PUNJAB, A HUNDRED YEARS AGO, translated and edited by H.L.O. Garrett, and first published in 1935 by the Punjab Government Record Office, Lahore, is a compendium of two travelogues. The first part comprises the portion of Victor Jacquemont's Journal which deals with his travels through the Punjab and Kashmīr. Jacquemont's description of the condition and administration of the cis-Sutlej area after the Anglo-Sikh treaty of 1809 is particularly interesting. So is his account of Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh's court, and comments on the character and personal habit of the Mahārājā who is described as a thin little man with an attractive face, in spite of having lost an eye from smallpox, a lively hunter and lover of horses. He specially praises Raṇjīt Siṅgh for his powers of conversation and for his shrewd judgement. He writes : "Ranjit Singh is almost the first inquisitive Indian I have seen, but his curiosity makes up for the apathy of his whole nation. He asked me a hundred thousand questions about India, the English, Europe, Bonaparte, this world in general and the other one, hell and paradise, the soul, God, the Devīl, and a thousand things besides." Avarice was, according to Jacquemont, the ruling passion of the Mahārājā's life and he had amassed a treasure worth 8,00,00,000 rupees. His government had no fixed rules; he ruled as he willed. He was more or less a sceptic. The Mahārājā visited Amritsar twice a year to bathe in the sacred pool and made pilgrimages to the tombs of celebrated Muslim saints as well.. Speaking of the economic condition of the people, Jacquemont observes that the territory of the Sikhs was the most fertile and better cultivated than anywhere else in India. A man could subsist on one pice a day, a labourer's wage was 4-5 pice a day; an infantryman received a salary of 5-6 rupees a month. Jacquemont describes Ludhiāṇā as a city with a flourishing trade with India and Afghanistan. Rich merchant and bankers with business connections abroad live in the town which then had a total population of 20,000. Amritsar, the largest city in the Punjab, was rich and affluent, its population being a mixture of races and religions. Jacquemont characterized the Sikh rule in Kashmīr as chaotic and rapacious. He furnishes some details about the trade between Kashmīr and Tibet. For instance, in 1834, Kashmīr imported 60,000 seers of raw wool, 7,000- 8,000 pounds of tea, gold and silver, musk, dried fruit against export of grain.
The second part of the book relates to the travels of Prince Alexis Soltykoff which are ten years later in date Than Jacquemont's. The Prince, who belonged to a distinguished Russian family, was primarily an artist and his journey through India was one long search for ‘colour'. Among other places, he visited Delhi, Shimlā and Lahore. According to the editor of the book, his account of the Sikh Kingdom "compares very curiously with that of Jacquemont. "However, many changes had occurred since Jacquemont's visit. Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh was dead; the reigning monarch —Sher—Siṅgh of whose court much detail has been given is described as a "some what uneasy figure, very much afraid of George Russell Clerk, the British Agent."
B. J. Hasrat