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Shadi Begiar, mouth of Khyber, from Sarkai Hill, left of pass.

Shadi Begiar, mouth of Khyber, from Sarkai Hill, left of pass.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(12)

Item number: 12

Length: 20.2

Width: 30.6

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph taken at the mouth of the Khyber Pass, the Shadi Bagiar, by John Burke in 1878. John 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, in partnership at first with 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 Khyber Pass is a 33 mile (53 km) long passage which cuts through the spurs of the Hindu Kush mountain range in the North West Frontier Province, now in Pakistan. It runs between Pakistan and Afghanistan and is of historic importance as a gateway between central Asia and the Indian sub-continent. The photograph reveals the arid cliffs beheld by the Peshawar Valley Field Force at the entrance of the Pass.

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