Pahadi Wilson : The English Raja of Harsil
Once upon a time there was an Englishman, called Pahadi Wilson who had crowned himself the Raja of Harsil so much so that he even issued his own currency, his own coin, for use in his own domain. Frederick E Wilson was his real name and his escapades could probably fill in a couple of Volumes. And his notoriety has lived up till the present day as a few years back, Sundar Lal Bahuguna, who started the Chipko Movement blamed Pahadi Wilson for the large scale damage caused to the Environment of Garhwal. He also supposedly was a Spy for the British Government and reportedly even had an affair with a Rani Sahib of Tehri it is said. And it is said that a curse was cast upon him and his coming generations by none other that Lord Shiva himself. Even the legendary Rudyard Kipling, who was a friend of his, described him as such, “lived a life that would have been the envy of kings”.
So who exactly was this Pahadi Wilson or Hyulsen Sahib as his neighbours called him and how exactly did he manage to land himself in the middle of all this action ?
Frederick E Wilson was a Soldier with the British Empire and was stationed in India. In around 1841 in circumstances that are still not very clear he deserted from the Army in Mussoorie. He was a young man of around 24 years age at that time. As per some sources he killed a fellow Soldier in a duel and that caused him to flee. He fled into the Mountains 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 Wilson went even deeper into the Mountains till he came to the Valley of the Bhagurathi at a place called Harsil and decided to set himself up over there far away from civilization in general and his fellow British in particular.
So there he settled and married a local lady as soon as 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 and were generally very nice and accommodating with him. All except the Priests of the local Temples who probably thought of him as some kind of Missionary out to convert the people and hence render the powerful priests unemployed. But far from a Missionary Pahadi Wilson had Royal ambitions and wanted to make a lot of Money. Soon he got involved in the lucrative Timber trade in the Region. He also got involved in Trophy Hunting and he was a self taught Botanist and Ornithologist as well. He traded in all kinds of Exotci Wildlife products as well besides the Timber trade. He also introduced Rajma and Apples to the Region and put large tracts of land under cultivation of these Cash crops.
It is said and believed by many that he clandestinely spied on behalf of the British during the First War of Independence in 1857 and at many times supplied very vital information to the British. Through his informal network he not only kept an ear out in the plains but also in the Mountains and beyond and is also said to have played a part in the Great Game. Due to the invaluable service he rendered during the “Mutiny” he was pardoned for his offence of Deserting the Army and could now freely work with the British East India Company.
He convinced (some say coerced) the Raja of granting him the rights to fell Timber in the pristine Forests and it had 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 and made a fortune beyond his wildest imagination. He set up sawmills along the Bhagirathi and vast amounts of Timber were floated down the River towards Haridwar.
Pahadi Wilson was truly a Raja now, and the first thing a Raja does is mint coin in his own name. And that's what Pahadi Wilson did and these are great Collector items today. He built a large Palace out of Deodar in Harsil. He married a couple of times and had numerous affairs. Everything seemed nice and dandy but his growing influence only made the Priests in Gangotri and Mukhba more sceptical of his real intentions.It is said that these than cast a curse on Pahadi Wilson and his coming generations. Of course the reason given for this was that Lord Someshwar had himself cursed him as he had almost completely hunted out all the Wildlife and destroyed all the Forests. As per the curse none of his progeny would live for long and one day his bloodline would disappear and everyone would forget about him.
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 ended the line of Pahadi Wilson.
Maybe it was the curse of Lord Someshwar. The Gods, as it is said, neither forget nor forgive.