The Raja of Harsil: The Legend of Frederick 'Pahari' Wilson

The Raja of Harsil tells the story of Fredrick Wilson, a 19th-century adventurer who, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, "lived a life that would have been the envy of kings". He was the first white man to permanently settle in the Bhagirathi valley. Virtually penniless when he arrived, possessing little more than two rifles, a bedroll and the clothes on his back, fortune sm ...more fortune smiled on this legendary figure of the British Raj: two decades later he was reckoned to be the richest man in northern India.

From the town of Wakefield in Yorkshire, Wilson was 17 when he disembarked at Calcutta in 1836. India was the only country he really ever knew, a country he would fight, spy and live for, and whose great Himalaya mountains he would plunder for their game and timber. His earliest years were spent in the Army, stationed at Meerut, a busy garrison town 40 miles north of Delhi – not brilliant years by any means, in fact rather unhappy ones. And then he left the Army, under a cloud it seems, at the time of the First Afghan War. He arrived in the hill station of Mussoorie at the end of 1841, some say a deserter, others that he was on the run, having killed a man in Meerut. Whatever the circumstances, on that occasion he left town in a hurry. His plan was to follow the Ganges to its source above Gangotri.

Was this flight to the northern limits of the princely state of Tehri-Garhwal motivated by necessity to avoid arrest and possibly a firing squad? Neither history nor local lore provides a precise answer. But once a path has been cleared through the cobwebs of time, a number of facts do become apparent. First, he settled at Harsil, one of the last permanently inhabited villages on the Bhagirathi, as the Ganges is called in its upper reaches. Second, he married there and raised a family. If outlaw he was, at some point thereafter the authorities must have pardoned him, possibly as a reward for services rendered, the covert kind of services that few are capable of providing and fewer still are willing to undertake. Once freed from the burden of being a fugitive, he made a fine reputation as a backcountry guide and as the most successful trophy hunter of his day.

The Raja of Harsil chronicles Wilson's existence along the northern frontier. It describes his plundering of the Bhagirathi valley for its trees, his slaughtering of wildlife for plumes and pelts, and his introduction to the region of the apple seed, potato and green bean. The legacy he left was a denuded forest and apple orchards aplenty, the apple having since become the region's biggest cash crop. The hill people called him 'Hulseyn Sahib'. Initially they regarded him with respect and admiration, but slowly their attitudes changed. Admittedly, he brought prosperity to Upper Tangnore, as the remotest stretch of the Bhagirathi valley was known in those days, but he was not loved for that. He introduced a cash economy to a region where previously only barter existed; he diversified the hill people's food sources, making them less exposed to hunger and malnutrition, but he was not thanked for that, either. He kept their larders full with meat, the excess of his hunting, and introduced new tools and skills that improved their living standards. But in spite of all that the priests of Mukhba and Gangotri remained sceptical, not to say hostile.

According to local lore, Wilson angered the powerful deity, Lord Someshwar, by hunting the wild animals almost to extinction and desecrating the forests. Someshwar was said to have laid a curse upon him, declaring through a medium that Wilson's bloodline would die out after a single generation, that his three sons would squander his fortune and once their bones had turned to dust no one would talk anymore of Pahari Wilson. The curse came true, as within a few decades of his death Pahari Wilson was virtually forgotten, his descendents either dead or untraceable, until Robert Hutchison decided to revive him in his latest book.
Hardcover290 pages
Published 2010 by Roli Books Pvt Ltd (Lotus)
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‘Pahari’ Wilson’s experiment proves lifeline for thousands of Harshil residents

DEHRADUN: Over 130 years after his death, Frederick E Wilson - popularly called "Pahari" Wilson - still remains one of the most discussed topics in picturesque Harshil area of Uttarkashi. Be it the hunting of musk deer, chopping down of Deodhar trees or two marriages in Mukhaba village, Wilson is still remembered by the locals, who believe that he had "given the life-line to thousands of people in six villages by introducing apple and rajma to the area."

Thousands of families residing in eight villages of Ganga valley - Sukhi, Purali, Jaspur, Harshil, Jhala, Bagoril, Dharali and Mukhba are completely dependent of apple production for survival. The Rajma dal of Harshil is extremely popular across the country, and locals believe "these were the two invaluable gifts given to Harshil by Wilson."

A colourful character, who got a house after every few miles on the stretch of Harshil to Mussoorie in the Garhwal region, 'Pahari Wilson', as he was called locally, till date has an immense impact on the locals.

Principal of Government Inter College, Gangori, Subhash Chandra Semwal remembers him as a "shrewd businessman" who gave the gift of apple and rajma to Harshil to the area. "A deserter of the British army, Wilson has several grey shades to his character, our elders tell us that initially he hunted down musk deer and chopped down deodhar trees to be used as wooden sleeper for rail tracks," the principal told TOI. Subhash did not fail to mention that Wilson married twice in Mukhba village and constructed a grand residence - known as Wilson cottage at Harshil - which is 3-km from the village.

"Around 1865, he introduced an apple variety in the region which was popularly called Wilson's apple. Though the variety has now faded away, his experiment paved way for others to follow suit," Subhash said, adding, "Wilson's apple was really a special variety which could be kept for several months and soon became popular in the entire area."

As Wilson travelled frequently between Mussoorie and Harshil, he got a house constructed at a distance of nine mile each.

74-year-old Pandit Vidya Prasad Semwal, who was posted at Government Inter College at Maneri and had retired in 2001, said that both apple and rajma were experiments of Wilson which have changed the living standards of people. The former teacher opined that Wilson was quick to study the geographical location and the conditions of Harshil and adjoining areas.

"While initially, the concept did not pick up, it took some years for the people to realize the importance of apple crop and how it could change their financial condition. My parents and grandparents had told me about how Wilson was cunning as businessman and how used situation to his favour," he added.
Besides, there are several other stories related to Wilson often discussed by the locals. The septuagenarian said Wilson had the curse of Someshwar Devta - the god of Mukhba village as he had challenged his supremacy.

Owner of 30 naali land, where apple is produced in Harshil, Madan Singh Dogra asserted that saga of Wilson would continue till the existence of mankind in the region. "No one can give us the gift like Wilson did. The eight villages of Ganga valley are producing apple in the range of 8,000 metric ton to 10,000 metric ton and the total apple production of Uttarkashi is around 15,000 metric ton," said Dogra. He did not fail to mention that every second family in these villages were dependent on apple crop for its economy.

Keshav Semwal, who is from Dharali, stated that rajma this year was being sold in the range of Rs 110 to Rs 120 per kg and the locals were doing a good business. "The rajma of Harishil is high quality and really special and is extremely popular in the country, especially in the northern parts," he said. The Dharali resident, like many others believed that both apple and rajma - introduced by Wilson - had been supporting the economy of thousands of locals.

For historians, Wilson was an "interesting" character with shades of both "good and bad." Noted historian Gopal Bharadwaj mentioned that Wilson was laid to rest at Camel back cemetery of Mussoorie where the grave still stands.

"Wilson, who hailed from a humble background at Yorkshire, rose to become director of Mussoorie Saving Bank and even introduced his coins in the region," said Bhardwaj.

According to noted author Ruskin Bond there was a popular notion that as Wilson had chopped trees, his bloodline would not last long.

Ek Phirangi Raja - Chutki Bhar Namak Paseri Bhar Anyay: The story of Frederick Wilson and the Great Indian Hedge

The article presents a brief about the two essays on the British rule in India, titled "Ek Phirangi Raja" and "Chutki Bhar Namak Paseri Bhar Anyay"
Ek Phirangi RajaEk Phirangi Raja
In this essay, Romesh Bedi recounts the true story of Frederick E Wilson, a British army officer, who deserted the army after the Sepoy Mutiny of 1957, escaped to the Himalayas, and settled in Harsil, a remote village in Uttarakhand on the banks of the Bhagirathi.
Wilson makes a flourishing business from the export of skins, fur, musk from the region, and rips the local deodar forest, to cash in the growing demand for wooden sleepers during the expansion of the Indian railways by the British, which were sent down to the plains through the rivers. Wilson soon acquires a lease from the Raja of Tehri-Garhwal, for his timber business and keeps the Raja happy by giving him a share of the profits, and even begins to mint his own local currency, because of which locals start calling him Raja.
Wilson's huge mansion in Hursil now belongs to the Forest Department, and his Charleville Hotel in Mussoorie now is the site of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA). The main purpose of the Academy today is to train officers of the Indian Civil Services.
Considering the sorry state of affairs of the country and the rampant corruption, the author concludes that though the tiger (British and Wilson) has left, the tiger's character in the form of the Indian Administration which took its place, continues to remain, and most of all, its striking that these administrators graduate out of the Academy that Wilson built.Map of the Great Indian Hedge
Chutki Bhar Namak Paseri Bhar Anyay
The story of the high salt tax imposed by the British, which deprived several Indians of a commodity as basic as salt and impacted their health for generations, and the march led by Gandhiji to Dandi to make salt and defy the law, is well known.
What is not so well known is the story of the Great Indian Hedge, a 3200 km customs barrier made of trees, hedges and bushes, manned by 12,000 personnel, to facilitate the collection of this heavy salt tax. In this essay, Irpinder Bhatia, tells the story of British author Roy Moxham's efforts and experiences, in unearthing the existence of this cruel instrument of oppression, and putting the bits of information together as a book, The Great Hedge of India (2001).


Raja Of Harsil - Frederick 'Pahari' Wilson
Wilson's Garhwal(2)2 copy

Raja Of Harsil - Frederick 'Pahari' Wilson
Wilson's Garhwal(2)3 copy

Wilson's Kingdom

Family Tree

Pahadi Wilson