THE SPORT OF SHIKAR
If you heave read about Maharajas, you may have noticed the term shikar several times. Before Independence in 1947, the Indian Royalty had an exclusive privilege for hunting, known as the sport of shikar. Anyhow, some very fine shikar vehicles were involved with this ‘sport'. It was a way of sharpening the senses, keeping the reflexes up to date and being active. The Maharajas needed to be prepared for war at all times. Almost every large and medium-sized state had its own game reserves, with strict rules about for example what to shoot and what not to shoot, and of course an abundant share of wildlife. This form of relaxation was also a way to socialize with British Residents, Political Agents, and on occasion the Viceroy and other Royalty. Smart as the Maharajas were, this was also a way of keeping the British officers ‘on the right side, their own side’.
Shooting ‘the royal beast’, which are (Bengal) tigers, was under strict control, and only a prey for the elite. You couldn’t just go around like a butcher. Funny to mention that Maharajas were also collectors of special animals and birds within their zoological gardens.
Not all Maharajas shot their animals, like Maharaja Rana Sir Udai Bhan Singh of Dholpur, who used to be a great shot. After he became aware of his genuine love for animals, he has never attempted anymore to shoot one of his wildlife friends. I like this Maharaja, because I love animals too, and I am agains killing them, or eating them since I am a vegan plant-eater.
Before shikar vehicles were used, transport for those expeditions was by carriages or elephant/horseback. Elephants were, next to cars, still of vital importance as shikar tracks often passed thru dense forests or marshland. Before the entry of the Jeep during WW2, a wide range of cars was used for the shikar sport. Lightweight Model ‘A’ and ’T’ Fords with foot-gear were especially suited to work their way out of the mud-holes. Most shikar cars were specially built models, fitted with lighter bodies, double axles, low gearing, a high ground clearance chassis, and of course a large number of (spot)lights fitted for hunting in the dark. Not to forget the racks on the running boards for the guns. To make the expeditions as comfortable as possible, the shikar camps were equipped and build in such a way that it now appears like madness to us. It was camping for His Highness in the most grandiose style, like staying in a resort. Magnificent tents were put up, surrounded with small gardens with an abundance of colorful flowers; it was all just PURE luxury. The shikar parties were accompanied by special cooks as well as unlimited champagne of the best brands. Bringing a motorcar over hundreds of miles to carry His Highness for a mere two miles, was not strange at all. Shooting brakes with their specifically strong chassis, were often used for shikar. Due to individual specifications and whims of their Royal owners, an exceptional collection of magnificent shikar cars of many different marques found their way to India back then. The most valuable of those were ordered from the mid-1920s to late 1930s. The pearl of all Indian shikar cars was probably the Isotta Fraschini Tipo-8A with exclusive coachwork by Windovers (the famous coachbuilders from London). This car was ordered by ‘big spender’ Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala and costed more than £7000 in those days.
This Windovers Isotta featured twin shock absorbers, a white pure ivory covered steering wheel and column, mahogany cabinets to carry provisions, wine bottles and Red Cross kits, searchlights for night-hunting, gun-supports on each side of the car (to allow better targeting even when traveling at high speed), a metal buffer bar (to fend off stampeding or attacking animals), and an exhaust whistle with a sound powerful enough to scare off any attacker. The whole car (also the wire wheels) were enamelled in camouflage shades by Solomon J Solomon RA. Sometimes the Royals also ordered busses that served as dining facilities. Some typical London busses were modified in the name of shikar and were equipped with fans, sofas, dining tables, wardrobes, a bathroom, a pantry and of course again gun-racks, because even during dinner the hunt went on.
Rolls-Royce was a beloved shikar marque, especially by the Maharajas of Alwar, Baroda, Sarguja and Patiala. Here is a list of those shikar vehicles:
Alwar: two standard 9HP Falmouth fabric saloons, purchased in 1928.
Bahawalpur: a unique 19HP Crossley with Barker & Company body, ordered in 1930 with a four-cylinder engine.
Rajkot: Rolls-Royce Phamtom II torpedo cabriolet equipped with just 12 lights…
Bharatpur: Rolls-Royce shooting brakes of which one was a 1925 nickel-plated 20HP.
Kotah: a 40-50HP Rolls delivered in 1925 with torpedo body built to his specifications by Barker & Company Ltd.
Bhopal: a six-liter Bentley with dual cowl semi-boat-tail speedster body, designed and specially fabricated by Thrupp & Maberly Ltd. to the Nawabs specifications. Other cars were a two-seater Morris six-wheeler and a touring version of the sameMysore: preferred American cars for shikar.
Unknown: 1930s 26.9HP shikar saloon supplied by Renault Ltd.
Indore: not to forget his massive camp by Eckhart Muthhesius, that I mentioned in an earlier article this week.
Jaora: the twin brother Nawabs always bought identical cars in pairs, like a pair of Packards and Cadillacs, even their shikar guns matched.
Credits: The Automobiles of the Maharajas by Sharada Dwivedi and Manvendra Singh Barwani