Press "Enter" to skip to content

Maharaja Ranbir Singh gifted telegraph line between mountainous Srinagar and Gilgit

Last Updated on September 18, 2020 at 11:17 pm

There have been many such days in the history of Jammu which deserve to be written in golden letters. The 9th Sawan Savat 1935 (1878 AD) was one of them. For it was the day when Maharaja Ranbir Singh personally inaugurated the first telegraph line in the state, between Jammu and Srinagar.

Telegraphy had been introduced in India in 1856. The telegraph code used in India, wherever telegraph offices were set up, was the one invented by Samuel Morse in 1837 for transmission of telegrams between Washington and Baltimore, in Roman alphabets. What distinguished Jammu and Kashmir state telegraphs was that the ingenious Maharaja got a new signal code invented for transmission of telegrams in Persian and Urdu languages.

The details of this invention and of the rules sanctioned by the Maharaja were revealed recently when I found in the Persian records of the State Archives a printed copy of the rules sanctioned by the Maharaja on January 1, 1882, printed both in Dogri and Persian languages in their respective scripts.

The “Ishtihar”, released at that time, throws some more light on the distinguishing features of the State Telegraphs. The “Ishtihar” reveals that separate adhesive stamps for telegraphs were introduced in 1882, not in 1884, as believed earlier. These stamps were to be cut in two halves, one to be pasted on the telegram message form and the other half on the receipt to the sender.

The system of booking Press Telegrams also existed. The rate fixed for urgent press telegrams was Rs 2 for 32 words, while for ordinary press telegrams it was Rs 1 for 32 words. The rate for ordinary telegram was fixed at Rs 1 for eight words and urgent telegrams were charged Rs 2 for 8 words.

Under a separate agreement with the British Indian government, telegrams for places outside the state could also be booked. As there was no telegraph line between Jammu and Sialkot, such telegrams used to be sent through horse rider and delivered to the telegraph office at Sialkot for onward transmission. The horse rider would bring back such telegraphic messages as were meant for delivery in the state and no extra charges were made in either case.

Direct Telegraphic Link

A direct telegraphic link between the state and British India was established in 1879 AD when the telegraph line was extended from Jammu to Ranbirsinghpura and to Suchetgarh by the Maharaja and was further linked to Sialkot telegraph office by the British government.

Maharaja’s Political Victory

Another file in the Persian records reveals that when Lord Lytton, the then Viceroy and Governor General of India, had a meeting with Maharaja Ranbir Singh at Madhopur on November 17, 1876, he stressed the necessity of immediate establishment of telegraphic link between Gilgit and Rawalpindi to enable the British Agent at Gilgit to communicate urgent messages to the British Indian government. This he thought necessary in view of the growing Russian advances in Central Asia.

Ranbir Singh suspected that in the garb of establishing its own telegraph offices and telegraph lines, the British would get a foot-hold on the soil of Jammu and Kashmir. He therefore, politely told the Viceroy that while he appreciated the urgency of providing a telegraphic link between Gilgit and the British territory, he would first like to have Jammu linked by wire with Srinagar and thereafter extend the line to Gilgit from Srinagar and Jammu with Sialkot. Lord Lytton broadly agreed with the Maharaja’s proposal.

Consequently and agreement was signed by Major Durham Henderson on behalf of the Governor-General and Babu Nilambar Mookerjee on behalf of the Maharaja, whereunder the British government undertook to construct, at the expense of the state government, a telegraph line between Jammu and Srinagar and between Srinagar and Gilgit. The services of two British engineers, G.W. Dothey and F.W. Fenz, were lent to the state, on behalf of the State Bakshi Shankar Dass was made responsible for all necessary arrangements.

Two companies of State Army Sappers and Miners were also deployed. Construction of the 180 miles long telegraph line between Jammu and Srinagar was a herculean job as the wire had to be carried along a difficult hilly terrain over as many as five mountain ranges, the highest being over the old Banihal Pass, 9500 ft above the sea level.

Jammu-Srinagar Line

Constructed in a record time of less than 12 months, the Maharaja himself came to the state telegraph office located just outside the Mandi Mubarik. The first telegraphic message that was transmitted to Srinagar telegraph office, (located in Basant Bagh just opposite the Shergarhi palace on the other bank of the River Jhelum), was from Ranbir Singh to Dothey congratulating him for completing the job in time. The Maharaja announced an award of Rs.500 (British currency) to Dothey who, in reply, gratefully thanked the Maharaja.

The second message was sent by the Maharaja to Wazir Punnu, the Governor of Kashmir, who in reply wired information about Kashmir affairs.

Pandit Kesho Ram Raina and Pandit Jagat Ram signallars at Srinagar and Jammu respectively, were awarded Rs.100 each (state currency).

Invention of New Telegraph Code

The Maharaja had in his service an engineer, Babu Gopal Dass by name, who knew the work of signaling telegraph messages also. The Maharaja entrusted the work of training two state subjects—Kesho Ram Raina, an educated Kashmiri Pandit and Jagat Ram, an educated young man of Jammu.

Both these youngmen learnt the art of telegraphy. The Maharaja got a regular class started for training up more young men. Pandit Kesho Ram Raina knew Persian well and carried out the Maharaja’s wishes to invent a code for transmitting telegrams in Persian and Urdu languages. Thus Jammu and Kashmir became in 1878 the only state in vast dominion of India where telegrams could be booked in Persian and urdu languages in addition to English.

This system continued even some years after 1947.


Construction of the 401 miles long telegraph line between Srinagar and Gilgit presented many problems. The wire was to be carried over a most difficult terrain, over 8650 ft Sonamarg and over 10150 ft Drass. The line thereafter passed through Skardu (7440 ft) and finally to Gilgit 4890 ft above sea level.

Telegraph offices were opened at Drass, Sakrdu and Gilgit. From Gilgit the telegraph line was carried to Astor (7840 ft), one of the outlying posts of the Dogra Army via Bunji. Telegraph offices were established at both the places.

Second Line Between British India and Kashmir

Under a separate agreement between the State and the British India government, the telegraph line was extended from Srinagar to Kohala on the Jhelum Valley road. From Kohala the line was extended to Murree by the Punjab government, establishing a second direct telegraphic link between Gilgit and Rawalpindi.

The telegraph system soon gained popularity in the state. Combined figures for two years Sambat 1937 and Sambat 1938 revealed that as many as 13826 telegraphic messages were booked at the state telegraph offices. These brought a revenue of Rs.47,485. The expenditure on salary etc was Rs.13,603 leaving a net profit of Rs.33,882. 

The article has been taken from the archives of veteran journalist Late Shri B.P. Sharma.

The article is a copyright material.