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Letter from Gertrude Bell to her father, Sir Hugh Bell

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Bell, Sir Thomas Hugh Lowthian
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
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Chirol, Valentine
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1 letter, paper
India ยป Udaipur

24.585445, 73.712479

Oudeypore (or Udaipur is I see the official spelling). Monday 12. Dearest Father. This time I will begin by answering your letters and Mother's which I generally leave to the end and am hurried and don't do at all. You are the best of correspondents! We got a delightful mail this morning describing Moll's misadventures and your absurd Christmas. We were rather perturbed about Mother's malady and are delighted to hear that she is all right again; I hope the ditty Moll recovered quickly. Grandpapa doesn't sound very flourishing, poor old dear. We are much thrilled about the NER board and wonder if you are a director by this time. Of course they will make you chairman of the Tees Conservancy - you are becoming the Important Person, aren't you! I also congratulate Mother upon her leap into public life and warmly approve. We were much interested by your Bodley news of the week before - it looks as if they are feeling rather shaky. But I'm sorry the delay is going to prevent your going abroad. Perhaps however Grandpapa's health would have done so. Will you tell us quite frankly whether if anything happened to him - which I don't suppose it will - you would like us to return? We'll do exactly what you like, but our own inclination would be to go on with our programme unless you want us, in which case we would of course come home at once. I must really go on with my diary letter from when I left off, which was Wed. for I have so much to say! H. [Hugo] told you about the Native Followers. It was the most wildly fantastic thing and every mad fancy of the human imagination was brought to life in it. I can't think that some of their plans can have been useful in war. For instance the armed men on stilts had to mount from an elephant and if you cut a few inches off one of their stilts they must have been useless for the rest of the battle. For a barbaric show it was a barbaric show: when you have elephant carriages and naked dancing Arabs and rearing elephants and horses that walk on their hind legs (one of the riders fell off over the tail just in front of us to our great delight) and men in coats of mail riding on camels and so on and so on, all jumbled up in one procession, your mind begins to whirl. Especially as each detachment played his own remarkable discordant air with entire disregard of the others. The Burmese passed like a breath[?] of silence in the middle of the turmoil - walking softly in junk shoes and beating the most delicious melodious, hauntingly melodious, gongs. One savage out of God knows where came past on an elephant beating elephantine kettle drums for all he was worth till he got just in front of the Viceroy, when he seized the occasion to blow his nose loudly with his fingers. Shouts of joy! They were all parked outside the arena and I walked round with Domnul for nearly an hour before it [sic] began photographing them and talking to them. It was fun! There were those men in hideous masks from Ladakh that one reads of in the travel books; they dance the sacred dances in the Lamasteries, and giants and dwarfs and gold cannons drawn by bullocks and the ahl sarts. I dined with the Gordon Highlanders that evening - Sibyl and I, we were the guests of a charming little cousin of hers. It was most amusing. They were quite charming people, though they did run away so often in S.A.! After dinner we all drank the King's health and a band outside played God Save the King. Then the desert [sic] was handed round and then the end of the tent opened and in walked the most magnificent piper playing a dirge on the pipes - round and round the mess tent, till it was opened for him again to disappear. In a minute or two he came back followed by 12 others, and they all swaggered round and played tunes for half an hour. In the middle, the first piper came in by himself, stood behind the Colonel and gave our health in Gaelic and drank off a bumper of port at one gulp. He was wounded, that man, through the arm and through the bagpipes at Elandslaagte. Susan was also there. Sibyl has been ill the whole time, a violent cold and throat and chest that won't go. I left her at Delhi still very bad. She doesn't like the people she is with (nor do I) and I feel rather unhappy about her. However we shall see her next week as we pass through, if she is still there. On Thursday Arthur lent us poneys [sic] and we rode to the review, left our poneys in the hands of an obliging person and got most excellent seats in the stand next to Diana and the Dunlop Smiths. It was splendid. The native cavalry are a magnificent sight. The 9th were wildly cheered - rather monstrous, I thought, Lord C. [Curzon] must have raged! The Rajas led their own Imp. Service troops. Little Patiala in gold Raja clothes made a gorgeous salute and old Nabha, also in cloth of gold, went by saluting all the time with one hand and holding a prancing Arab with the other. He's a very fine old man and did I tell you that at the Sikh tamasha he came in walking barefoot as a protest against the luxury of the age? Bikaner led his camel corps and the Maharaja's brother the Kashmiri troops. Bikaner is a perfect English gentleman - a little dark, but quite English. Someone told me how he had caught his breath suddenly one day when he was dining with this English king at hearing him say to one of his guests "Do have some of this stew - it was cooked by my favourite wife." The finest thing of all was the charge of the Imp. Service cavalry - absolutely unsurpassed. They stopped dead from the canter and scarcely dressed at all. I loved the heavy guns drawn by 8 pairs of bullocks. We rode on after the Review and lunched in Sikkim with the Whites. (He is Resident and a charming person) They have the most enchanting little Tibetan dogs, black and oh, angels! Tell Him. And their tents are Tibetan embroidered all over with the signs of wealth, elephant tusks, incense burners, caskets of jewels and sticks of coral, and on the top Buddhist emblems, the Wheel of the Law and the Lotus. Mr White is a great mountain lover and we swore friendship over hills. He showed me wonderful photographs he had taken and also a photograph of what do you think? the Lama's palace in Lhassa taken by a native! there are only 2 copies in the world and the Lama would be raging mad if he knew. The Raja of Sikkim had not come but sent his son, the Kunwa, a charming little Tibetan brought up by the Whites and quite English as to education. The result is he declares he won't marry an uneducated Sikkim woman and they are put to it to find him a bride. Last year there came up to Sikkim the daughter of the Chinese exiled reformer, Kang Yin I think his name is, a most attractive intelligent girl who was just going to America for 2 years to finish her education. Mr White has his eye on her. If when she comes back the old Empress of China is still alive, her father will still be an exile and the heir to Sikkim no bad match for her, but if the Empress dies Kang Yin will come back to power and his daughter can marry the greatest in the land. Such is the tale of the romance of the Kunwa. The camp is all set round with praying flags, the wind says the prayers. The other day when the D. of Connaught visited the Camp the Kunwa said "This Camp has been very lucky - I think it must be because of our good praying flags." He is a Buddhist of course - or rather a Lama-ist. I asked him whether he would make a pilgrimage to Lhassa and he said "Some day." We dined with Arthur at a little restaurant near the Exhibition and talked East all the evening. He told us tales of the mysterious transmission of news among natives, things that had come into his own experience and that were quite inexplicable. I have heard wise people say it must be done by some form of telepathy - there is no possible way of accounting for it. The most famous instance lately was that the death of the old Amir was known in Calcutta bazaars 2 days before the news came to Europeans by wire from the frontier. Arthur also told us of a commercial traveller he knows who goes up regularly into forbidden Afghanistan to trade with the Amir. But he won't talk about Kabul for he knows it would cost him his head. The Amir has spies everywhere. On Friday I was wonderfully energetic. I went out riding at 8 into Old Delhi to see tombs and ruined towns. H. wouldn't come as he had travel business to do. I rode in the delicious early morning through the town and out into the plain beyond - that plain which is covered with the remains of 9 Delhis. First I went to a place called Ferozabad, built by Feroz Shah the grandson of Tughlakh whose tomb I told you about. It is a great confusion of fortifications, half fallen, half standing, and in the middle of it, on a 3 storied pyramid stands one of the famous columns erected by Asoka in the 3rd cent BC and inscribed with the precepts of Buddhism, which was then the paramount religion of N. India. I left my horse with a little boy and climbed up to the polished sandstone column, on which a Sanscrit inscription proclaims the Master, the Law and the Order. These Lats of Asoka are the oldest things in India. Then I rode on to Indrapat, a great walled town which was the earliest Delhi of BC 2000. All that one sees, however, is Mogul work, though they say that there are Aryan foundations. Anyway it's a wonderful place, enormous great gateways crowned with pavilions, the home of vultures, and inside mud hovels in which a miserable population of Hindus live. A charming old Muhammadan showed me round - in Urdu, mark you! There is a wonderful mosque, Pathan; Atlamsh, the Kutub man built it I think. It is fine building! all the merits of the beginning of a great style, for it is the forerunner of the Mogul buildings. Don't you know how a style finds its feet? timidly, almost, not venturing on the elaboration of its later perfection, but with all the noble plan and the bold mastery of difficulties which are to carry it into the forefront of architecture. My friend took me up into a high standing pavilion from whence I looked out over the desolate city and beyond the walls to the countless domes and towers of later Delhis. As I rode back through the streets, I saw, and stopped to photograph, a potter turning his wheel in the sunshine. He was like the moral of a Persian poet as he sat turning, turning the dust of dead empires into water jars. "How many kisses -" do you remember Omar Khayyam's verse about the lip of the jar? When I left, my guide presented me with 2 oranges and his blessing in return for my tip. So I rode on for a mile along a sandy lane, between ruined tombs, to the great tomb of Humayun, the second Mogul. It is the first of that splendid series of tombs which they built for themselves and which culminates in the Taj. It has another and more tragic interest, for it was here that Hodson captured and shot the last descendants of Humayun after the Mutiny. A small boy took me on to a charming group of marble tombs close by, one the tomb of a very holy man, a Chisti, the same family as our guide at Fattehpore Sikri [Fatehpur Sikri]. It is a charming white marble pavilion and it was full of worshippers and incense and flowers. Near to it is the simple grave of Jehanara, Shah Jehan's daughter, who followed her father into captivity when Aurungzeb dethroned and imprisoned him. She begged to have no great pile built over her and the grass grows up between the marble curb stones. Behind is the grave of the poet Khusrau of great Indian fame - the Parrot of India he was called, but I remember that Hafez thought very little of him, for there is a verse in which he says, in allusion to Khusrau, that his own rhymes, child of a single night, can yet travel over deserts and high seas and put to shame the sugar loving birds of India - which can't fly to Persia, be it well understood. I don't know Khusrau's Baghi Behar, the Garden of Spring, but I should think it wouldn't stand before Hafez. Then I rode home and got in at 12, famished, and packed and lunched and drove off with H. to the station to see about our luggage being registered and so for a final tea party on the Polo Ground and the "Rajputana [Rajasthan] Chiefs at Home." They had lined all the roads leading up to it with men in armour - rather smart. The polo final was going on Alwar against Jodhpore [Jodhpur] (a walkover for Alwar but a magnificent game) and we sat and eat ices and talked to Mrs Moncrieff and Edyth Muir - with whom we are bosom friends - Mr Schuster, Flora and Arthur till it was time to fly home, jump into our travelling clothes and rush to the station. Thanks to Col. Olivier we had a sleeper entirely to ourselves and after a most luxurious journey, reached Ajmer at 3 on Saturday afternoon. At Jaipur we fell in with Spencer Lyttelton, who was very friendly. At Ajmer we stayed with Mrs Olivier in a delightful Dak Bungalow belonging to the Railway people. She sent to meet us and had tea all ready for us and then left us to ourselves, which was most kind. So we strolled out and walked through beautiful gardens down to the Lake, which we reached at sunset - oh so beautiful! with marble pavilions built, I need hardly say, by Shah Jehan, all along the edge of it and a jagged wonderful line of hills, with the white town creeping up the sides of them. Here we again met Spencer L. - exactly the right person, so enthusiastic and delightful about it all. There was a touch of Italian perfction and simplicity which one rarely gets in India, and added to it the lovely unfamiliar forms of the Hindu builders who toiled to the glory of the Moguls. Next morning we woke with such a peaceful sense of being out of crowds and dust and far away from the Durbar! Mrs O. did not appear at breakfast - we were not sorry as she is a silly tiresome woman rather - so H. and I went our own way and drove down at 10 into the town to see all the fine places. The finest is a ruined mosque built by Kutub ud Din - they say actually by the same architect who built the Kutub mosque at Delhi - a marvel of delicate wonderful detail and bold fine outline. The screen of arches in front of the mosque are the most beautiful shape and curve I ever remember to have seen. They are not true arches with keystones, but just openings in the wall. The Hindus didn't know how to make a keyed arch and all the early Muhammadan things built by Hindus are of Persian design, indeed, but Hindu methods. The temple itself is all of beautiful Jain columns, a grove of them. Then we drove to Mayo College, the great Rajput College, but unfortunately found it in vacation and no one in authority there, so we came home and spent the rest of the day quietly, till tea time, when we went off to the station and dined there and started for Udaipur. Again we had a most comfortable journey with a carriage to ourselves - we are the most skilful of Indian travellers! - the only drawback was that we had to change at Chitor [Chittaurgarh] at 2 AM, a bitter cold morning and I with the Delhi throat, which everone has (but it's better), coughing my head off. However as soon as we got into our new train we made our servant Muni (a treasure!) make us tea and then went peacefully to sleep again till 8 when we arrived. Mr Chirol has not been able to come with us. His sad story is this - but don't make it public for he may not wish it known -: As he was coming from Peshawar last month, he passed, at dead of a cold night, a place called Saharanpur. Domnul was asleep and was much disgusted when a Babu opened the window, put his head in and shouted "Saharanpur!" Domnul shut the window again and composed[?] himself to sleep. In a minute the Babu came back, opened the window again and shouted very loud and clear in Domnul's ear "Saharanpur!" This was more than Domnul cd stand and he pushed the man away with his hand. Whereat the man came in by the door, very angry, and said "I am medical man, very high offeecial!" and accused Domnul of having assaulted him, evidently wanting 10 rupees. Mr Chirol refused to make any apology but gave his name and address, and when he got to Calcutta and told Walter Lawrence the tale as a joke, and W.L. said "Tell the Viceroy - it'll please him!" But the Viceroy's only comment was to say grimly "Yes, it doesn't do to wake up an Englishman at 2AM!" And last week Domnul received a summons and is now, I expect, answering a charge of assault at Saharanpur! He says he begins to realize the results of the Viceroy's policy and Arthur is delighted and says it couldn't have happened to a better person. Meantime (we must never never say it!) we are rather comfy without him and 2 is far the best party for Indian travel. We are here in clover, the Maharana gives us a carriage with 2 prancing horses, and a boat on the lake, and permits to see everything we want. It is such a lovely place. We think it is not quite as lovely as Taormina but it certainly counts among the most beautiful places in the world. The town stands on the edge of a lake surrounded by wonderful hills and the Maharana's white palace, with all its pavilions and fortress walls, runs along the top of a ridge overlooking town and lake. There are islands in the lake with a white marble palace and gardens on each, and gardens everywhere, full of trees and grass and flowers, not like burnt up India at all. We spent the morning taking a bird's eye view of things and in the afternoon drove down to the the town again and explored it on foot. It is a real Hindu town, temples and shrines at every turn and temples all along the edge of the water with flights of steps leading up to them. The Maharana is a sacred man. He is, as far as anyone is, the direct descendant of the Aryan invaders; one of his ancestors is Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu, his original parent is the Sun, and he is the representative of Shiwa upon Earth. He has not, however, been blessed by all his gods; two of his sons died young and the 3rd and last is a hopeless idiot and is dying now. We wandered through temples, where we were wreathed with garlands of jasmine and along the edge of the lake opposite the palace. I stopped to take a photograph of it on the steps of the temple to Hanuman, the Monkey God, to the great interest of his priest who was a most charming old Hindu and I ended by taking down the name and address of the priest of the Monkey God that I might send him a copy of the photograph! We sat upon the steps of a temple and saw the sun set and the moon rise behind the town, a most exquisite moment. The white palace glowed warm in the sunset and all the sky behind it was blue with moonlight and the cold reflection of the full moon trembled in the lake. As we walked back in the dusk we passed a palace by the edge of the water and a kind person invited us in saying that his master would be delighted to see us. He led us into a delicious court full of mango trees and moonlight and the red glow of a fire over which some cooking was going forward, and we sat in a marble pavilion built out over the lake till the master of the house appeared and bade us welcome in broken English. He was one of the Maharana's officials and had just been with him to Delhi, and he told us tales of tiger shooting in his estate in the hills, and when we rose to go, he called for a scent bottle and drenched our handkerchiefs with scent. This was not the end of our adventures, for as we passed through the town we fell in with a wedding party, the bridegroom, a boy of 12 or so, walking in front with a sword in his hand and the bride following, in her nurse's arms, a tiny baby veiled in a white cloth. Torch bearers and boys beating drums led the procession. So we stopped and wished him long life and many sons, poor little mite, and his torches lighted us half through the town.

Tuesday. [13 January 1903] This morning our prancing horses took us to the Maharana's palace, over which we were shown by various high officials. The old part is most lovely, high courts full of trees and gardens and marble pavilions from whence you look out over the lake and the town. The modern part was tastefully furnished with complete suites of crystal - tables, chairs, beds, everything - and enlarged photographs of Viceroys, and billiard tables and chandeliers. But the building itself was always good and the views from every window more lovely than words can say. In the afternoon the Maharana lent us a boat - he alone may have boats on the lake - and we rowed out to the island palaces, quite indescribably beautiful they are. Some of the modern rooms are decorated with a kind of gesso, excellent good decoration, and some are painted all over with birds and trees and hunting scenes - one entirely with twined lotus flowers and leaves. Imagine this with the shimmer of the sunlit water reflected up through every window. There are little garden courts set round with cloisters and pavilions through which you see the water and the hills and the white town. At sunset we reached the end of the lake and were taken up to a little house, on the edge of the jungle, where we saw the wild pig fed. They come in every afternoon, 200 of them or more, and wait about till dinner time, spending their leisure moments in cheerful but continuous fighting. The doves and the peacocks gather round the outskirts and pick up any chance thing that may come their way. The Dartreys turned up today, only for the day and made the lake expedition in the afternoon. They dined here and have just gone. Nice people. Hugo has a dear friend here called Saligram Vyasji - he is the Maharana's private secretary. He writes H. long letters to ask if we have everything we want and he also came to call to see if we were happy. A most obliging person.

Wed. [14 January 1903] We made an expedition today to some temples which are most sacred. They are 14 miles away over the hills, a delightful, though a dusty, drive, through bare hill country inhabited by aborigines called Bhils. The valleys are full of lakes bordered by great mango trees. Our destination was a place called Eklinji [Eklingji] which is a name for Shiwa. There is a lake there with very old temples round it one of which is supposed to be the place where the first Rana of Chitor [Chittaurgarh], ancestor of the Ranas of Udaipur, was brought up by the savage Bhils. At one end of the lake a flight of stone steps leads up to a deep and narrow valley the entrance of which is barred by a fortress wall. Into this valley we were taken by the Naib Hakim (he corresponds about to the Mayor) of the village who had been told to look after us. The path winds beneath trees and between oleander bushes to a little amphitheatre in the hills where the temple lies. It is so holy that we had to take off not only our shoes but our stocking quite a long way off and plod through the pricky dust barefoot. But it was worth it, for there was Shiwa-ism in full swing, sacred bulls alive and carved in stone and caste in bronze and inside, the four headed linga (which is the phallus, the symbol of the god) and chanting gold robed priests, and naked boys, their mouths bound up by a cloth lest they should breath upon the sacred stone, pouring fresh water continually over it and feeding the trays of incense before it. We were not allowed to go in, but the kind Mayor took us to a little side door through which we looked into the sanctuary. Shiwa is the Creator and the Destroyer of the Hindu Pantheon. He is the circle of Life and Death and Rebirth, Generation, Growth and Decay. Muni has taken to his bed with fever! I think we must have the evil eye for all our servants seem to catch fever. He took to his bed after we left and has had nothing to eat all day, because he is a Hindu and the hotel proprietor a Muhammadan whose food would be unclean! H. [Hugo] has just raked up a Hindu policeman to boil him some eggs!
I have sent a great batch of films to the Phot. Association and I am going to tell them to send the prints to Elsa when they are ready. Will she be an angel and see that they are sent off at once to us at whatever is our address at the time. We think they ought to catch us in Hong Kong perhaps. I loved having Elsa's letter - I hope she will write more and take these long letters for answer because I really haven't time to write much else. Ever your very affectionate daughter Gertrude

The sun has just set and I hear a great fury of drums and Bells in all the temples of the city.

IIIF Manifest