mounted a remarkable expedition through Central Asia, as illustrated by a superb set of magic lantern slides that I had purchased a few months back. Fortunately, I had been able to identify one of his Kashmiri guides (shikaris) shown in the photographs and then, through a series of fortuitous connections, make contact with the shikari’s descendants.
It turned out that this shikari, Raheem Lone, was widely regarded as one of the greatest of his generation. So much so that the hunter even took him to England at the end of the expedition. Later, the Roosevelt brothers Theodore and Kermit, sons of the American president at the time, took him to China on an expedition. Famed for his eyesight and strong organisational skills – not the mention his mastery of Central Asia languages – Raheem Lone stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries, as the many letters of recommendation still held by his family testify. It was one of these letters that allowed me to identify my anonymous hunter as Captain ‘Willie’ Ronald Read MC, DFC, AFC and bars, a much-decorated 1WW pilot.
But in fact Raheem Lone was not the only shikari of great repute in Kashmir at the beginning of the twentieth century. One of his great friends, also from Bandipore in the north of present-day Kashmir, was a man called Ghulam Hassan Bhat, who died in 1952.
Like Raheem, Hassan Bhat (as he was known) was very familiar with the routes from Kashmir up into the Pamir Mountains and from there onwards to Kashgar and the hunting grounds of the Tien Shan Mountains in present-day Kazakhstan, where many an English army officer took leave in order to shoot ibex, maral deer, Marco Polo sheep and game. At the beginning of the 20th century these areas were still largely unknown and unmapped.
So it was a wonderful surprise to be taken by descendants of Raheem to meet the descendants of Hassan Baht, who today still live in Bandipora. The two families are close. That is how I met 94-year-old Ghulam Ahmad Bhat, Hassan’s son, and his grandsons, Ibraheem and Mohammad. At their wonderful house I was shown yet another folder of letters, this time from Hassan’s clients. As with Raheem, they included some hugely important names.
In particular, I noticed the name of William J Morden. Morden was a leader of the 1926 Morden-Clark Asiatic Expedition of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He had been deputed to collect specimens for the museum from Central Asia and the story of the 8,000-mile expedition is told in his book Across Asia’s Snows and Deserts ( G P Puttnam’s, New York, 1927). Incidentally, the book contains three photographs of Hassan Bhat, taken during the expedition.
There is no doubt that Bhat impressed his employers. In a recommendation dated 23 September 1926 Morden says that Hassan Bhat is “an excellent hunter, an excellent caravan leader and a good servant. He is conscientious and the hardest worker I have ever known. He speaks a very useful amount of Turki and the various local dialects of this country, besides English.” In fact, as his descendants told me, he spoke seven languages.
In another letter written directly to Hassan, expedition co-leader and Museum deputy director James L Clark states “Mr Morden and I are to lunch with Mr Kermit Roosevelt next Monday. We always talk about your fine cooking when we get together and all want to come back some day.” He was still writing to him many years after the expedition finished. E A Waters of the Universities of Pennsylvania and Harvard thanked him in 1930 for looking after him and his wife on a trip to Kashgar in Chinese Turkestan. “We feel that all things considered we cannot speak too highly of Hassan Bhat’s services to us and we are already planning a trip to the Tien Shan which we should not think of taking without him.”
So there you have it. Both Hassan Bhat and Raheem Lone have between them dozens of testimonials from some of the most prominent hunters and specimen collectors in the world. The animals they shot are still on display at museums in Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Without their skills it is doubtful if their clients could have shot a thing or found their way through the difficult terrain up into Central Asia. Their descendants, whilst no longer supporting the kind of extensive hunting trips that happened in the past, are proud of the achievements of their forbearers, who knew some of the world’s most remote places better than almost anyone else.