The J&K Postal Service
As name is to an individual, so are stamps to the States. A peep in the history and one comes to know that among the feudatory states of the British India, Jammu and Kashmir had its own postal system till it merged with Imperial Mail of British in India in 1894. The State of Jammu and Kashmir was probably the first State to issue postal stamps. Though the traditional system of communication through messengers existed, it was Maharaja Gulab Singh who introduced stamps for the first time in the State.
The year was 1866, when the State of Jammu & Kashmir issued its first stamp, some jointly while some as separate for Jammu and for Kashmir, though the State Post existed as early as 1820.
The stamps were inscribed in native script, done in watercolour pigments, which could smear in high humidity. The paper used during those days was sturdy, brownish and had laid lines, which were irregular; neither straight nor equidistant from each other as in the European laid varieties. Eventually separate stamps were discontinued in 1884.
According to Fritz Stall, who has written a masterly account of the stamps of Jammu and Kashmir, “More than two hundred stamps that were issued during this period show great philatelic variety in the area of paper, colours, dies, plates and printing material, exhibit a sophisticated level of calligraphy as compared with many other early Asian stamps and in several respects more original and more purely Oriental”.
Running over Banihal pass near Verinag, covering a distance of almost 170 miles, the mail line between Jammu and Srinagar, employed 75 runners (harkaras) and had 38 stations on route so that postal runners could take shifts. The transportation of mail took 100 to 140 hours, depending on the season and weather. This mail system improved gradually with Maharaja Ranbir Singh after his coronation in 1858, increasing the number of Stations orChowkis from 38 to 129, so that a letter from Jammu to Srinagar would no longer take more than 25 to 30 hours.
The two seals prepared for Jammu and Srinagar served as ‘franks’. The stamps came in different sizes and denominations. Coloured in blue and red, and having inscriptions in Dogri and Persian, these stamps came in two different varieties: old and new Rectangulars and Circulars. The Old Rectangulars came in two varieties one from Jammu and other from Srinagar. The Jammu Old Circulars (1866-1878) were hand printed and used three single dyes. Kashmir Old Rectangulars (1867-1878) used a single dyes and composite plate. The New Rectangular for Jammu and Kashmir (1878 -1894) was printed with a single value plates.
- 1st Jammu dye of ½ a circular is dated March 1866.
- 1st Kashmir dye of ½ a rectangular is dated September 1866.
- Postcard of ¼ a is dated 1883.
Over a period of time, the denominations changes and so did the shape, colour and the equality of the paper. Though the time span of Jammu and Kashmir Postal history has been short, but nevertheless, forgery did take place. Today, though not in large number, but both the original and forged stamps exist, and undoubtedly both have a value for the collectors.