Hyderabad, Aurangabad and Agra

Chairman’s Trip To India, February/March 2024 (Part 1)

Paul Dean, Chairman of BACSA, and his wife Moira recently visited several historical sites in India, as part of a long-awaited extended trip to mark their retirement. This post, the first in a series, covers places visited in Hyderabad, Aurangabad and Agra. Future posts will cover their visits to Orchha, Khajuraho and Lucknow; Varanasi, and Darjeeling.

Hyderabad, Aurangabad and Agra

‘I had been planning an extended trip to India to mark my retirement in late 2020 but events overtook that, so I hijacked my wife Moira’s retirement at the beginning of this year for the same purpose. Everything went very smoothly, with hotels, guides and particularly drivers all being of a very high standard.

We had been on a couple of trips to India in the preceding decade when we had visited the north (Delhi, Rajasthan, Agra, Shimla, with Kolkata tacked on at the end) in 2012 and the south (Chennai, the Temples of the South, Ooty, Kerala with Mumbai this time tacked on at the end) in 2016. So my plan was to fill in some of the gaps in the middle and end up at another hill station with a toy train, this time Darjeeling.

We flew on BA direct to Hyderabad to have a look at the recently completed BACSA project at the cemetery of the former British Residency there. The Residency was looking very smart after its recent conservation, while the cemetery was calm, beautiful and well looked after. BACSA’s role in its conservation was suitably acknowledged.

Hyderabad Cemetery
The cemetery of the former
British Residency, Hyderabad

(Photo: P Dean, 2024)
BACSA / DHF Plaque
Joint BACSA and DHF Plaque for
restoration work 2016-2020

(Photo: P Dean, 2024)

From Hyderabad we went by train to Hospet for Hampi/Vijayanagara, a cemetery-free stop recommended by both our children from their own separate trips to India. Over our 4 weeks, we made several train journeys. They were the time when we got closest to “the real India” (chauffeur driven cars are somewhat hermetically sealed). All of them involved joining trains that had been on the rails for many hours and hundreds of miles and they always had further to go after we got off. That meant that the couchette carriages were often still being used as sleeping cars, even in the middle of the day, and that times were often elastic. Our first train was 3 hours late, which meant we saw a lot of fascinating platform life. We were met at Hospet by our first driver, Sajid, waiting patiently on the platform.

Hampi was wonderful, an extraordinary landscape full of huge basalt boulders which make very resilient building material.

From Hampi we headed north to Bijapur/Vijayapura which has some marvellous 16th century Islamic architecture, especially the lovely Ibrahim Roza, and then on to Aurangabad for Ajanta and Ellora, which were certainly well worth the journey.

Aurangabad Cantonment Cemetery - Recent burials among old graves
Aurangabad Cantonment Cemetery
– Recent burials among old graves

(Photo: P Dean, 2024)
Aurangabad Cantonment Cemetery - The Seyer memorial
Aurangabad Cantonment Cemetery
– The Seyer memorial

(Photo: P Dean, 2024)

While in Aurangabad we went to the Cantonment Cemetery. This had some interesting looking old tombs in the section nearest the entrance gate: some in reasonable condition, but many fairly dilapidated, with inscriptions removed. A lot of recent burials were interspersed amongst them, indicating that it is still a very active burial ground.

The outstanding memorial, at least in terms of size and presence, was that to Richard Twine Seyer, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Bengal Army, who died in 1833, which was in good condition.

At this point we waved farewell to Sajid, and took a plane to Delhi.

In Delhi we were met by our second driver, Manoj, who whisked us off to Akbar’s tomb just north of Agra.

In Agra itself, our guide told us that the Cantonment Cemetery was out of bounds unless booked in advance, which I had failed to do, but that he could instead take us to the Roman Catholic Cemetery close to the Taj Mahal, which is under the auspices of the ASI.

ASI sign to Agra RC Cemetery
ASI sign to Agra Roman Catholic

(Photo: P Dean, 2024)
Tomb of John Hessing and other memorials at Agra RC Cemetery
Tomb of John Hessing (1739-1803),
and other memorials at Agra RC

(Photo: P Dean, 2024)

This proved to be an inspired idea. I am embarrassed to confess that it was not until I was looking at the BACSA website on my return that I realised that many of the background pictures in it, and the photograph on the back of BACSA’s business cards, are of this cemetery. It includes a ‘Taj in miniature’, a much-reduced version of the nearby Taj, built in sandstone to commemorate John Hessing, a Dutch soldier who died in 1803. Claimed to be the most beautiful tomb of a European in Agra, this, together with many other 18th century monuments, and a number of Armenian memorials, set us up for dawn and sunset visits to the ‘real thing’ the following day.

Between these our guide took us to the Itimad-ud-Daulah, another ‘Baby Taj’, though this actually predates the original. Its paintwork and inlay work are remarkable. We then went on a tour of the cantonment, including St George’s Cathedral, the Agra Fort railway station, and a variety of Raj era bungalows and other buildings. Finally, our guide took us to the Post Office where his father had worked and he had spent many happy childhood hours.’

Paul Dean

Ed. notes:

‘The British Residency in Hyderabad: an Outpost of the Raj, 1779-1948’, the ‘story of the Hyderabad Residency and the Residents who lived in it’ by Omar Khalidi, 2005, may be purchased through the Shop facility on the BACSA website.

‘News of a current BACSA project: the Residency Cemetery in Hyderabad, Telangana’, a post by Denise Love, BACSA Projects Co-ordinator, published on the BACSA website on 14/2/2021, describes the restoration work carried out at the British Residency Cemetery in Hyderabad, by BACSA and the Deccan Heritage Foundation (DHF), between 2016-2020.

BACSA members will be able to read a short item about the restored cemetery of the former British Residency in Chowkidar Vol 16, No. 5, Spring 2023, p.98.

Agra Cantonment Cemetery: A recent post by Prof Peter Stanley, the Australian military historian, described the problems which he too faced in visiting Agra Cantonment Cemetery.

Prof Stanley also mentioned that it is ‘the subject of one of BACSA’s most comprehensive cemetery listings’. Compiled by Robin Volker in 2001, ‘Agra Cantonment Cemetery’, a record of over 5,000 burials from 1806-1990s, including Memorial Inscriptions and plot diagrams indicating the shape and location of the tombs, may be purchased through the Shop facility on the BACSA website).

Agra Roman Catholic Cemetery:

Grave of John Mildenhall (d.1614), Agra Roman Catholic Cemetery
Grave of John Mildenhall,
Agra Roman Catholic Cemetery

(Photo: Iain MacFarlaine)

As Theon Wilkinson recounts in his book, Two Monsoons (which may be purchased through the Shop facility on the BACSA website), John Mildenhall (‘Midnall’), self-styled envoy of Queen Elizabeth I, and the first Englishman known to have died in India, was buried in June 1614 in Agra Roman Catholic Cemetery.

His grave originally had a Portuguese inscription: ‘Joa de Mendenal, Ingles, moreo aos…. Junho 1614’. An English-language inscription, believed to have been added to his grave in the 20th century, reads: ‘Here lies John Mildenhall, Englishman, who left London in 1599, and, travelling to India through Persia, reached Agra in 1603, and spoke with the Emperor Akbar. On a second visit in 1614 he fell ill at Lahore, died at Ajmere, and was buried here through the good offices of Thomas Kerridge, merchant. R.I.P.’

Rachel Magowan