Distress in the Himalayas

(notes by Philip Holberton, drawing on the research of Andrew Rutherford and Thomas Pinney)


Published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 26 May 1886, with the signature R.K. and the heading:

A singular scarcity of men prevails this year at most of the Hill Stations of Upper India, owing to the number of men who have taken leave to England or Kashmir—Newsletter.

The poem is included in Kipling’s Scrapbook 3 of his own press cuttings in the Kipling Papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections. It is not otherwise collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 321) and Pinney (p. 1808).

The poem

What can the ladies of the hill-stations do for dance partners this season in the current scarcity of men. Will they have to settle for raw boys, or the bald-headed aged ? A chance for the elderly perhaps ? But they will return in time.

The piece followed hard upon the publication of Departmental Ditties in the CMG as a series, between February and April.

Notes on the Text

Kashmir The mountainous state in the north of India, great country for men who preferred to spend their leave shooting game rather than socialising in the hill-stations like Simla.

Camel’s Back A road on a ridge to the north of the hill-station of Mussoorie.


Murree, Naini Tal Two other hill-stations.

barasingh The red deer of Kashmir.

P and O A vessel of the Peninsular and Oriental Steamship Company, the main passenger line plying between India and England.

Thomas Cook and Son The world’s first international travel agent, founded in 1841.

electric-lighted Ind A reference to the “Colonial and Indian Exhibition” held in South Kensington in London 1886.

G–ldst——n Goldstein: Rutherford notes that Herr Felix von Goldstein was a professional musician and Bandmaster to the Viceroy. In 1869 he purchased “Benmore”, a well-known and impressive Simla house, added a ballroom and skating rink, and made it for years a centre of social activity. When a new Town Hall was built in 1885, incorporating a ballroom, Goldstein sold Benmore to the Punjab Government for use as office accommodation. See Kipling’s poem “The Plea of the Simla Dancers” in Departmental Ditties.

dado The lower part of an interior wall when coloured differently from the upper part (OED). A neat play on words with ‘wallflowers’ — ladies sitting out a dance around the walls, for lack of partners.


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