Alexan­der Burnes

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS - From Alexan­der Burnes, Trav­els into Bokhara, Eland Press 2012.

Sent to In­dia aged just six­teen to make his for­tune, Burnes soon re­vealed an ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent for lan­guages, com­bined with a boy­ish charm, in­sa­tiable cu­rios­ity and ir­re­press­ible en­thu­si­asm. By the age of 26 he had so im­pressed his su­pe­ri­ors that he was en­trusted with the task of jour­ney­ing up the In­dus, os­ten­si­bly with a gift of horses from the King to the Maharajah of La­hore. In re­al­ity he was act­ing as a diplo­mat and spy, as­sess­ing both the ter­ri­tory and the cal­i­bre of the war­rior-king­doms on the western fron­tier of Bri­tish In­dia.

On en­ter­ing the first court of the palace, we were re­ceived by Raja Di­han Sing, a fine soldier-like look­ing per­son, dressed in ar­mour, by whom we were con­ducted to the door of the palace. While stoop­ing to re­move my shoes at the thresh­old, I sud­denly found my­self in the arms and tight em­brace of a diminu­tive old-look­ing man, - the great Ma­haraja Run­jeet Sing. He was ac­com­pa­nied by two of his sons, who like­wise em­braced Mr. Leckie and my­self; when the Ma­haraja con­ducted me by the hand to the in­te­rior of his court...all of us were seated on sil­ver chairs, in front of his High­ness.

The Ma­haraja made var­i­ous com­pli­men­tary re­marks; asked par­tic­u­larly af­ter the health of his Majesty the King of Great Bri­tain; and, as we had come from Bom­bay, en­quired for Sir John Mal­colm. When we had been seated a short time, I in­formed his High­ness that I had brought along with me in safety to La­hore five horses, which his most gra­cious Majesty the King of Eng­land had con­ferred upon him, in con­sid­er­a­tion of the re­la­tions of amity and concord sub­sist­ing be­tween the states, as also a car­riage from the Right Honourable the Gover­nor-Gen­eral of In­dia in to­ken of his Lord­ship’s es­teem. I then added, that the horses were ac­com­pa­nied by a most friendly let­ter from his Majesty’s min­is­ter for the af­fairs of In­dia, which I held in my hand in a bag of cloth of gold, sealed with the arms of Eng­land.

On this the Ma­haraja and his Court, as well as our­selves, rose up, and his High­ness re­ceived the let­ter, and touched his fore­head with the seal. The let­ter was then handed to his min­is­ter, Uzeez-o-Deen, who read a Per­sian trans­la­tion of it in the pres­ence of the whole Court. As the con­tents of the doc­u­ment were un­folded, the Ma­haraja gave ev­i­dent symp­toms of his sat­is­fac­tion, and when the let­ter was half read, he said that he would greet its ar­rival by a salute; and a peal of ar­tillery from sixty guns, each fir­ing twenty-one times, an­nounced to the cit­i­zens of La­hore the joy of their King. His High­ness then ex­pressed his in­ten­tion of view­ing the presents, and we ac­com­pa­nied him. The sight of the horses ex­cited his ut­most sur­prise and won­der: their size and colour pleased him: he said they were lit­tle ele­phants and, as they passed singly be­fore him, he called out to his dif­fer­ent Sir­dars and of­fi­cers, who joined in his ad­mi­ra­tion.

The hall of au­di­ence, in which the in­ter­view took place, was built en­tirely of mar­ble, and is the work of the Moghul em­per­ors: part of the roof was gor­geously dec­o­rated by a pav­il­ion of silken cloth stud­ded with jewels. The Ma­haraja him­self wore a neck­lace, arm­lets, and bracelets of emer­alds, some of which were very large. His sword was mounted with the most pre­cious stones. The nobles were like­wise dressed for the oc­ca­sion with jewels, and all the Court ap­peared in yel­low, the favourite colour of the na­tion, which has a gaudy but strik­ing ef­fect.

The ex­er­tion which his High­ness un­der­went seemed to ex­haust him, and we with­drew. Na­ture has, in­deed, been spar­ing in her gifts to this per­son­age, and there must be a mighty con­trast be­tween his mind and body. He has lost an eye, is pit­ted by the small pox, and his stature does not cer­tainly ex­ceed five feet three inches. He is en­tirely free from pomp and show, yet the stud­ied re­spect of his Court is re­mark­able; not an in­di­vid­ual spoke with­out a sign, though the throng was more like a bazaar than the Court of the first na­tive Prince in these times.

All im­ages in the public do­main

Above: Alexan­der Burnes

Be­low, left to right; Run­jit Singh and his Suwar­ree; Fort at La­hore; paint­ing of Ran­jit Singh; litho­graph of orig­i­nal wa­ter­colour paint­ing of Ma­haraja Ran­jit Singh c. 1835–40 by Ji­van Ram

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