White horse outside ‘Bank of Baroda’, Pestonjee Building, Kothibagh, Residency Road
I knew this one was going to be a special book but what I didn’t expect was an image of a prized memory of Srinagar City: Pestonji’s White Horse.
Raghubir Singh’s ‘Kashmir: Garden of the Himalayas’ (1983) has the photograph explained as, “The white wooden horse was a joke-present from one polo-playing Maharaja (Jaipur) to another (Kashmir). A White Horse whiskey dealer rescued it from a junk heap and installed it in front of a building in Srinagar which he rents to a bank.”
Although the book does not mention it, yet I had heard so much about it (although not the story about its origin), I knew I was looking at the famous Pestonji Ka Ghoda.
Pestonji name figures in history of Kashmir right from late 1800s to the early times of Sheikh Abdullah (Jinnah and his wife apparently stayed with him during a trip to Srinagar in 1920s).
Anybody who grew up in Srinagar in the good old 1970s and 80s must be familiar with the famous Pestonjee Ka Ghoda on the Residency Road. The Pestonjee Ka Ghoda or the White Horse was installed outside the Pestonjee Building which was next to the Building which housed the famous Mahattas Photographers as well as the Grindlays Bank. As a kid I was always fascinated by this White Horse and used to see it quite often whenever we went to that side of Town. We didnt really care who Pestonjee was or what was the exact purpose or significance of this White Horse but we just liked it. It was like a Monument of a different kind in a City which didnt have many Statues in Public Places. Come Rain or Sun or Snowfall Pestonjee Ka Ghoda was always there.
That was the only connection that we had with the Parsi Community in Srinagar as there were hardly any left. Not much to the Parsi connection in Kashmir except our beloved Pestonjee Ka Ghoda. Or so I thought.
And last night I came across the pics of a Parsi Cemetry or an Aramgah in Kashmir. I was amazed to see that and till now I didnt know of its existence. And on top of that what surprised me even more was the excellent condition the place was in. There was even a list with Names of all the Parsis who had been laid to Rest in the Aramgah. The Graves were clean. The Garden looks well maintained. The Hedges were trimmed properly and since there was no mention of the location in Kashmir i started to search around and realised that this was somewhere around Badami Bagh. Now Badami Bagh as some of you must be aware is the Main Cantonment of Srinagar. And as such is a high security area so one cant just go looking for this place inside.
The fact that the place was so well maintained was a pointer to the fact that it was under the Army’s maintenance. So in order to get more information with Saleem Baig saab who is an authority on the Historical Stuff in Kashmir and shared the pics with him and even he was pleasantly surprised to see the pics. Baig Saab has already written on the subject of Parsis in Kashmir hence he bought some facts to my Notice. As it so happened the Parsi Aramgah mentioned in Historical contexts was somewhere near Pantha Chowk and beyond Pantha CHowk there were large Parsi land holdings in the area which houses the Khunmoh Industrial Estate now. And most of the Parsis lived in this area.
The Pantha Chowk area lies near the Badami Bagh Cantonment and this explains how the Aramgah came under Army’s maintenance. And the fact that its existence isnt so well known is due to the fact that its a High Security Zone and Civilian access is strictly controlled. And Baig Saab mentioned how Parsi Lands were acquired by the State as younger Parsis decided to move away especially after Independence. And as of today there are no Parsis in Kashmir and their only lasting legacy is this Aramgah and of course Pestonjee Ka Ghoda.
So what exactly was the Pestonjee Ka Ghoda story ? Well the thing was Pestonjee was a Trader and one of the things he dealt in was Imported Liquor. And of course one of the main selling Liquors was of course Scotch Whisky. And one of the main brand that Pestonjee dealt in was White Horse Scotch Whisky. What better advertisement for his Whiskey brand than putting a White Horse outside his Shop. The legend goes that the White Horse was imported all the way from England and installed outside the Shop where it became the legendary Pestonjee Ka Ghoda.
So what happened to the Pestonjee Ka Ghoda you may ask ?
Well the legendary Pestonjee Ka Ghoda is still there though now it has moved to an ugly Mall on the Residency Road and it stands in the Foyer in the Mall. The surroundings have changed but even today when I see it, it brings a flood of memories of the good old days. I am sure if Pestonjee Ka Ghoda could speak he would agree with me.
Credit To The Photographer Who Took These Pics. And SearchKashmir for the Pestonjee Ka Ghoda pics.
I am the granddaughter of Mr. Behram Pestonjee —- the original Pestonjee and owner of Pestonjee ka Ghoda —- the horse was not sent by White Horse Whiskey to Srinagar, but was found in the godowns of the then Maharaja of Kashmir by my grandfather (
who was part of the Maharaja’s Darbar). Legend has it that the horse was sent to Kashmir by the Maharaja of Jaipur with a taunt to the Kashmir Maharaja : ‘Play polo on this before playing with me”.
On finding the abandoned wooden horse, Mr Behram Pestonjee had it painted white, sent a picture to White Horse Distilleries, who subsequently sent a small amount for the maintenance. This continued until my grandfather closed down his business post 1947!
The White Horse remained a landmark of Srinagar and though we, as a family have moved away, the legend and legacy lives on.
Thank you Shereen for sharing this wonderful nugget!