A PEEP INTO THE PAST
(LADAKH…. POSTAL HISTORY)
Chander M. Bhat
Among many things, Good and Bad that the modern world has produced, surely the Postal System, which covers the world in its most beneficent activities? That connecting link is the postal system, which has grown from age to age till it is what we see today. The postal system is a world organization, which have grown up, more especially in the last 150 years or so.
Like the universe ever expanding, the Postal system in Ladakh has also been evolving. About 120 years ago, there used to be only one departmental branch post office at Leh in account with Kargil SO, which was opened on 18.07.1884. One Branch Postmaster of the postman grade with another postman to assist him who knows mostly Buddhist language only would cater to the postal needs of Leh also known as the trade centre of Yarkand and Lhassa. In ancient times the present Leh was a part of Greater Ladakh spread over from Kailash mansarover to Dardistan. The Greater Ladakh was either under the domain of Tibet or its influence. The region of Ladakh spread over to an area of 96,701 sq. km. remains land locked between November to June every year as Srinagar Ladakh and Ladakh-Manali highways, which connect Ladakh with the other parts of the counts, remain closed during the period because of snow and rigorous winter. The highway from Srinagar to Ladakh was inaugurated on 8th August 1961.
From the date of opening of departmental branch post office at Leh, Wazir Shamsher, Head Mailoverseer who was a resident of Askurdoo (now in Pakistan) looked after the mailline for about 3 years.
Mr. F.B.Oslia, Superintendent of Post Offices, Kashmir Division inspected this office on 31.03.1886 and Sh. Gokalchand, Inspector, Post Offices carried out inspection of this office on 17.05.1895. It was at this time when firewood at 1 ½ Maund per rupee was supplied to this office. Last inspection as branch post office was carried out by Superintendent Post Offices, Kashmir Division on 22.07.1901 when ½ anna stamp was found not in stock in this office.
This departmental branch post office was upgraded to the status of Sub Post Office on 22.07.1901 with the first sub postmaster Shri Babu Sardar Ali. Sh. Brij Mohan Nath, Inspector Kashmir Division on 23.10.1901, carried out first inspection of the upgraded sub office. There used to be a seasonal Inspector and first among the seasonal Inspectors was Sh. Nilkanth Razdan who had visited this sub post office on 11.09.1929 and 05.09.1930. Some of the Superintendents of Post Offices, Kashmir Division who also visited Leh Sub Post Office were Mr. A.H. Sparkling, Mr. P.D.Sunshaur and Mr. R.B.Thompson.
Sh. Anand Ram Valoo, Shri Meheshwer Nath, Sh. Lassa Bhan, sh. Dina Nath Kath, sh. Govind Kould and Sh. Aftab Koul Jan served as Sub Postmaster at Leh in the year 191, 1926, 1927, 1935, 1936 and 1942 respectively. All the above SPM’s were praised for smooth work and being well spoken of both by Indians and Europeans. It was at this time when the quinine was being sold by the post offices.
This used to be an era when exchange of mails of the entire region with the outside world was only through the departmental runners between Srinagar and Leh. The runners would travel round the clock and all seasons. Villagers who no watches, on seeing the runners (Harkara) or hearing the sound of the bells tied to the spear which he carried always would know the time and it was authentically accurate. Mails leaving Khalsi at 0745 hours should have been delivered at Leh by 1330 hours the next day on a distance of 95 km. Between Kashmir and Leh, there were 100 Chowki Harkaras who scaled snow clad peaks in just 4 days to reach Leh from Srinagar during the summer season and 7-8 days during the winter season.
Mulbek Sub Post Office and Khalsi Sub Post Offices were opened in the year 1936 which are situated enroute Leh from Kargil. Leh Sub Post Office was further upgraded to the status of Head Post Office in the year 1974 and at that time only four sub post offices were under its accounts jurisdiction. At present there are 14 sub post offices and 93 branch post offices under the control of Leh Head Post Office. Suspol Branch Post Office is among the oldest post office after Leh. Padam (Zanaskar) Sub Post Office was opened in the year 1981 which is 460 km from Leh Head Post Office, the farthest sub post office from its accounts office in India. The route to (Padam) Zanaskar remains closed for 8 months from October to May and mails during these eight months are carried through seasonal runners and the conveyance of mails to Padam (Zanaskar) during these months is of unique nature. The unique method of mail conveyance adopted by runners is via Chader, the Zanaskar River. This river remains totally frozen during January to March with temperature known to drop to minus 300 Celsius. During this time it is possible to walk on the frozen river all the way to Padam in Zanaskar. This walk on frozen river is not as simple as it sounds. At many places the river does not freeze completely and the runners at times have to have for days together for ice to form. The whole route takes complete 3 days to reach Padam.
A separate Leh Postal Sub Division with the first Inspector of Post Offices as Sh. S.N.Pandit was created on 27.05.1964 and Ladakh came to be known as separate Postal Division from June 1979 with Sh. Girdhari Lal Koul as its first Superintendent. During 1971 Indo-Pak war, Turtuk village was annexed by Indian army and it was felt feasible to open a branch post office in this village. On 31.03.2004 a branch post office was opened at Turtuk village for nine households only. Turtuk village is situated on India Pakistan border about 108 km from Nobra town.
It was on 13th May 1999, that Kargil and its adjacent areas like Tiger Hill, Mushkoh Valley and Tololing Hills were targeted and inhabitants of many villages including Government Offices were shifted to safer places like Minji and Sankoo. Postal Services continued their functioning during these abnormal circumstances in mobile pattern and postal staff worked bravely under constant shelling from across the border without thinking about their lives thus fulfilling the motto “SERVICE BEFORE SELF”. Sub Post Offices, Kargil, Drass and Baroo worked under make shift arrangements to give full facilities to about 30,000 migrants, who were residing in camps, Government buildings and school buildings temporarily under the personal supervision of Shri Deepak Budki, Chief Postmaster General, Jammu & Kashmir Circle. The task, which Postal Department rendered during Operation Vijay, is unforgettable, with continuous flow of wishes reaching Kargil, which was disposed of satisfactorily through Kargil and other dependent post offices. According to a survey conducted by Gh. Nabi Zeya, Postal Assistant, Kargil Sub Post Office, about 27000 articles were transferred to Army Postal Authorities for onward delivery to the Army Personnel. These letters served as a morale-booster for the soldiers and encouraged them to fight harder and more intensely. In other words Postal Department was a part of “Operation Vijay”.