Srinagar: A Victorian era boat, evidence of Kashmir’s historic connections with the British Empire, is decaying and rusting in an open parking lot of SPS Museum in Kashmir. The boat was a gift from Queen Victoria of United Kingdom, who was coroneted in 1838 and remained the Empress of India from 1876 until her death in 1901, to Maharaja Ranbir Singh, a monarch who ruled Jammu and Kashmir from 1857 to 1885.
In today’s Kashmir, this royal gift is withering in sun, snow and rain as it remains lying in the open parking lot of the Sri Partap Singh Museum, named after the Maharaja’s son. What remains of the nearly 30-feet-long boat, which is up to eight feet in width, is the rusted decaying structure. The entire body of the boat is covered with rust, at places several layers deep, and a large hole has damaged the lower frontal part of it. Several smaller holes, of the size of a football, have also punctured the boat at its bow and stern.
The museum has no details about the year when the boat was gifted and when it reached Kashmir. Deputy Director Museums and Archaeology said that “this Victorian boat was gift to our Maharaja by Queen Elizabeth, it was function that time about 100-150 years back. Now this boat is in rust due certain weather conditions and main cause of rust is that it is kept in open air compound. Now for its survival we took certain steps to bring its losing glory back. It is long process like tendering etc, we are trying to restore in its old face” he added.
From the timeline of the two rulers, the boat was gifted to the Dogra king of Kashmir anytime between 1857 and 1885, when he was the Maharaja.
A marker on the boat, which has words engraved on it, is the only testimony that it was exchanged between the two Royals. “Presented by H.M. Queen Victoria to H.H. Shree Maharaja Ranbir Singh Ji Bahadar,” the text — on the marker, which is a sort of an epitaph — in bold capital letters reads.
The initials mentioned in the text – H.M. – meant ‘Her Majesty‘ as the Queen of United Kingdom was called and H.H. meant ‘His Highness’, and then attributed to the dynastic heads of the major princely states.
The Chief Minister of J&K during 2008 Gulam Nabi Azad laid a foundation stone of the new building of Museum and work was completed within given time frame. But till this date artifacts in the old museum are still there and are not shifted to the new place, like this boat other artifacts are waiting to get transferred.
Many locals who are seeing this boat and Museum from their child hood are claiming that this boat is now completely rusted and after two or three years this boat will get completely decayed. One of the local Ajaz Ahmad said that “I am seeing this boat from last 30 years and this is now completely rotten and after few years it will get decayed”. Another local Abdul Aziz said that “I was paying my duty in 1978 here and from that time it is still there. There is no one which can guard history and no one is taking pins in this favor”.
This boat is in its worst condition it is time now to authorities should take care of this precious history and survive their future.