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 here.
The boat was a gift from Queen Victoria of United Kingdom,who was coronated 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.
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’,then attributed to the dynastic heads of the major princely states.
The only detail available in the museum records show the boat was transferred to the museum from Tosh Khana,treasury of the Kashmir’s erstwhile monarchs,in 1987.
Since then the boat remained decaying,year after year,in a damp pit,adjoining the main museum building,until the construction for a new building began when the pit was filled,leading to boat’s relocation to a new spot — the open parking lot.
“We have a proposal with the government to have a glass fibre cover for the boat,” the curator of the museum,Mushtaq Ahmad Beigh,said.
He said the glass fibre cover will be in place once a permanent spot is decided for the boat.
“We have to wait for the designer to decide the spot,” Beigh said.
The designers,a Mumbai-based interior designing consultancy,has been tasked to design the new building,which is under construction for the last five years.