I have several letters from you to answer – your last accompanied one from Jean to Tess with the beautiful undies for Sylvia Ann’s first birthday. We are charmed and delighted with them, both for the gift itself and also because it is very difficult to get such baby things in India. Tess will write Jean by next mail.
We set off on holiday on 3rd August. The River Gurnti having inundated miles and miles of countryside and submerged roads, we had to rule out the car and go by rail. As I had some business to do in Simla, the summer capital (of which more anon) we decided to take in Agra and Delhi on the way so that Tess could see the Taj Mahal and the other glories of Moghul India. We spent two days in each of these places. Good hotels, indeed any hotels are rare in India, but as it is dangerous to stay in any but the best with a child on account of the risk to health, we went to the best. At Agra we had a suite of lounge, bedroom, two dressing rooms and two complete English bathrooms. The lounge and bedroom had Persian carpets but were otherwise in the most modern style with concealed lighting. Although this cost about 30/- a day inclusive of four, it was a better deal than one gets in Scottish Highland Hotels for the same price in the season. Well after dinner in the evening we set out in a dogcart to see the Taj Mahal by moonlight. There was a full moon and it looked a pale unearthly beautiful thing, it has intricately lattice-carved marble like delicate lace. Inside these was beautiful inlaid marble work : semiprecious stones in the form of flowers. The best work was Italian, the inferior by Indian copyists. A white-bearer Mohamedan priest chanted a prayer for Mumtaz Mahal (to whom the Emperor Shahjahan erected the Taj) which echoed with a sweet bell-like note that lingered and at last faded in the dome. Then we came out and sat in a marble seat that looked down on the River Jumma.
Next day we motored 20 miles to visit the Emperor Akbar’s deserted city of Fatepur Sikri. This is in red sandstone and gives one an interesting picture of how the Moghul Emperors lived. Public halls of audience, private halls of audience, chambers for religious discussion, private mosques for worship, ceremonial ornamental baths; various houses or pavilions for his favourite wives and daughters; courtyards laid out in squares where slave-girls were the pieces in a kind of chess. A deep pit between the two walls of the city where the Emperor watched an elephant and tiger fight. Mighty gateways with galleries in which musicians played when the Emperor passed through. Fatepur Sileri was built by Akbar under the influence of a wily priest who guaranteed Akbar a male heir if he (Akbar) sent his wife along. The city was abandoned some 15 years later. Almost every Indian native we met who asked for “backsheesh” told us he was a “descendent of the Saint”.
Next day we visited Agra Fort – also of the time of Akbar and Shahjahan. There are some lovely marble buildings in this, the chief the marble pavilion which looks from a height across at the Taj Mahal and the river about a mile away. The Shahjahan died looking across at the mausoleum to his wife. Whether by change or as an Eastern extravagance, in a tiny red stone – less than a pea in size – inlaid in a design in the marble wall, one can see the whole Taj Mahal and a part of the river mirrored. It is a curious optical phenomenon.
At Delhi our hotel had an open air swimming-pool, and we felt quite at home with so many fine shops. We had only time to glance at the ruins of the six Delhis. The eight Delhi ie New Delhi was in its own way the most interesting. The space at the disposal of Sir Edward Cutyens the arachitect was unlimited and the length of the avenues are amazing. It would be utterly impossible to get about New Delhi on foot. We visited the Durbar Hall and public rooms in Viceregal House, which looks at least as big as Buckingham Palace and later the Council Chamber and Legislature Assembly which are of course more commodious than the House of Commons.
Our next visit was to Simla – a night in the train and a climb by car to 7,000ft. There was not a bed in a hotel available in this hub of India’s Government, and we went out (and higher) six miles by rickshaw through lovely fir clad country to “Wildflower Hall” a hotel that showed itself fitfully amongst the flying mists at just 8,200ft. The surrounding lanes and woodland paths were covered with wild flowers, chiefly geraniums. In Simla I had business in four days out of the seven we stayed. It will take a little explanation. Imperial Airways and other civilian flying concerns at present employ no doctors, but put their pilots in the medical care of the Royal Air Force, who put them through a very searching medical examination and physiological tests every six months. As there are no RAF doctors at Lucknow or round about, it is as medical examiner of pilots in this area that I have been appointed. The Civil Aviation Department therefore required me to attend a short “course” with the RAF Principal Medical Officer in Simla, to learn the requirements and standards. I got the job as eye examination is important. It should bring in a few fees and I can remain an authorized examiner wherever I happen to be stationed.
Simla gives the impression of a quite unimportant country town, with church, small but good shops, while the absence of motor traffic (as here in Naini Tal) adds to that side of the picture. It is difficult therefore to realize its importance as Government Headquarters and that every office holds a Director of something or other. We walked (rather dusty after walking) one day into a restaurant and it might have been in Princes Street with its band playing and ladies all dressed up complete with hats and gloves. We found Simla very expensive – we knew it would be, but I had to go. A weeks stay cost about £16 although we went to no entertainments and played no games.
At last we left for Naini Tal, where we were to remain for six weeks on holiday. It was a tiring journey about 30 hours by rail and car. In the train, Sylvia Ann came to the restaurant car and took her breakfast like a lady – so nicely in fact did she take her porridge and egg that the waiter charged her nothing.
You have already seen a picture of Naini Tal’s beauties and so far we have spent our time chiefly in walking amongst the wooded slopes. This still being the rainy season, no place in India is ideal for a holiday just now but we have had bright sunny intervals each day. The temperature remains about 60º. During our stay here I am to receive a “command” to test His Excellency The Governor of United Provinces Sir Harry Haig’s eyes. His summer quarters are here. We are staying in a boarding house here.
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I was much interested to hear that you and Jean were returning to Courbank at Aberfeldy, and sorry also to hear of Mrs Macfarlane’s illness. It would have been grand to be back in the old house. The hillsides here are very like the Aberfeldy ones and today we explored an unoccupied cottage on the slopes and wished we could have it for our country house.
I was interested in the details of cost of publication of the Sage and hope you won’t be out of pocket. What will the published price be ? £2:2:0? If one hundred were sold that would cover half the cost.
Your details as to requirements for the home driving test do not alarm me. Having motored some 8,000 miles under conditions much worse than at home, I believe I might even teach the tester. Indian bazars are more tortuous and narrow than London streets and one cannot depend on either animals or humans doing the right thing.
When on the open road and overtaking a string of bullock carts, three will go to one side, four to the other and the remainder won’t move at all, while the Himalayan hill roads with their hairpin bends and figures-eight at a steep gradient need quick and anticipating gear-changing.
We are reading some of the “Penguin Books” as holiday reading. They cost 6 at ho;me and eight annas here. We both enjoyed Major Asquith’s autobiography which I remember Dad reading some years ago.
Now I think that finishes the news. I enjoyed the Everest flight book very much.
Love from all to both