The great wall of India

Saline in Rajasthan. India.

In the 19° century, India had its own great wall dividing its northern parts into almost two equal parts. While the Great Wall of China was made of stone and meant to defend the country against foreign invaders, the Indian one was made of thorny bushes designed to prevent smuggling of salt from the actual states of Gujarat and Maharashtra to northern states and smuggling of sugar from the north to the south. It ran from Multan (now in Pakistan) to Fazilka (now in the Indian state of Punjab), Hissar, Delhi, Mathura and Agra down to Burhanpur. The chief architect of this hedge barrier was Alan Octavian Hume, the founder of the Indian National Congress in 1885. Right now, little remains of this hedge ( except a small embankment in Uttar Pradesh) and ( almost) no one remembers its existence.

The idea of having a customs barrier to collect the salt tax begun when India was under the control of the East India Company in 1854. After the Indian mutiny ( in 1857), the government of the colony was transferred to the Crown. The hedge began to take shape in the 1860s. Hume transformed the previous limit ( consisting of scattered bushes) into an impressive barrier. By 1868, it had become 180 miles ( 290 kilometers) of impenetrable hedge. And in 1878, it grew to its greatest extent : 1500 miles ( 2400 kilometers) of good live hedge or dry hedge. Seeing the soil and climate of the regions, different kinds of thorny bushes and trees were used : indian plums, prickly pears at places, “babool” acacia, “ber”trees ( jujube) and bamboo clusters at others. The wall was over eight feet high ( 2.4 meters) and five feet wide ( 1.7 meters). Every few miles, there was an opening mared by a tall tamarind (“imlee”) tree under which was a customs house. At places, the bush caught fire or was burnt by smugglers and had to be re-seeded. At others, it was attacked by ants, locusts,… Or rats nibbled away the roots. So cats were introduced to eat them up. Altogether a force of nearly 14.000 men were deployed to maintain the thorny wall : half of the dry hedge had to be replaced each year. Then in the 1870s, the government decided to abolish internal taxes. Considered as a major obstacle to free trade and travel in the subcontinent, the great wall was allowed to wither away in 1879. Yet, it had been an efficient way to prevent smuggling.

Today, salt is tax-free, inexpensive, commonplace but in early times salt was rare. Taxing salt has been prevalent in different countries of Europe and Asia. In the heyday of the Roman Empire, soldiers got special allowance (“salaria”) to buy their ration of salt. The word salary is derived from “salaria”. In France, the “gabelle” was a ( hated) tax on salt before the 1789 revolution. In China, there was a time when salt was reserved for the Emperor.


About travelerreport

My blog is all about travelling and photography
This entry was posted in history, India and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s