Mohand Marg The woodland meadow where Aurel Stein worked on Rajatarangini

R C Ganjoo
The local Sarpanch informed us that we were first supposed to reach Anderwan village, the starting point to Mohand Marg.
I had heard about Mohand Marg from elders, and later on, I read about its significance. Sir Marc Aurel Stein’s name always made me inquisitive to know why he had chosen this location situated at a height of 11000 feet in the woodland of the Himalayas, to translate Kalhan Pandit’s celebrated history Rajatarangini and add to it footnotes and appendages of unique scholarship. Stein also wrote valuable research works on the history and civilization of Central Asia.
The British archaeologist Sir Aurel Stein was born on 26 November 1862 in Hungary in a moderate Jewish family. He fell in love with this meadow (Mohand Marg) on his first visit to Kashmir on 8 June 1888, and continued to visit this place till April 1943. Stein spent several summers at Mohan Marg meadows translating the Rajatarangini into English and prepared its first Sanskrit edition. After completing his work, Stein erected a memorial at the place to commemorate his achievement. It suffered some damage later. From Mohand Marg, he made four major expeditions to Central Asia in 1900-1901, 1906-1908, 1913-1916, and 1930.
Ever since I took up journalism as my profession in 1982, I had been keenly desirous of paying a visit to Mohand Marg. It did not happen for many years. Eventually, a time came when my dream would be realized and on July 2, 2022, I found myself at Wanghat along with a couple of my journalist friends. Wanghat is also famous for historical ruins of Hindu temples or Buddhist viharas. It is site of archaeological significance.
After covering the distance from Ganderbal to Wanghat in two hours, we met with another local contact who was waiting there to receive us. During our discussion about the plan to visit Mohand Marg, the locals were not in favour of our adventure. They said it would be difficult to track 15 km to Mohand Marg, a steep climb with no arrangements for the trekking adventure. In case we made it, the return would take a month. Despite these discouraging signals, I wanted to visit my long cherished spot.
The local Sarpanch informed us that we were first supposed to reach Anderwan village, the starting point to Mohand Marg. He was already briefed by my friends about our mission Mohand Marg. Therefore he was extraordinarily careful to make our adventure a success.
On arriving at Anderwan village on July 3, 2022, we found three horses with their keepers waiting for us. Giving instructions before mounting the horses, the local Sarpanch said we should take paracetamol tablets and chew onion, otherwise while passing through the woods the fragrance of shrubs could cause dizziness. He had kept eatables like chapatis, vegetable butter, salted tea and water bottles with the horsekeepers.
We started our expedition on horseback at 10 am. Just after completing the two kilometre trek easily, gradually the uphill journey started on a tortuous route of scattered white stones. Here we were advised by the horsekeepers to lean forward to make it easy for the horse to negotiate the narrow curves along the hilly terrain.
After covering 7 km of uphill terrain in two hours, we reached Jabbad, a small highland where our friends and guides advised us to take some rest and snacks. The young boys accompanying us were college students but doing a part-time job as guides. All of them were jolly fellows who made our challenging venture a grand success. Before taking snacks, the boys suggested us to take paracetamol tables and onion. I was carrying my medical kit and offered tablets to each them. However, the boys were reluctant to take the tablets because they are acclimatized to the hilly environment.
From Jabbad, the terrain was almost forbidding, but our strength was the company of our boys and our continuous conversation with them. They too were smart to keep our attention away from difficult terrain where horses too get scared while negotiating the narrow treks.
Finally, we were thrilled to reach our destination at 12 o’clock, trekking through the lush green meadow of densely lined pine trees. At once, I touched the tri-faced memorial stone with epitaphs in Urdu, English, and Sanskrit on the site of Sir Marc Aurel Stein’s camping ground at Mohand Marg erected in December 2017 by the Kashmir Chapter of INTACH, and the Department of Tourism, Government of Jammu & Kashmir. I felt emotionally sublimated after touching the memorial of a great scholar. I was happy I had at last achieved my decades old mission of visiting Mohand Marg.
The site is unique in its pristine beauty and solitude, and so close to nature. Our tiredness evaporated in thin air. As we set our feet on the spot we were seeking we felt as if we were on top of the world.
I was carrying with me a copy of Rajatarangini, translated by Stein for reference. Here, I could find out that he had preferred this location because of its seclusion and the soothing fragrance of pine trees and flowers. The sky was cloudy. We got scared of the rain because there was no shelter anywhere on the vast lush green meadow. However, the clouds disappeared after dropping some raindrops. We were lucky to escape the vagary of nature. The bright sunrays made the meadow more attractive.
Aurel Stein had spent several decades here absorbed in the pristine beauty of nature and in his scholarly exercise. Unfortunately, his last wish remained unfulfilled. He had desired that he should be “cremated” in his beloved Mohand Marg. Stein died of a massive heart attack in Kabul in 1943 at the age of 81. He had never married. He often expressed that the ‘thought of marriage never came to him’.
In Aurel Stein’s own words “from the high mountain plateau which my camp once more occupies, almost the whole of Ka?hmir lies before me, from the ice-capped peaks of the northern range to the long snowy line of the Pir Panjal, a little world of its own, enclosed by mighty mountain ramparts. Small indeed the country may seem, by the side of the Great Plains that extend in the south, and confined the history of which it was the scene. And yet, just as the natural attractions of the Valley have won it fame far beyond the frontiers of India, too the interest attached to its history far exceeds the narrow geographical limits.”
“The favours with which Nature has so lavishly endowed “the land in the womb of Himàlayas”, are not likely to fade or vanish. But those manifold remains of antiquity which the isolation of the country has preserved, and which help us to resuscitate the life and conditions of earlier times, are bound to disappear more and more with the rapid advance of Western influences.”
“Great are the changes which the last few decades have brought over Ka?hmir, greater, perhaps, than any which the country has experienced since the close of the Hindu period. It is easy to foresee that much of what is of value to the historical student will before long be destroyed or obliterated. It is time to collect as carefully as possible the materials still left for the study of old Ka?hmir and its earliest records. I have spared no efforts to serve this end, and in the result of my labours, I hope, there will be found some return for the books which I owe to Kashmir.”
Quoting Kalhana in Rajatarangini, Sir Aurel Stein writes: “Nor has Kalhana omitted to mention the failure of kings due to human weaknesses. For example, Harsha’s downfall has been attributed to his avoidance of battles, lack of independent judgment, wrong selection of persons as ministers, and above all, heeding the advice of some intriguing woman.”
“Significantly, Kalhana was conscious of the relationship of various political power groups of his time with their economic conditions. Thus he repeatedly admonishes the kings not to allow any village to stock food if it exceeds a year’s consumption. Nor should a village be allowed to keep oxen beyond the number required to cultivate the fields. Why? Kalhana ascribed the emergence of the feudatories and their revolts to the accumulation of wealth. Among various other factors, matrimonial alliances among the official class are also described as a source of trouble for a king.”
In the year 1899, Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri assisted Stein in translating the Rajatarangini in several ways till his great work was completed. Shastri was asked to give up the teaching job in a Christian missionary, at the request of Aurel Stein. King George V conferred upon him the title of Mahamahopadhyaya in 1912.
Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri died in 1921, leaving behind his authentic works of scholarship. He was well respected by the western scholars. Grierson called him his ‘old friend’. Stein observed, “I shall always be glad to remember him among my friends'”. Dr. Hutzch records, “In him also I hope to have found at once a friend whom I shall never forget. To all those for whom Kashmir is not just a geographical denomination but a repository of learning and ideas, Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri will always be a guiding star.”
John Marshall once observed “Pandit Mukund Ram Shastri, about whom I can safely say that there is no Pandit in India of whom I have heard such consistent high praise from all with whom he has come in contact.”