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Sharp turn in the defile [below Ali Masjid], a very rough bit.

Sharp turn in the defile [below Ali Masjid], a very rough bit.

Photographer: Burke, John

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1878

Shelfmark: Photo 487/(33)

Item number: 33

Length: 23.1

Width: 29.1

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Photograph of the rocky defile below the Ali Masjid fortress in 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 Khyber Pass is a 33 mile long passage which cuts through the Hindu Kush Mountain Range in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. It connects Pakistan and Afghanistan and has long served as an important gateway between northern Asia and the Indian plains; at its narrowest point the pass is only three metres wide. Ali Masjid fort at the centre of the Khyber Pass defends its narrowest point, the river gorge is flanked by precipitous cliffs and the fortress sits upon commanding heights. The fortress, the site of many a famous siege, was known as the 'Key to the Pass'. Of the three columns moving simultaneously into three approaches into Afghanistan, the Peshawar Valley Field Force, led by Lt. General Samuel Browne, was the largest. Its aim was to take the fort of Ali Masjid and thus the Khyber Pass.

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