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Bassaule. The Hill of Caves.

Bassaule. The Hill of Caves.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(66)

Item number: 66

Length: 11.5

Width: 28.9

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph with a view in Basawal looking across the Kabul River towards the face of a hillside covered in Buddhist caves, taken by John Burke in 1878. Burke accompanied the Peshawar Valley Field Force, one of three British Anglo-Indian army columns deployed in the Second Afghan War (1878-80), despite being rejected for the role of official photographer. He financed his trip by advance sales of his photographs 'illustrating the advance from Attock to Jellalabad'. Coming to India as apothecary with the Royal Engineers, Burke turned professional photographer, assisting William Baker. Travelling widely in India, they were the main rivals to the better-known Bourne and Shepherd. Burke's two-year Afghan expedition produced an important visual document of the region where strategies of the Great Game were played out.

The Anglo-Russian rivalry (called the Great Game) precipitated the Second Afghan War. Afghanistan was of strategic importance to the British in the defence of their Indian Empire, and the prevention of the spreading influence of Russia. They favoured a Forward Policy of extending India's frontiers to the Hindu Kush and gaining control over Afghanistan. An opportunity presented itself when the Amir Sher Ali turned away a British mission while a Russian mission was visiting his court at Kabul. The British had demanded a permanent mission at Kabul which Sher Ali, trying to keep a balance between the Russians and British, would not permit.

British suspicions of the Amir's perceived susceptibility to the Russians led them to invade Afghanistan.

From the fort of Ali Masjid at the narrowest point of the Khyber Pass, the route zigzags to a descent. Three miles further on the valley widens with little hamlets on either side. Then comes the Loargi Shinwari plateau, about seven miles long and three in its widest part, ending at Landi Kotal which closes this end of the Khyber and overlooks the plains of Afghanistan. After leaving Landi Kotal the route arrives at the Kabul River and leads to Loe Dakka. Basawal, 10 miles from Loe Dakka, is on the Kabul river east of Jalalabad. The hillside near Basawal is covered with dozens of caves which were ancient Buddhist shrines and preserve the remains of wall paintings. After the successful assault of Ali Masjid, the Peshawar Valley Field Force marched slowly to Jalalabad, the first big city on the Afghan side, engaging in battles en route but also receiving the allegiance of local tribal chiefs who had come to realise that resistance would be futile.

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