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Newsletter - April 2012


Travels in Rajasthan with Kipling

Elizabeth Merry was an excellent guide to the journeys that Kipling, as a very young man, made through the area now known as Rajasthan, and then called Rajputana – the Land of Kings. Those of us familiar with The Jungle Book and the Just So Stories learned a lot about the dual heritage of their author with his early childhood in Bombay and his English education. His first language was Hindi but after being sent to school in England, where he had a miserable six years and was really unhappy, he went to college in Devon.

Aged nearly 17 he returned home to India and worked as a junior journalist; he was commissioned to travel to Rajputana to write despatches back to his paper of his experiences.

We explored some of the historical background of this area and its heritage from the Muslim Mughuls the Hindu Raj. From the 16th century there were conflicts between these two parties but the Mughul Emperor Akbar the Great brought religious tolerance to the region during his reign, helped by the fact of having both a Hindu and Christian wife in his harem! Akbar was a great patron of art and architecture and fine palaces were built during his reign.

Hall of Private Audience in Agra, built by Akbar the Great
Hall of Private Audience in Agra, built by Akbar the Great

He was known to Queen Elizabeth I and a trading charter was set up which became the East India Company; there was also a diplomatic relationship with England.

It was the grandson of Akbar, Shah Jahan, who built the remarkable Taj Mahal as the tomb of his favourite wife. The last Mughul Emperor was deposed after the Indian Mutiny in 1857 and it was in 1888 that the young Kipling made his journey through these historic lands. He visited Agra, the Taj Mahal and Jaipur as well as the massive observatory built by the Maharaja Jai Singh and the forts at Amber, Jodhpur, and the Lake Palace at Udaipur.

Jantar Mantar observatory at Delhi
Jantar Mantar observatory at Delhi

Mehrangarh Fort at Jodhpur
Mehrangarh Fort at Jodhpur

Udaipur Lake Palace
Udaipur Lake Palace

Those interested can capture the whole of Kipling’s despatches in his book From Sea to Sea and Other Sketches: Letters of Travel that formed the inspiration for Elizabeth’s fascinating lecture, that also showed us magnificent examples of the art and architecture of the region.

Self Portrait, Hesitating between the Arts of Music and Painting
Decorated Indian Elephant

Do you have a secret passion?

If you would like to have a lecture on a particular topic – on any subject from the A of Abstract art to the Z of Zoffany – there will be a lecturer available who is a specialist. Just send your suggestions to the Chairman at and we can consider it for another year. Our programme for the year 2013/2014 is nearly full, but we welcome suggestions for the future.


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Diary dates

Some new events to look out for:

The Cutty Sark Museum
Nicholas Grimshaw’s design
Opens 26 April

Bauhaus: Art as Life
Barbican, London EC2
3 May to 12 August

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye
Tate Modern
28 June to 14 October

Shakespeare: Staging the World
The British Museum
19 July to 25 October