Ancient Travellers, Garhwal, Uttarakhand
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The Legend of Frederick Pahari Wilson: British Raja of Harsil Garhwal

Frederick E. Wilson was only 25 years old when he deserted the British Indian army in Mussoorie. As per some sources, he had killed a fellow Soldier in a duel and that caused him to flee. For reasons unknown, he escaped towards North and entered the Kingdom of Tehri Garhwal where he asked the King to grant him some employment. But the King who was an ally of the British, would have nothing to do with him lest his British friends be unhappy to find out that the King was sheltering a fugitive from their Army. Left with no further recourse it is said that Pahadi(Mountain) Wilson went even deeper into the Mountains till he came to the Valley of the Bhagirathi at a place called Harsil and decided to set himself up over there far away from the civilisation.

He married a local lady Raimata of the Mukhwa village and soon the local Villagers accepted him into their Society. One would imagine that he acted like some important official and the local Villagers were scared of the Gora Babu(White Gentleman), but were generally very nice and accommodating with him. All except the Priests of the local Temples who thought of him as some kind of Missionary out to convert the people. But far from a Missionary Pahadi Wilson had Royal ambitions and wanted to make a lot of Money. However as the time quietly passed, when he couldn’t bear a child from his first marriage, he married another Pahari girl named Gulabi from the same village. She was the mother of his three sons, Nathaniel (Natthu), Charles (Charli Sahib) and Henry (Indri).

Wilson’s Second Wife, sister of Mungetu, the village drummer at Mukhwa.

Wilson started his entrepreneurial journey using his exceptional hunting skills. Over time, the forests were heavily plundered. The population of the Himalayan Musk Deer suffered greatly as it was recklessly hunted. Musks and furs were smuggled out of India. However, what caught his attention were the abundant Deodar trees that were left untouched! To extract timber, Wilson had to acquire a license from the Raja of Tehri. But the Raja refused to grant Wilson the same. It then just happened that the British were laying Railway Lines across the country and there was a great demand for Timber Sleepers of Sal for the Railway tracks. And this was where the Raja struck Gold. He gave Wilson the License and both made a fortune later beyond their wildest imaginations. Wilson set up sawmills along the Bhagirathi and vast amounts of Timber were floated down the Ganges towards Haridwar.

G.T. Sparke made this image during an expedition up the Ganges valley, Jadganga, sometime in the late 1860’s/ early 1870’s.
View of Gangotri taken in autumn of 1866
Gangotri Valley, Uttarkashi Hugh Rayner

Pahadi Wilson was truly a Raja now, and the first thing a Raja does is mint coin in his own name. These are great Collector items today. He built a large Palace out of Deodar in Harsil. Sunderlal Bahuguna, the leader of the Chipko Andolan held Wilson responsible for setting deforestation in motion in northern India, and the gradual extinction of the endemic wildlife.

It is said that during the Selku fair (a celebration to embrace autumn and bid monsoon farewell), Rich Wilson who lived like a king and could possibly make anything happen on ground was said to have challenged the power of Someshwar, provoking the prime deity of Mukhba village to walk on Wilson’s seven deadly swords. It is believed that Wilson’s act of challenging the power of the Lord Someshwar angered the deity greatly. Also, as he had almost completely hunted out all the Wildlife and destroyed all the Forests. It is said that the deity cursed Wilson that his bloodline would be wiped out completely after one generation and he would be forgotten.

Time Passed.

Pahadi Wilson, in his wealthy prime decided to move out of Harsil to Mussoorie to live among his fellow British gentry as now he was a very well respected part of the Society. With all his wealth, he became one of the biggest landowners in the Mountains. He became friends with eminent people like A O Hume and Rudyard Kipling who’s Novel “The Man Who Would Be King” is said to have been inspired by Pahadi Wilson amongst others. And it was in Mussoorie that Pahadi Wilson passed away in 1883 but not before he witnessed the passing away of 2 of his 3 sons. His only surviving Son went into obscurity and his last known descendant was an Officer (probably a Grandson of his last surviving son) who served in the Indian Air Force but passed away in an Air Crash in 1953. Thus ending the line of Pahadi Wilson.

Wilson’s Forest Mansion was built circa 1843-44. The house was destroyed by fire during the night of 15-16 February 1997. Photo by G.T. Sparke in the late 1860s.

Maybe it was the curse of Lord Someshwar. The Gods, as it is said, neither forget nor forgive.


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This entry was posted in: Ancient Travellers, Garhwal, Uttarakhand

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Hi, I am Narayan Kaudinya. And i welcome you on this journey, the Road to Nara ! I am an Ethnographer and a practicing Indologist. I did my masters in History and further learnt Sanskrit, Yoga and Nerve-therapy. At 24, pushing most academic sounding, office sitting works away, i felt compelled to know and understand the world and my country, Bharat/India. I travelled, and as it happened i took up teaching in Kashmir and further up in the remote villages of Baltistan in the foothills of Karakoram Ranges. For around three years and many states later there came a time when i felt that it was only while teaching i learnt how to laugh, to see, feel, breathe, love and cry -with children, and mostly resource-less parents in the harshest-freezing border conditions. I write, and work as a documentary photographer and Filmmaker, with numerous published, exhibited and some awarded stories. In my travels and life i have let nature lead me, the divine mother, and as a Yogin, my resolve here is to share my experiences and thoughts as honestly, and through them to blossom in everyone the power and possibility in pursuing your breath, that you seek your true nature with courage and curiosity. Here, on this road i will share my spirit, my love for nature, the elements of life that are us. And in doing so, i'll be happy to see you along.

42 Comments

    • Thank you dearest Caro. Yes, his story is pretty popular in that region. And well, who knows how many more Wilson’s there would be living around at that time. Thank you for your words Caro.

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  1. This mesmerizing story – “The Legend Of Frederick Pahari Wilson: British Raja Of Harsil Garhwa”, takes your breath away; it is mainly due to Narayan’s gripping storytelling, and partly because of the reader’s astonishment at the evil events associated with the life of a scoundrel. We only breathe a sigh of relief on learning that, in Narayan’s words:
    “The Gods neither forget nor forgive.” And they did not!
    And what a story this is! It drew the attention of Rudyard Kipling who is said to base the protagonist in his famous book “The Man Who Would Be King” on Frederick Pahari Wilson.

    Reading of the horrific devastation this evil man inflicted on the Himalayas, its wildlife, and the deforestation makes you angry not only at him but at the British invaders who had no moral right or the wisdom to destroy such a paradise as the Himalayas are.
    Once again, Narayan excelled in his choice of topic and moved one step closer to joining Tagore as the unique, worldwide-known writer India can be proud of.

    Joanna

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    • I laughed out loud at you calling him scoundrel. How much you must have felt reading this story, i could sense it dear Joanna.

      Yes, what he did must have been so drastic for the ecology that the gods himself had to do something to wipe out his whole clan, it is quite too much have that curse upon someone.

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    • Also I remembered Joanna, one thing that still carries on by his name apart from stories are the apples and Rajma(Kidney beans) It was him who started trading with these two and they are still sold by the name of Wilson apples.

      Thank you my dearest for your important words, that you keep sending this way. Thank you.

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  2. Pingback: ReBlogging ‘The Legend of Frederick Pahari Wilson: British Raja of Harsil Garhwal’ – Link Below | Relationship Insights by Yernasia Quorelios

    • Absolutely Radhika. If your ever go to UttarKashi side around Harsil, you can ask around the locals, his stories are still very much popular. Also popular are Wilson apples 🙂

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    • I am sure it is such and true with every country. But it was not the destruction of ecology, but what happened to the man who did it.

      Appreciate your coming over. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I loved these so real images too Joanna. You won’t believe how much they have changed and how much construction has happened in these same places.

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    • Yes, Pursuit and desire which he fulfilled but at the cost of his and his whole clan. How nature’s cycle works. Thank you Rosa for sharing your thoughts.

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  3. Interesting story but this man was a classic example of ” power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” he deserved the end he came to .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Narayan, a fascinating story, wonderfully told! What a destructive, greedy man Pahadi Wilson was! He lived in an era in which people viewed nature as something to be conquered and exploited. Sadly, some people are still following that philosophy today! Thank you for this interesting and informative post! ❤ ❤ ❤

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    • Thank you Cheryl. He was one of a kind. And interestingly, even though his whole clan was wiped out as the curse went, the apples trees he planted for trade, are still sold by his name- Wilson apples.

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  5. Frederick Wilson was surely an interesting character. Whenever we try to dig into the history of Uttarakhand (ever since the British entered the region after the Khalanga war in 1814), his name comes up often. It is said that LBSNAA (IAS academy) in Mussoorie was a hotel (Charlesville) earlier.. named after his son Charlie. In Harsil and around, he introduced Apples – popularly known as Wilson apples.

    His house in Harsil is still there (Govt. has taken over it) and the residents of Mukhba village surely have loads to talk about him.

    An interesting research done by you Narayan. Keep it up. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I too heard about Wilson apples Saurabh, And Even Rajma. Who knows how many Wilson’s lived in the Himalayas around that time.

      Thanks for adding and sharing here Saurabh. Always a pleasure.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. aparna12 says

    Wow. Very interesting article on Pahadi Wilson. Indian History is so fascinating. Thoroughly enjoyed reading the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indian history and even ancient one is a subject of deep study and human cultural evolution. I apologize for writing late Nancy. But really appreciate for this comment. Thank you.

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    • Thank you Kaushal Ji. Such karm that it had to get it done by in this birth only. Shall I call hm lucky ? 🙂

      Thank you for your comment Kaushal Ji

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  7. What an interesting story! Great read Narayan. It’s these stories of individuals that bring history to life. He didn’t seem to be a very caring or thoughtful man at all.
    Alison

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    • A wonder piece of history Alison. And Indian history is a deep dive into human nature. Ofcourse he was far from it but two things he gave to that region which are still ongoing.

      1. Wilson apples and 2. Kidney beans (very popular in that region, thanks to him)

      And thanks to You for writing after some time Alison. Hope you two are resting after your travels. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

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