Isabella ‘Ella’ Christie of Cowden (1861 –1949) was a formidable character whose achievements included being the ﬁrst western lady to travel from Samarkand to Khiva and to meet the Dalai Lama. Between 1904–05 she travelled to India and then on to Kashmir, Tibet, Malaya, and Borneo.
Although at times travelling in hostile conditions, her trunks contained dresses for parties (including a banquet given by the Maharaja of Kashmir and dinner with Lord Kitchener then Commander in Chief, India). She camped in the snow at Chorbat Pass, sailed in a cargo ship full of pigs, travelled by pack horse and cart in the Kashmir wilderness, and trekked by foot for 60 miles in the Desoi Mountains.
Aged 50, while waiting for the train at Dollar station, Ella was asked if she were travelling to Edinburgh; her short reply, ‘No, Samarkand’, perfectly encapsulates the fearless spinster who was ﬂuent in four languages including Finnish.
On returning from Uzbekistan, where she travelled by train, steamer and droshky, she was in the ﬁrst cohort of women to be elected Fellows of The Royal Geographical Society. During a trip to China, Korea (for her maid to be treated for a head injury in an American hospital), and Japan between 1907 and 1908, Ella became inspired to create a Japanese garden at Cowden and to employ Taki Handa to fulﬁl her dream.