‘Gurkha invasion resulted in first British colony in Solan hills’ (Book Review)

Book: Solana, Mosaic of Experiences; Author: Minakshi Chaudhary; Publisher: District Cultural Council of Solan; Pages: 120; Price: Rs 1,000

The Gurkha invasion in the early 19th century was the turning point for the otherwise quiet and peaceful hills of Solan, specifically Subathu town, which became the first strategic British settlement in the region that is now Himachal Pradesh.

Subathu became part of the Britain’s Indian empire in 1816 after the forces of Gurkha General Amar Singh Thapa lost the battle of Malaun, Chaudhary writes in this profusely illustrated coffee table book. The proceeds from its sales will go to the Red Cross Society, Solan Deputy Commissioner Rakesh Kanwar told IANS.

Subathu quickly grew in importance and it was here that the newly-appointed British political agent to the hill region was initially based. It was the major stopover on the old road leading to Simla (now Himachal Pradesh capital Shimla).

“My basic aim in penning this book was to showcase Solan’s tourism, heritage and economic potential,” journalist-turned-writer Chaudhary told IANS.

The Shivalik hills in the entire district have low elevation but the climate is such that most of the district is cool in summer and comfortable in winter, she said, adding: “People wanting to escape from the scorching heat of plains cannot find better places than Kasauli, Ramshehar, Kuthar, Dharampur, Dagshai and Chail.”

The district has many a feather in its cap. It is home to one of the first breweries of India set up by Edward Dyer in 1855; the world’s first co-educational boarding school, Lawrence School in Sanawar, started in 1847; the century-old Kalka-Shimla rail line, a world heritage site; Asia’s first university of horticulture and forestry, the Dr Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry; and over century-old Central Research Institute in Kasuali that is making anti-snake bite and other life-saving serums.

The district has also emerged as a state’s vegetable bowl by growing cash crops like tomatoes and mushrooms. According to the state Agriculture Department, Solan district alone harvests more than 230,000 tonnes of tomatoes, half of the state’s overall production.

The book talks about some of the lesser known places and tourist destinations.

Chaudhary’s other books include “Ghost Stories of Shimla Hills”, “Love Stories of Shimla Hills” and “Whispering Deodars: Writings from Shimla Hills”.

Before making Shimla its summer capital between 1864 and 1939, the British established cantonments in Subathu, Kasauli and Dagshai in the district.

After establishing a cantonment at Subathu, the British were attracted to the thickly wooded hills of Kasauli, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Dhani Ram Shandil writes in a message in the book.

Sir Henry Lawrence, Political Agent of the North Western Frontier Province, built a cottage at Kasauli in 1841, and in 1842 the ridge was acquired from Rana of Baghat for Rs 5,000.

Thus a new cantonment started coming up with a new road leading up to it from Kalka in the foothills. Additional land was acquired by the British from Baghat rulers between 1847 and 1863 to set up the military station.

Gilbert House was constructed in 1845 as residence of Major General Gilbert, General Officer Commanding of the Sirhind Division.

The Kasauli Cantonment Board was established in 1850. On the hill opposite Kasauli is located Dagshai, one of the oldest army cantonments in India. It was founded in 1847 and five villages were gifted by the Maharaja of Patiala to the British to set up the cantonment.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at vishal.g@ians.in)