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An Elephant Ride to Chitor

Posted Friday, 22nd November 2019

Hello, from us all at the Angus. We’re back again after quite a while , but we are as busy as ever!

Today on this cold and grey November morning in Oxford I thought it might be good to have a glimpse into  the daily journal of Clara R Southwell . A member of the committee of the Baptist Zenana Mission, Clara  toured India from late 1907 to early 1908 writing vivid accounts of her experiences whilst visiting  Zenana stations across the country. The Baptist Zenana Mission  was established in 1867 with the aim of converting Indian women to Christianity . Female missionaries could visit the private area of houses , the Zenana, where only women were allowed to go.. By the time Clara wrote her journal ,the BZM was involved with education and medicine, setting up many  schools and hospitals, some of which still exist today. In this extract written in mid November 1907, Clara is off to Chitor , also known as Chittor or Chittaugarh, now a major city and municipality in Rajasthan and she wasn’t so keen on her means of transport….

I cannot say I enjoyed my elephant ride. The animal kneels down and one climbs up by a ladder on to a flat padded seat on his back, which has an iron railing all round to keep one from from falling off. We had to sit back to back,with our legs dangling over the elephants sides. It is a horrible sensation when he gets up and one is jolted first one side and then the other. I was thoroughly uncomfortable and more than half frightened all the way; and when the beast went down a steep bank and up the other side , and forded the river, it was decidedly terrifying. One could feel that he was very sure footed by the careful way he put down each foot, and he went at a slow steady pace throughout. We had to go about 3/4 of a mile across a bit of jungly plain-the dark mass of the ancient  city facing us. Chitor stands on a mass of rock rising out of the plain at an angle of 45 degrees, and 3 1/2 miles long across the top-the width of the rock at the top is only 1200 ft. It is surrounded by a high massive stone wall, with curious battlements, pierced for firing from , and with fine bastions. The road is not very steep  but much zigzagged, and one is mounting all the while….then one passes under 7 fine stone gateways before reaching the fairly level gateway at the top, on which the city stands, or rather stood. For it is a mass of ruins…We were there at sunset and the light was wonderful . We went into Padmans (sic) palace (13th century) all blue and white , with a smaller palace on an island in the middle of the lake….

Chitor is now quite deserted  and wild animals live in the jungles on the slope of the hill. It is a weird and fascinating place  with its reminders of ancient chivalry and cruelty As soon as the sun set we started out on the return journey. Fortunately for us it was bright moonlight, or it would not have been pleasant crossing the jungle. Instead of fording the river we crossed it by the fine old 14th century bridge, and altogether had not so much jolting as before. However, we were all thankful to reach the Dak Bungalow near the Railway Station, and get on to terra firma again-the next day my arms and shoulders were quite stiff from holding on so tight to the iron bar, for fear of being pitched off the elephant’s back.

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