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Pre-partition

Murree hill station was founded by the British in 1851 to serve as a comfortable retreat away from the heat of plains. In 1863, Murree was officially declared as the summer capital of Punjab, recreational and summer training camp for British infantry units. While the establishment of Convalescent Depot at Murree started in 1851, by 1870 barracks for native officers/ soldiers were completed in neighbouring ridges such as Cliffden, Gharial, Barian and Kuldana. Quartering of European soldiers continued thereafter.

Kuldana, means “way or high place” in the vernacular and was also known as “British Infantry Lines” in the 19th century. Besides military training, Kuldana was also a hub of recreational activities for the British Army owing to its pristine location. The British carved some essence of England in Murree, making Kuldana their home away from home. There is a long scroll of names of renowned British Regiments that camped here. Prominent amongst those were Bedfordshire Regiment, Devonshire Regiment, West Yorkshire (Prince of Wales’s Own) Regiment, Gordon Highlanders, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and so on.

There still hangs a mist of nostalgia from a bygone era over Kuldana Cantonment. Many 19th century buildings have been preserved in their original state and their graceful style is a living testimony to the architectural aesthetics of that period. Barracks, cook houses, horse stables and living quarters made of only lime mortar (mixture of sand and lime) instead of cement, these barracks have survived for more than a century.

The Kuldana Water Tanks built on the summit of a ridge near are living proof of the genius of British engineering. The 40,000 gallons tanks made of imported iron sheets have resisted rust and wear for over a century. In addition, the 95,000 gallons underground tank continues to be the mainstay of British water supply scheme, originally executed under the supervision of British Engineer J.D. Broad Bent in 1894.

60 bedded British Military Hospital (BMH) was set up in Kuldana at the turn of the last century. Its wards, surgery and day-care buildings stretched from the current Junior Commissioned Officers’ living at one end, to the present-day Kuldana Café on the other end.

In 1860, when British decided to improve the roads around Murree, a company of engineers and infantry was sent to Kuldana. It was first time that European outdoor labour was used for such a project. In 1883 most of the project was completed but track from sunny Bank to Kuldana remained “kachaa”, and traveling was “tonga” or “dolee” based (two tonga companies operated here, United Hill Cart and Phoenix).

It is worth mentioning that in 1883 a plan was formulated to establish rail communication from Rawalpindi to Murree (Sunny Bank). It was perceived that Murree would be one of the most easily accessible hill station in India and would promote Kashmir trade too. This however could not materialize.

Small military chapel was constructed at Kuldana near the Water Tanks. It presently serves as officers’ living accommodation, but retains its Gothic-styled architecture. Another noteworthy building with a characteristic colonial architecture is a hall, which has been marvellously conserved recently to house “Pakistan Gallery”.

There are two British-era cemeteries at Kuldana. The smaller and older cemetery (near the present JCO Mess) of 1870s and the larger New Cemetery of 1885 or earlier. Its access is from “Cheeta Mor”.

The famed “Kala Ground” (Black Ground), still retains its peculiar name since 1880s. It was perhaps known by this name because of coal storage here, or owing to the “black top” British parade ground where Guard mounting, Gun salutes, Parade reviewing and March-pasts were conducted. However, it has officially been renamed as “Mujahid Shaheed Ground” in the memory of Major Mujahid Shaheed, a student of ASL, who was martyred in the “Salala” incident.

The former Theatre serves as a multi-purpose auditorium (Logistician Hall) these days. It was established to provide amusement to the soldiers and families residing in Kuldana. In the 19th century Murree Amateur Dramatic Group performed plays, musicals and pantomimes involving local amateur thespians. With the advent of cinema in 20th century silent movies were screened here and even now it is used to play documentaries and films on special occasions.

Kuldana Cottage (House No:9), a double storey wooden structure built in 1903, where Garrison Commander of Murree once resided and the Devonshire Cottage where commanding officer of the 2nd Devonshire Regiment resided, serves as living accommodation for officers to this day.

The old Recreational Ground surrounded by tall pine trees is now more popularly known as the Cricket Ground. Although it is easily accessible by road via Dariya Gali, however, the real charm lies in exploring it on foot via the 3.5 km Kuldana Trail (old Bridle Path). One end of the ground is adorned by majestically carved 1st Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince Wales’s Own) memorial and displays regimental motto; “Nec Aspera Terrent” (means “Nor rough scare”, or in simple phrase “Hardships can’t deter us”).

Old maps of Kuldana indicated presence of Firing Ranges which had over the years passed into oblivion. However, these were recently re-identified and revived to offer yet another sporting opportunity for enthusiasts to sharpen their shooting skills in a hill-station setting. Moreover boxing and skiing were favorite sports here, out of which skiing is being revived.

An aerial survey conducted few years ago, established that Kuldana has the dense forest cover in the entire Murree region. Indeed, Kuldana serves as a sanctuary teeming with rare species of flora and fauna. An interesting story from 1920s is often told about a time when the guards entered the battalion commander’s office after hearing some sounds, to find a black panther sitting on commanding officer’s chair. As quoted in a book, Mystique of Murree: “Two pairs of red eyes glowing in the dark were unnerving to say the least. But when the panther leapt over the heads of the stunned guards in a glaring show of rippling muscles and strength and disappeared through the open door into the dark night, the guards half-fainted with relief”. Scottish Regiment (Highlanders) stationed at Kuldana were famous in local as “Baqra Regiment”, as they traditionally marched with goat leading their battalion as their “Mascot”.

The Photo Gallery and Library displays old pictures and rare maps of the Kuldana Cantonment for visitors. Other interesting remnants of the Victorian era include:

  • The British Officers Quarters built in 1873.
  • British era “Orderly Room” / “Adjutant’s Office constructed in 1888”.
  • The Commandants House constructed in 1889 as the residence of the British Battalion Commander.
  • The ASL HQ building, constructed in 1902, was the former HQ of British regiments stationed here.
  • The present-day Gymnasium is actually an old Rackets Court (older version of squash court) built in 1897. Here, Mr. Majeed Khan of  Nawa Killi, won his first title in British India at the turn of 19th century.