Sir Alexander Burnes, 1831

Sir Alexander Burnes, 1831

Sir Alexander Burnes (1805-1841) was an explorer and later diplomat, killed at an early age in Kabul at the start of the First Anglo-Afghan War. His 1834 bestseller Travels into Bokhara included this short snippet on Harappa. Like Charles Masson five years before him, Burnes testified to Harappa's great size before the railway brick robbers demolished much of the site after the 1850s.

Burnes was a fascinating figure who negotiated with Maharajah Ranjit Singh, was among the first Europeans to travel along the Indus through Sindh and Balochistan, and of course spend much time in Afghanistan. Like Masson, Harappa occupied a small place in his book:

Ruins of Harapa

"About fifty miles eastward of Toolumba, I passed inland for four miles to examine the ruins of an ancient city, called Harapa. The remains are extensive, and the place, which has been built of brick, is about three miles in circumference. There is a ruined citadel on the river side of the town but otherwise Harapa is a perfect chaos, and has not an entire building the bricks have been removed to build a small place of the old name hard by. Tradition fixes the fall of Harapa at the same period as Shorkote (1300 years ago), and the people ascribe its ruin to the vengeance of God on Harapa, its govemor, who claimed certain privileges on the marriage of every couple in his city, and in the course of his sensualities, was guilty of incest.

"At a later period, Harapa became a Mahommedan town; and there is a tomb of a Saint of the "faithful," eighteen feet in length, the assigned, but fabulous, stature of the deceased. A large stone of annular form, and a huge black slab of an oval shapes which lie near the grave, are said to represent the ring and its gem of this departed giant, and to have been converted from more valuable to their present base materials. Where such fables are believed, we must cease to hope for even reasonable fiction. I found some coins in these ruins, both Persian and Hindoo, but I cannot fix its era from any of them."

- Sir Alexander Burnes, Travels into Bokhara, 1834, Vol. III, p. 137.

1. Portrait of Sir Alexander Burnes C B, nearly half-length to front, looking up; wearing a turban and Middle Eastern costume; image mounted on card; after Eyre. Lithograph with hand-colouring. © The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
2.-3. Title pages of Travel to Bokhara, Volume III.