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The Punjab 100 years ago


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These pictures are from the Gertrude Bell Archive of photographs,Letters and diaries. - There was a website but it is no longer operational.

Gertrude Bell (1868–1926) was a British Traveller, writer and government official - An Arab expert and one of the builders of Modern Day Iraq- it could be argued she is "responsible" for the "troubles" in the area as she helped draw the boundaries - as the British did in many areas - for the "new" countries. She knew and worked with T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia ) and was largely responsible for the selection of Faisal I (deposed King of Syria) as king of Iraq.

Having said that her knowledge of Arab Culture was unrivalled and she wrote works on the poetry of Hafiz. She was quite a remarkable women who 'accomplished a great many things' 'women' were not allowed to do in those more restricted times. - The Bell Archive is extensive and includes some real gems - she travelled to India in 1903 here are some of her photographs of Amritsar and Punjab

Punjab 100 years ago

The Samadh , Tomb of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Lahore 1903 - note how it is not whitewashed.

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A Lahore Street

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The Sikh village of Mankyala

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Sikh Women at a well

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A domed bullock cart

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A 'Halt' - persian wheel driven by oxen

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The GT Road in 1902 - I love this picture - the GT Road in this picture is little more than a dirt track but there is still a Policeman - probably going to hassle the man with the Bullock cart - He probably asked for 'Cha pani' (bribe) or issued a 'challan' a ticket - probably because the 'Horn' on the bullock wasn't working !!! Boom Boom !! ( I would like to thank Basil Brush circa 1977 - for that atrocious joke !)

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A birds eye view of Amritsar City 1903 - note the victorian clock tower and the huge number of trees - now the Manji Sahib, Teja Singh Samundri Hall and the Serai

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In her letters Gertrude Bell described her trip to Amritsar :

"We all breakfasted together at Lahore and then parted, we to Amritsar where we arrived at 11.30. We drove off through the funny narrow streets - a regular northern town, all wood carving - to the Golden Temple which is the great shrine of the Sikhs. Enchanting people, the Sikhs, one feels at home with them. The temple is built in the middle of a big tank with a stone causeway leading to it. It is really golden in colour, as to the roofs and half the walls - I don't know whether it's gold leaf or what. It's not at all old nor particularly interesting as a building, but extremely picturesque. The tank is set round with beautiful houses belonging to rich Sikhs, and trees under which people sat reading Granth Sahib aloud, and holy men in various states of nakedness bathing in the tank or spread out to dry in the sun. The courts[?] are full of flower sellers, stringing marigold heads and yellow mustard flowers for offerings. We were garlanded on 3 separate occasions by grateful priests to whom we had offered the customary rupee. We also received a great many little baskets made of sugar candy, which we carried about with care as long as we were in the temple and subsequently gave to beggar children. In the temple there was an old party sitting before the very original copy of the Granth (they say) which had an embroidered canopy all to itself. The people came and threw down offerings of pice and cowries and received in return strings of flowers or sugar baskets, according to the amount of the offering. The great feature was the Sikh holy warriors, Akalis they are called, dressed in dark blue or yellow and wearing turbans a yard high stuck full of spear heads and knifes and the Sikh quoit. We were taken through a garden to another tank and another shrine where we received more marigold wreaths and sugar. There were two men outside playing on a sort of lute and singing praises of the Granth, but they can't have been very serious worshippers, for when I stopped to photograph them, I heard them interpolate into the song "and the Memsahib came and took a picture" - all in the same squeaky tune. Perhaps he was telling the Granth about me! "

The Darbar Sahib in 1903

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Akalis on the Marble causeway

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The 'Lute players' mentioned in the above quote

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Ishnaan in 1903

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Delhi 1903

Chandni Chawk 1903

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The Shaheedi purb of Guru Tegh Bahadur - "The Sikh Tamasha" coinicided with the Delhi Durbar of 1903

In this picture we can see the Sangat at Gurdwara Sees Ganj Delhi - the current Gurdwara was built in the 1930s so this is a glimpse of what the previous building looked like.

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Sikh Troops at 'The Sikh Tamasha'

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Hope you enjoy these rare and fascinating photographs !

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I found it by accident ! - maybe a year ago

The Gertrude Bell Archive is housed at the Robinson Library, University of Newcastle. It is a huge collection - 7000 photographs, 1600 letters and 16 diaries - most of the collection documents Middle Eastern Archaeological Sites - but there are stunning photographs of a 'round the world' trip Italy - Turkey- Mid East - Egypt - Iraq - India - SE Asia - Japan - Canada

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