The Saddles of the Horse Empires
I have already told you the story of the Munshi Aziz Bhat Museum. Of course like all Museums it holds so many Items and so many stories attached to them. Like a small cannon that belonged to General Zorawar Singh himself, Horse Bells gifted by the Raja of Kharmang to Munshi Aziz Bhatt, old Korans from the 16th Century and even a Rug made for one Shyam Lal who was a secretary to Alexander Burnes.
One of the most significant and important set of items on display is a collection of Saddles and Horse riding items from Central Asia, Tibet and even a Saddle of the mighty Mongols themselves. Of course these items carry little significance but in those days before the Internal Combustion engine came around the Horse was the means of transport and one of the most important weapons in Warfare especially on the Central Asian steppes. No wonder the Empires built by the Nomads of Asian Steppes including the one built by Mongols under Changez Khan were also known as Horse Empires. The tenacity of the Central Asian Horse and its amazing stamina and resilience made it one of the main factor in the conquest of the “civilized” world by these so called “Barbarians” who came in from the North riding their Horses. In fact Historians have credited the Horse as being the strongest strength of the largest contiguous Empire the world has ever seen, the Mongol Empire.
The Central Asian people from the Mongols to the Turkic people of the Central Asia like the Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Kazakh to the Persian Tajiks all revered the Horse and they were their most valued possessions. And of course one of most important Item required to ride a Horse was the Saddle of course and all other attached paraphernalia like the Stirrups and decorative ornaments and stuff for the Horses.
The display at the Museum has a great collection of these items as mentioned earlier. There are Saddles from Kyrgyz, the Uzbek, the Tibetans, even an English saddle and the most decorative being a Mongol Saddle. These Saddles are the same design that have come down from Millennia and not much has changed as far as the Saddles and their designs are meant. The fact that there is a great possibility that the Great Khan himself rode a similar Saddle when he subjugated the World is of course quite an overwhelming though.
Of course the Horse Saddles were important items of Trade on the Kashmir to Yarkand Silk Route Trail. I would assume that Horse Saddles from Central Asia were in demand on this side of the Great Mountain Wall. And the Central Asians were more sophisticated at this though the Europeans in the later ear were turning out good Saddles as well. One of the main difference was that Central Asian Saddles were made of Wood and Leather and were highly decorated reflecting the status of the Person riding that Saddle. European Saddles made of Leather and Metal were more work like and devoid of any decorative element.
In the pic below a few of the Saddles in the Museums collection are shown. The one on the right with Metal Studs is a Kyrgyz saddle from the 18th Century. The one in front is an Uyghur saddle from Eastern Turkestan. The one with a Carpet like covering is a Tibetan Saddle. The one next to it is the most prized one : A Mongol Saddle with a lot of decorations which sadly have deteriorated over time. And last but not the least an English Saddle in Leather and Metal.
The fact that people sat on these Saddles while crossing the Great Wall as I call it consisting of the Kun Luns, the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush, the Karakorams and finally the Great Himalayas themselves again gives one a sense of awe of the great Tradesmen and Soldiers who crossed this most formidable barrier for Trade and War. And their most faithful companion in both case was none other than the Horse.