Shikar (n. hunting; game; v.i. & t. hunt (animal) as sport. shikaree, shakari, shakary, n. (big game) hunter.) in Bhopal was not a sport nor a pastime but a way of life. Endowed with every form of wildlife in its lush jungles stretching across several rivers, Bhopal had an abundant supply of wild animals ranging fare of crocodiles, sambar, nilgai and all varieties of deer that inhabited the thick forests. Bhopal also possessed savannah-type land where wild bucks, chinkaras (small buck), grouse, partridge and wild geese were found in abundance. It was thus a well-known haven for all kinds of hunters. Over the centuries, shikar had for Bhopal’s nobility developed into a highly skilled pursuit. At the top, was the royal family for whom the hunting of tigers was a traditional pursuit. Every scion of the family needed to prove his manhood by hunting big game and even the Begums – notably Sikandar Begum – went tiger hunting. In Bhopal, the tiger hunt was reserved for the royal family; the gentry were allowed to shoot less regal game.
Nawab Nasrullah Khan was an expert hunter and was one of the few hunters in India who had achieved the distinction of becoming ‘nausherwan’ – a hunter who bags nine tigers in a 24-hours span. Nawab Hamidullah tried to emulate his elder brother’s record but only managed eight tigers in 24 hours, allowing his daughter, Abida Sultan, to bag the ninth after the 24-hour gong had sounded. Once Princess Abida was driving Sultan Jahan Begum from Bhopal to Chiklod when they suddenly came across a tiger walking on the road. Princess Abida was stopped from shooting the tiger by their family doctor who was accompanying them, as Begum Sultan Jahan was with them and it was too dangerous. On reaching Chiklod, Sultan Jahan said aloud to her son Hamidullah, “Mian today, your daughter ducked the challenge of shooting a tiger. She will have to pay the usual penalty of sacrificing a bakra (goat) to make for her lack of courage. We don’t expect this kind of cowardice from our family members”! The seventy-year old matriarch who was not herself a shikari, expected mere fourteen-year old girl to shoot a tiger when there was no one else in the car remotely familiar with shikar. Such were the expectations of the family matriarchs, even from the girls of the family.
Edward, Prince of Wales (later to become King Edward VIII and then Duke of Windsor) visited Bhopal from 2nd till 5th February 1922. The Prince went to Kachnaria to shoot big game, particularly tigers for which Bhopal was famous. Gandhi was waging his anti-British struggle and had called on the Indian people to boycott the Prince of Wales visit. Gandhi’s influence had not penetrated in to the princely states. However, the carefully planned tiger shoots suffered a rude shock when the chief guest failed to even sight a tiger, while some of his staff (like Dickie Mountbatten) shot more than one each. The famous shikari, Nawab Nasrullah Khan, explained away his embarrassment by insisting that it was the spell cast by Mr Gandhi that had led to the disappearance of all the tigers! Since his appeal to boycott the Prince’s visit had been ignored by the people of Bhopal, Mr Gandhi had made the tigers to comply! But the most extraordinary event followed soon, Prince went missing for more than twelve hours from his tent that night.
Nawab Nasrullah along with his trusted shikari Najibullah Khan were guarding the tent during night, when mysteriously the Prince disappeared. At breakfast, there was still no sign of the Prince, investigations indicating that the Prince must have been kidnapped soon after dinner. Nawab Nasrullah, choking with shame and desperation, sat cursing the ‘old villain’ Gandhi, while Najibullah Khan threatened to commit suicide!
However, the Prince soon returned to his tent, safe and sound. It transpired that, unhappy at being the only member of his party who failed even to sight a tiger, the Prince decided that his hosts had been overcautious for his safety and had deliberately avoided taking him where his life might have been exposed to danger by encountering a tiger. He had, therefore, decided to make his own solo attempt and slipped out of camp unnoticed. The Prince then having lost his bearings in the dark, roamed around in the jungles eagerly looking forward to bagging his tiger on foot, alas without success! Only after daybreak, was the Prince able to find his way back to camp. The Prince returned to Bhopal and was given a royal send-off. In order to maintain Bhopal’s honor as a tiger shooting paradise, it was announced in the press that the Prince had bagged three tigers (report in the London Times of 7th February 1922).
Many magnificent shikargahs of Bhopal have been lost for ever, while some have been converted to reserve forests, continuing the legend of Bhopal big games. The shooting of course, has long acquired the happily changed meaning, with the cameras replacing the guns. Another legacy that continues from the glory days of Bhopal shikar is the open military jeeps that were extensively used for shikar during the nawab era. Nawab Hamidullah had ordered twenty-six jeeps to Ford, London. These were transported to Bombay by ship. After being driven by road to Bhopal, they were modified by the Bhopali mechanics to suit the India conditions, giving birth to the tradition of Bhopali modified open military jeeps. The jeeps are still a rage among many Bombay film stars, Indian politicians and the Bhopalis. These modified jeeps can still be seen on Bhopal roads, by the side of the latest luxury cars and winning the race of turning heads hands down.