13 May 2012

Nineteenth century photographs of Ladakh

Students of Ladakh might be interested to browse through the British Library online gallery.

This contains a selection of the library’s collection of photographs and drawings, including a number of images of Ladakh. Among my own favourites is a photograph of Leh bazaar taken in 1873 by Francis Edward Chapman who was a member of the Forsyth exhibition to Yarkand. Chapman’s photographs are included in Sir Douglas Forsyth’s published account, Report of a Missionto Yarkund in 1873 (Calcutta, 1875). However, the web version is clearer than the originals and, if you click on ‘interactive zoomable image’, you can see a magnified version of sections of the photograph, making it possible to look at individual buildings in some detail.

Other notable images on the site include drawings based on sketches by Dr Henry Cayley, who was the first British official posted to Ladakh in the late 1860s. One example is a drawing of Hemis monastery. The drawings appear to be ‘second hand’ in that they were evidently prepared by Stanley Leighton on the basis of Cayley’s sketches. However, they look as though they are broadly accurate, and record the the architectural details of buildings that have been greatly changed, or no longer survive.

The online gallery presents no more than a small percentage of the British Library’s overall collection of images. The full catalogue specifically of the India Office collection of photographs, prints and drawings within the British Library is available here. The collection is in principle open to all researchers, but it is necessary to apply for a British Library card and to make an appointment in advance.

John Bray


Anonymous said...

In the photograph of Leh bazaar taken in 1873 by Francis Edward Chapman, can anyone explain why what appear to be doorways are around 5 feet about 'street level'. In the UK I would have assumed that this would have allowed carts to be easily loaded and unloaded, but surely in Ladakh they would have been using pack animals.

Prof Kim Gutschow said...

I enjoyed looking through the Digital Gallery of the British Museum. A quick keyword search for 'Zangskar' produced NO images among the 30,000 available for online viewing, whilst a search for 'Zanskar' produced only 10 images. Similarly, a search for Leh produced 34 images, a search for Padum (the historic capital of Zanskar) produced no images.

Similar searches on Google images produced 646,000 images for Ladakh but 71,900 images for Zanskar, and only 3 images for Zangskar. The first of these three was a link to an NGO that I run in Zangskar, the second a Ladakhi based trekking company, and the third was no longer active.

What interests me is that whilst a historic archive from the colonial days (ie British museum showed 4 times as many pictures for Ladakh as for Zanskar, the modern digital landscape has heightened rather than lessened the disproportionate share of images for Ladakh over Zangskar. IN short, our British explorers were more rather than less intrepid or avid photographers than their modern colleagues.

In the course of developing an online archive over the past few years, I have preformed ongoing searches within digital archives and am always as surprised by what these archives don't show as what they show, but this may be a topic for another post.

John Bray said...

I think the answer to Himalayanmonal's question may be that - as in Ladakhi village houses to this day - animals were lived on the ground floors of the buildings. The entrances were therefore on the first floor.


Anonymous said...

thanks John, I agree that animals were probably housed on the ground floor. However there is still usually a doorway providing access to the living quarters through the ground floor and up stairs, or there is a stairway built outside to the first floor entrance. of course the answer may well be clearer if we could see the other side of the buildings in question.

To me the raised doorways remind me of farm buildings, barns or even modern lorry terminals where the loading or unloading of heavy goods vehicles, trailers, or carts, all benefit from a raised doorway that corresponds to the height of the transported cargo. I presume however that even though Leh was on a busy trade route they did not use wheeled carts to move or store goods in the bazaar?

Anonymous said...

Hi Kim,
searching Google images for Zangskar brings up about 2400 according to google.co.uk - however I performed the same search last night and got even more results. Searching google.co brings up ten less images than .co.uk. Fickle search engines?

Tashi Morup said...

Interesting observation about the doorways which I didn't notice at the first glance. I can enquire about it and let you know..

Vicariously Living said...

If I can offer my insight, I think there is nothing too intriguing about the raised doorways. I think they are merely the foundation of the houses exposed with the road flattened. We know that this part of the bazar, the ground is slanting down. I would then imagine that when the houses are built, the ground is leveled-off by filling up with rocks, pebbles, and sand (hence the seemingly raised doorway aka the thick building foundation) than digging the back which is often more treacherous. Similar ''raised dooorway houses'' is still being built everywhere just not next to each other ( fences being the first thing built these days (metaphorically and literally). *sad*

I hope this is understandable. English is not my first language :P