National Geographic : 1940 Dec
In the Realms of the Maharajas BY LAWRENCE COPLEY THAW AND MARGARET S. THAW With Illustrations from Photographs by Mr. Thaw T HmE Grand Trunk Road lay wide and straight before us, its thin ribbon of macadam vanishing off into the heat haze of the distance. After months of lurch ing through potholes or clattering endlessly over corrugated roads, its comparative silken smoothness was a blessed joy. What mattered it that the road's great width, except for the single-track macadam strip, was ankle-deep in choking white dust; or that the endless stream of oxcarts, plodding a steady two miles an hour, invariably chose the central, surfaced portion while their driv ers recuperated from labors in a deathlike sleep no horn could disturb? We had reached India, our goal of five months of continuous and arduous travel. Behind us lay the sprawling frontier city of Peshawar, which we had first glimpsed after leaving the twistings of the Khyber Pass. Ahead lay the whole of the great peninsula, with its fifty centuries of still-preserved tradi tions and customs, awaiting our cameras (map, page 729).* War's Upheaval Threatens Ancient Ways The fateful war that we had feared during our journey through western Europe, the Bal kans, and Turkey had finally exploded when we reached Syria. Its mutterings had been audible in Iraq, in the feverish activity of the British Royal Air Force; and in Iran, where the fear of the great bear across the Oxus never died down. It became almost inaudible in the mountain fastnesses of Afghanistan, but awak ened to a new crescendo in the big concentra tion camp we passed near Rawalpindi in the Punjab. We were in time; but only just. How many of India's customs of five thousand years would survive this upheaval? A scant forty miles southeast of Lahore we turned to the right for an eight-mile run into the Punjab State of Kapurthala. Its Ma haraja had invited us to visit him, and we looked forward with keen anticipation to our first contact with princely India. Here we had our initial experience with that most wonderful Indian institution, the guest palace. Luxurious beyond belief, ultramodern in appointments, staffed with a fantastic num ber of magnificently uniformed and highly effi cient servants who anticipate every desire, its great expanses and perfect service would satisfy the most sybaritic mortal. Startling to us was the contrast between its oriental vast ness and the cramped confines of our trailer, and strange, too, after five months on tinned rations, seemed the perfect French cuisine served in a virtual banquet hall. In the huge rambling main palace we dined with His Highness, sampling the highly spiced and curried Indian fare, chiefly rice, served in a host of small bowls. We lunched with his daughter-in-law, Princess Brinda, and met two of her exceedingly attractive daughters, Our milla and Sushilla, as well as her sister, the Princess Kamla of Jubbal. All of the ladies wore brilliantly hued saris that turned Peggy green with envy and sent Larry and John Boyle, our cameraman, into the seventh heaven of a color photographer. When the Maharaja expressed a desire to inspect our land yacht, and we brought it over to the palace, an honor guard of elephants was drawn up. It was a delightful taste of the boundless hospitality of the East, and after a three-day visit we left with reluctance. But a hundred miles farther along the Grand Trunk Road lay the premier state of the Punjab, Patiala, and the Maharaja's birthday was about to be cele brated with a durbar. We wanted to pre serve, with our color motion pictures, as many records of the pomp and circumstance of medieval Indian ceremony as possible. In the shifting sands of world affairs these could easily be swallowed up forever. Haircuts Shunned by Warrior Sikhs Patiala is a stronghold of the Sikhs, those stalwart, over-six-foot, bearded fighting men of the north, who have furnished Britain with some of her finest troops for nearly a century. Most of them use the term "Singh," meaning "lion," in their names; and very aptly does it describe this race of warriors. One of their distinguishing characteristics is the fact that they never cut their hair. We were privileged to watch and film the exceed ingly complicated toilet of an officer of the Maharaja's army as he prepared for the birth day durbar. Raven locks, reaching to the waist, were twisted into a topknot on the head and securely * See "Along the Old Silk Routes," by Mr. and Mrs. Thaw, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, Octo ber, 1940.