Travels Into Bokhara, By Alexander Burnes


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The Independent Culture

In the 1820s, a quick-witted 26-year-old Scotsman was despatched to the Maharajah of Lahore with the odd gift of four drayhorses (taken for peculiar elephants when they landed).

Familiar with India from the age of 16, Burnes was actually spying out the terrain and resources of kingdoms adjoining British territory. The wealth of these rulers was indicated by one princely bauble: the Koh-I-Noor subsequently became an adornment of our own royal family. His later ventures into Afghanistan demonstrated that the perils this spartan land presents to incomers are nothing new.

Burnes published an account of his mission, which became an instant bestseller. For visitors to India and armchair travellers alike, Burnes remains a most personable companion.