Letters

3 January 1903

From/To: Gertrude Bell to her stepmother, Dame Florence Bell

Sat. 3rd. [3 January 1903] Mr Landon came to breakfast and he and I rode round the town walls by the edge of the Jumna [Yamuna] and saw no European and looked at the wonderful Mogul buildings of the fort on the city wall, and learnt a lesson - which is, that when you see a row of white vultures sitting on the trees like so many big hens, you should not ride up to them with eager interest, but, on the contrary, turn in another direction. They are not there without good cause. Hugo had Malone to lunch and I lunched with Mrs Tyler, Mrs Terry's[?] sister. The Tylers are in Kitchener's camp, but it was not very amusing because Gen. Tyler, wasn't there. I'll tell you who was there: a brother and sister in law of Captain Battine! and he's here too, did I tell you? The brother is really quite nice and I liked the sister in law. Mr Strachey, the son of Sir Richard, dropped in to tea - he comes quite often and is very nice. We dined early and went to the Investiture in the Mogul palace. It was a fine show, but I felt about it that for magnificence you can't outdo an official party in London, not with all the turbans and jewels in the world. Still it was rather thrilling to see Lord C. [Curzon] sitting before Aurungzib's throne, and the procession of Star of India people. Rajas and Englishmen and Frontier Chiefs, all walking together. We came away after the first lot were invested - which we ought not to have done, I Bellieve, but most people did. We heard after that Lord C. had been very angry, but fortunately he didn't know that it was us, poor man!

On Sunday 4th [4 January 1903] I drove up in the morning to see Lady Arthur who is better, but still in bed, and borrowed Flora's saddle for a long expedition next day and arranged that Gilbert should come with us. Directly after lunch I went to a Mahommadan Conference to which I had been invited by Mr Morison, the head of the Aligarh College. I stepped onto the platform as bold as brass (in my best clothes!) and sat down by Mr Morison who is an enchanting person. He translated for me a rather dull speech in Urdu which was going on. Presently in came the Agha Khan who is head of all the Khoja Mohammadans - his community stretches from Tashkend [Tashkent] to Zanzibar. He is a most curious anomaly. A polished and very well educated, somewhat dark complexioned Englishman, he is at the head of the most bigoted and ignorant seat of Islam. His grandfather used to give private letters of introduction to the Angel Gabriel, to secure his friends a good place in paradise, and that is what he is expected to do now, and can't do. I know him a little; Lord Carlisle introduced me to him. Then appeared Sir Michael Hicks Beach and Lord Pembroke and the meeting became extremely animated. An old man made a capital speech which I understood most of, for he used so much Persian, and Sir Michael made a really excellent little speech. I was the only woman there. After this was over, I shook hands warmly with the Agha Khan, who addressed me in Persian, and bowed myself out. I rather wish I had waited to hear the A. Khan's address, but Hugo was waiting for me at the Massed Bands. There I met Spencer Lyttelton and had a talk with him. We dined with the Martindales, he is head of all Rajputana [Rajasthan] and they are both very nice. The Dunlop Smiths were there, and that Whittaker couple whom I met on the boat between Naples [Napoli] and Smyrna [Izmir] last year, and the Oliviers and all the Rajputana people. I sat by Col. Olivier which was most pleasant and after dinner I talked to an interesting old man, Colonel Loch who has been for 20 years head of the Rajput College at Ajmere [Ajmer]. He doesn't like the Cadet Corps at all; he says that they take away the young men who ought to be diligently learning how to govern from their Residents and make them parade in front of the Viceroy; he says that the gradual breaking down of caste is a great misfortune - you destroy the code of honour that they know and follow and give them nothing with which to replace it; and he told me this story to illustrate how little the English officers of the Cadet Corps are in touch with their boys; Bikanir [Bikaner] has volunteered 200 men of his camel corps for the Somali war; a young Bikanir Rajput who is in the Cadet C. came to Col. Watson and begged him with tears in his eyes to let him go with them - he was a sort of hereditary colonel of the Camel Corps - and Col. W. refused saying that he was wanted for the Durbar shows! The upshot of it all is that you can't form any opinion about anything in this country - there is always so much more than meets the eye. I also made the acquaintance of Major Pinkey who is resident of Oudeypur [Udaipur]. We are going there with Mr Chirol on Friday. The great interest of the Durbar has been the way in which it has brought together people from all parts of the world from Muscat [Masqat] to Burmar [Burma (Myanmar)], so that one has been able to hear so many different points of view. And they are all willing to talk, these people; enchantingly willing, even to an outsider.



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