Those who were present at the last great Durbar (1903) seemed to carry away two dominating impressions - the appalling confusion on the railways and the dust. There is yet no disturbance of the smooth running of the Railways serving the Imperial City - and there is no dust......
There will be no dust. The roads of Delhi have an unsurpassed dust-raising power. The creamy flour lies thick on crown and camber ( Note:the writer was an Englishman who evidently preferred slush to dust), a passing mule train or a tonga is sufficient to raise a cloud of acrid ,pungent, choking dust. Now the Durbar has necessitated the construction of many miles of new road during a season when the short rainfall made the engineer's task of exceeding difficulty.
And this is to be a motor Durbar. "My Lord the Elephant ," with regrets which can only be expressed by those who have seen these regal beasts in their gorgeous trappings, has no place: his role has been usurped by what Mr. Dooley calls "the forty horse power suffer-little-children". With a thousand motors let loose on an unprotected Delhi, it would not be The White City or The Canvas City, but the City of Dreadful Dust. That peril has been removed by oiling all the roads which will be used by the King. Here all profitless comparisons between this Durbar and that which preceded it may end.
And Delhi to-day! It presents a picture which India alone could paint, and which India has never attempted on this scale before. Everyone who has made the Indian Grand Tour is familiar with northern slope of the ridge - the rude boulder-strewn ramp melting into the plain. In ordinary times our eyes naturally turn to the city, where the richest memories cluster. What memories they are - of Nicholson and Salkfield and Willoughby, and of Kashmir Gate and that wretched alley where the Lion of the North fell with pierced lung! We rarely appreciate the importance of the ribbon road which runs North to Peshawar, threading its way through field and waste till earth meets sky. Yet this champaign, whose freedom was of priceless value to the gallant men who clung so tenaciously to the Ridge, ( Note: maybe a reference to mutiny events) is acquiring an historic importance of its own, though we miss the epic note. Here Queen Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India (1876) - a step whose immense significance is slowly being realized. Here Lord Curzon proclaimed to the people of India that King Edward had grasped the sceptre which fell from those hands (1903). Here His Majesty King George the Fifth will announce in person his Coronation to his Indian subjects (1911). The ground is white with tents of the great host which will assemble to receive him.
Viewed from the Observatory or any commanding point on The Ridge, the sight is one no familiarity can stale. The khaki plain is obliterated. Field and fallow have have alike disappeared. The boskage remains, but it is almost lost beneath the sea of snowy canvas which stretches as far as the eye can reach. In the foreground grouped round the glistening Circuit House are the tents for Their Majesties the King Emperor and Queen Empress, with the immense pavillion wherein guests will gather for the Investiture and reception. In close proximity are the camps of the Provincial Rulers. .. Words can convey no idea of this glistering expanse as it sparkles under the noontide sun: it embraces an area of twenty-five square miles, and more than three miles separate the King's Camp from the Durbar Amphitheatre. At sunset, when the quick ebbing twilight of Northern India turns from a mellow haze to an inky blackness, the plain bursts into a myriad of many-faceted lights. It is as if a million giant fire-flies had settled on the plain, each glowing with dainty , energetic, scintillating brilliancy. This is the new Delhi which has sprung into existence to greet the King. Far in t3he south is the Indian Appian Way, strewed with the ruins of the old Delhis till they merge into the great city of the Moghuls, mute emblems of the natural advantages which marked out this plain to be the heart of a mighty empire. The cloud of oily smoke belching from a score of chimneys tells us how even in the changed economic conditions of the day Imperial Delhi is holding her own. Here at our feet is the milk white city whither the King Emperor will come, pledging by his presence the indissoluble union of India with the Britains beyond the Seas under the crown.
Closer acquaintance gives the impression of unparalleled neatnes. Kipling somewhere writes of the "awful tidiness" of England, a tidiness so impressive that it cowed the bold American Journalist who proposed to tell of the appearance of the sea-serpent as a true story. Here there are many finishing touches to be added: where they are completed are the smoothest of smooth roads, the neatest of side-walks, and grass and flowers everywhere. The designers of the Durbar area have succeeded in producing in a very marked degree spaciousness without diffusion. Every camp has its entrance courtyard, its grassy lawn caught up with canvas and cosmos and chrysanthemums and its wide red drive, but the tents are compactly arranged , commonly in horns of which the dining and reception marquees are the centre. In only two cases amongst the Provincial camps have departures from strict convention been observed. The Government of Eastern Bengal and Assam have touched the ridges of their State marquees with vivid scarlet and it is a pleasant break in this unending expanse of white. The Burmese Government have placed leogryphs sentinel at the portals of their camp, and at the moment Burmese artists are engaged in the adding the touches of raw colour necessary to remind us of the entrance to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. When the Amir came down to Landi Kotal some fertile genius conceived the idea of making his tents of broad red and white stripes. The effect of these in that yellow barren valley was amazingly fine. We lose a good deal by rigid adherence to unbroken white canvas, so much that the eye dwells pleasantly on the red and white kiosks which the Post Office have erected wherever they are wanted, yet one hesitates to suggest that the designer of each camp should be allowed to run riot with his own colour scheme. There is safety in conventionality which only genius can successfully neglect, and we need not go far to learn that decorative genius is rare in India.
Then there is the question of housing and feeding the influx of visitors outside those in the official camps. Although hotel accomodation at Delhi has vastly improved of late , it is not extensive; it was reduced almost to nullity when the Mahrajah of Mysore hired Maiden's and the Durbar commitee took over Cecil. There are four camps, from that at eight guineas a day in Curzon House to the Nicholson Camp in the Gardens; but if any future Durbar is held more moderate estimates will have to be made of the amount visitors to India are prepared to pay for accomodation. The Government dairy is preparing to issue daily twenty-five thousand pounds of milk , three thousand pounds of butter and a thousand pounds of cream. The Central Durbar market exercises an incalculable influence in keeping prices steady. Residents at Delhi tell you that bazaar rates are practically normal and whilst stories of extortionate charges are heard on all hands, one capable manager - a woman of course - is running a large camp admirably for two rupees eight annas a head a day. Indeed the extortioner has rather over-reached himself. Some landlords ejected their regular tenants expecting to reap fabulous rents from Nabobs: their houses are standing empty. Fares even for the "fitton ghary" were raised to five rupees an hour ; at the end of the first day the drivers were importuning to be hired on any terms - " Whatever the saheb pleases, that only shall he pay".
Outside Calcutta nad Bombay India is but ill-equipped for an invasion of visitors , and Delhi is worse situated than many other cities. But in the art of improvisation, this country is unsurpassed. The Durbar City is a miracle of improvisation, so bold , so complete, so meticulous in its attention to details that, save in substitution of canvas for brick and stone, nothing is wanting of the amenities of modern life.N E X T