There are no private or public bodies now to look after the inns or caravanserais built by Jasuli Shaukyani, a wealthy widow, during the British period.
The Jasuli inns are in a dilapidated condition. (HT Photo)
To understand how these inns were created, we need to look at their history. In the 19th century, Jasuli Shaukyani was a wealthy widow whose only son had died. She used to throw away valuables. Seeing this, Sir Henry Ramsay, the commissioner of Kumaon, suggested that she build something that would benefit people and also keep her memory alive. So she built these inns or caravanserais.
Along the river Karnali are still found voluminous cavities chiseled on monolithic granites for storing salt and borax, the two important merchandise items for trans Himalayan trade with Tibet. Whether it was hewing a transverse hole across a huge rock to ensure a safe passage for beasts of burden (Yak, mountain goat and sheep) or the removal of a whole lot of a hillock to avoid a long detour, so much surplus was generated by this barter trade that despite the complete absence of modern machines and means in that remote region, getting such community work done was worth it. Unfortunately these memorials of past prosperity in the remote terrains of the greater Himalayas are so located that seeing and securing them is not possible practically.
Uma Joshi a first generation NRI from the Isle of Wight in UK, said, “We can’t make excuses for the neglect to which the memorials found along the old roads in the Central Himalayas have been subjected to. They speak volumes of the prosperity of the Rang community and also of their generosity and concern for the commoners… And above all they are located mostly in the lake district.”
On her visit to Almora, the parental town of her husband, she was referring to the over hundred of caravansaries along the trade route stretched from the Johar Valley in the higher Himalayan region in Pithoragarh district to the foothill city of Haldwani. The construction of these caravansaries is credited to Shaukayani, a Rang (also called Shaukas) widow who inhabited the Johar region in early 19th century.
“Hardly a couple of these caravanserais now exist close to Almora, though I recall seeing around six or seven of them in my childhood all along the drive way from Almora to Haldwani,” said Uma.
Shaukyani was from an extremely rich family at Dantu Budharath village in the far off Darma Valley Jasuli Datal (surname suggestive of her village) and probably got widowed at an early age. She shortly lost her only son also and in a mood of utter dejection was all set to immerse her proverbial wealth, loaded on backs of several ponies in the form of silver coins, in the flowing waters of the Ganges. It was then that she happened to have a chance encounter with Sir Ramsay, commissioner of Kumaon whose stay in Himalayan region is spanned over a period of 30 years, from 1856 to 1887. Fluent in the local dialect Commissioner Ramsay convinced Jasuli that building charitable inns for tribes of border region, who kept on frequenting the foothill city of Haldwani to buy provisions and merchandise, would be a better option. Ramsay was concerned about the absence of shelters for travellers.
Kaushak Kishore Saxena, an amateur historian from Almora speaks of there being over hundred of such caravanserais all over Kumaon at a mutual distance of nine miles. In the Mahendra Nagar and Baitari districts of Nepal and in Tibet also Jasuli built these charitable constructions. Saxena said there was fresh water in all these inns. They also had well maintained flower beds, he said.
Jasuli has been commemorated in a statue erected in her native village in August 2012.