Curzon in the Himalayas

For ten days in September of 1900 the Princely State of Chamba hosted the visit
of the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon and his household. Tours of different parts of
the subcontinent were a regular feature of the Viceregal calendar and combined
opportunities for leisure and diplomacy. In Chamba the Viceregal party stayed in
the newly constructed Residency and spent their days hunting, shooting and
inspecting the changes that Raja Sham Singh had made to his capital. At the end
of the visit Sham Singh presented Curzon with a large half-leather bound album
recording the occasion in a series of photographs of the Viceregal group, the Raja
and his entourage, and a series of general architectural and topographical views
of Chamba Town and surrounding countryside.

Opening the album are two full-length portrait photographs: in the first the Viceroy
carrying a riding crop is clad in hunting jacket, sola topee and leather boots; the
second is of Raja Sham Singh with talwar, turban and Rajput moustache. The
contrast between the two men is not as great as these photographs suggest: the
idea of the Mughal tradition of touring appealed to the traditionalist in Curzon and
he used these occasions to bind regional rulers to his Imperial project. For Sham
Singh the Viceroy’s visit presented the chance to show his enlightened character
and to demonstrate the dedicated efforts he had made to modernise this small
Himalayan Kingdom.

Taking the Viceroy’s visit as a jumping-off point, Dr. Nicola Thomas (University of Exeter) and I will be visiting Chamba in August 2017 to investigate the complex relationships that existed between Viceroy and Raja, colonizer and colonized and between Britain and India.

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