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General view Ispola & Sultan Kheyl villages, showing Buddhist Tope.

General view Ispola & Sultan Kheyl villages, showing Buddhist Tope.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(42)

Item number: 42

Length: 17.7

Width: 31.2

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of the ruined Buddhist stupa called the Sphola Stupa overlooking scattered villages in a valley of the Khyber Pass, 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.

The stupa dates from the 2nd to the 5th century AD and lies between Ali Masjid and Landi Kotal. It consists of a dome resting on a three-tiered square base and stands as testament to the Buddhist era in the region when the Khyber was within the empire of the Kushanas. Gandhara sculpture has been excavated at this site in the early 20th century.

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