Friday, June 11, 2010
Pandit Nain Sing Rawat
Long time back I had done this research, sharing it here as I would like if some one searching for information is benefited through this.
Even today, after centuries of modernization, as China’s iron curtains, forbid the world the view of Tibet, it is with the eyes of these explorers that we still see this mysterious land. Their explorations are still the window to the world of Tibet.
Nain Singh was a man of strong character – where others admitted defeat, he persisted. Due to the clandestine nature of their work and because they were ‘Spy Explorers’ their work never gained the recognition due to such an important feat.
As these ‘Spy Explorers’ worked for the British, after independence their work was not given due recognition. The clandestine nature of their work made such important discoveries look unpatriotic. This can be the only reason why it faded in public memory.
Life of Nain Singh Rawat, paraphrases the entire struggle for power not only in the plains of Hindustan but through the crucial and strategic Tibet, the high Himalayas and the Hindukush.
British were in a way paranoid about Russia’s interest in Tibet. It was a race against time for the Tsarist Russia and British India to claim this yet untamed territory. The odds here were greater- Tibetians were no fools, with a relay system that surpassed many a superior security systems. Messengers criss crossed the landscape with letters and messages. These men mounted on horses covered the 800 miles between Lasha and Gangtok and were forbidden to stop other than to eat or change horses. They wore a long sleeved Chogas inside which were tucked letters, the breast fastening of their overcoats was sealed to ensure that they did not change clothes. The officer to whom the letter was addressed would break the seal. A message took just thirty days to travel from Lhasa to Gartok, a special message would reach even faster, in twenty two days. The news traveled very fast due to this system and any foreigner who attempted to enter Tibet was reported and forced back to the border. The explorers were thus required to tackle this local resistance, prior to attempting the hazardous travel in this most unfriendly terrain.
However, this reluctance on the part of the Tibetian native did not always exist. Previously the Nepalese Kumaon was the only resistance the explorers faced. Once inside Tibet, they always reported of very friendly, warm and deeply religious people. In Akbar’s time the first Jesuit mission left for the search of the origin of river Ganga, their main concern though was the quest for the lost tribe of Prester John. The Jesuits had heard from wandering sadhus and yogis, of people in Tibet who had rituals and practices similar to those of Christians. To find out about this they were eager to reach Tibet. In 1624 Jesuit father Antonio de Andrade along with Portugese lay brother Manuel Marques and two Christian servants reached Badrinath disguised as pilgrims. After initial resistance from the officials of Raja of Srinagar, the two entered Tibet from Mana pass at 17,900 feet and were welcome in this isolated land. Andrade impressed the king and queen with his devotion towards his religion but could not persuade the king to convert. He returned in the summer of 1625 with more missionaries and the king laid the foundation of the first Christian church in Tibet. However, after Andrade left there was a revolt among Tibetan Lamas and the church was pulled down.
The tradition of employing natives for survey work started quiet accidentally. When the Maratha war ended the military engineers and draughtsmen became comparatively free to focus their attention on mapping newly acquired upper Hindustan lands. At Twenty four, when James Rennel was appointed the Surveyor General of India, he assembled a band of surveyors and draughtsmen to map the subcontinent. Rennel was awestruck when he first viewed the Himalayas from the plains of Bengal. He was curious about the origins of the Ganga, Indus and Brahmputra, which had their sources in Himalayas. He admitted his ignorance and even accepted the native belief that Ganga took it’s source from the holy lake of Kailash Mansarovar. Though he left India in 1777 due to delicate health, he continued to play a major role in the development of Indian geography and so is correctly honored with the title of ”Father Of Indian Geography”.
Robert Colebrooke and Henry Colebrooke were cousins deeply interested in Ganga. Robert was appointed Surveyor General of India in1794 and Henry was posted as Assistant Commissioner of Purnea. He was a Sanskrit scholar and the first President of Bengal Asiatic Society. Robert spent his time either sailing on Ganga or on it’s banks. He knew the river thoroughly and was eager to explore the source of the sacred river. His findings were a major contribution to Henry’s Asiatic researches. In1807 Robert Colebrooke sailed upstream from Calcutta, He was joined by twenty-two year old Webb of Bengal Native Infantry and fifty sepoys. They employed Captain Hyder Jung Hearsey, an independent freebooter who knew the terrain and the ways of locals well. His mounted irregulars also provided them protection against robbers and marauders. While surveying these unhealthy jungles of Terai, Robert Colebrooke fell ill. This development prevented him from going any further, so Webb along with Hearsay and an old friend Felix Raper from the old regiment traveled towards Himalayas with the instructions to explore Ganga. They were assisted from Haridwar to Gangotri. At Haridwar, they were lucky to meet the Gurkha Governor of Nepalese Srinagar who was visiting the Kumbh Mela. After initial reluctance he gave way and this party headed for Gangotri. The trail was difficult to say the least and just forty miles short of their destination, for reasons unknown, Webb decided to turn back. Here was the start of a novel method of surveying when “An intelligent native”, most probably Hearsey’s Hindu munshi was briefed about the use of compass and sent to look for the famous ‘Cow’s Mouth’. The remaining party of Webb, Hearsey and Raper moved towards Badrinath to locate the source of Alaknanda. They reached the Bhotia village of Mana and from here proceeded towards the source of Alaknanda with a local guide. They found the source in a narrow valley at the foot of Badrinath massif. The purpose of the mission was achieved, as Hearsey’s munshi brought back the information that there was no cow’s mouth at the Ganga’s source at Gangoutri. Thus the theory that Ganga took its source from Mansarover was proved a fable. There was indeed a Cow’s mouth – a vast cul-de –sac discovered by Captain John Hodgson and his assistant Captain James Herbert in 1817.This as the traditional source of Ganga called Bhagirathi here, with an enormous glacier shaped like a snout. of a cow. With Ganga’s origin finally traced back to the source now the focus of the British surveyors was on the inner Himalayas and on Tibet though it was a forbidden land as the Nepalese Kumaon did not take British presence lightly. These conditions led to the British policy of non-interference in these areas and when Hearsey and Dr Moorecroft, Veterinary Doctor entered Kumaon for ’Tour of hills’ as they called it, it clearly was not appreciated. Moorecroft was over forty, he was Vet Surgeon to the Government of Bengal, he had been irritating [troubling] the Agent to the Governor General with plans of a journey into the hills to find new blood from the hill strains and goats with long hair for wool. They were assisted by two native surveyors Harballabh and his nephew Hurruck Dev and the latter was given the unpleasant task of keeping a tally of the number of steps he took. He was directed to stride, the whole of the road at paces equal to four feet each because the Indian pace is recorded each time the left foot touches the ground, which is every two steps. Hearsay and Moorecroft were disguised as pilgrims Mayapori and Haragiri. They reached the Bhotia village of Neeti but were stopped from going any further. The Bhotias the traditional go between of the western Himalayas refused to offer any assistance to these suspicious looking men. While waiting here Moorecroft started treating anyone who came to him. He cured a young Bhotia boy for dropsy and this won him the gratitude of the boy’s father, a trader from the Johar valley, Deb Singh Rawat. Deb Singh Rawat and his brother, Bir Singh were among the wealthiest and most influential Bhotias in the region. Thus Moorecroft set the seal on the friendship between the British and the Bhotias.
They reached Mansarovar via Daba, where they traded the goods brought from India, with the large flock of sheep and fifty Pashmina goats. They promised the authorities at Daba to stick to the pilgrim routes. Moving ahead they reached Rakas Tal or Ravan Hrudb and found that none of the tributaries of Sutlej had its source in the lakes (it was later in 1846 that Henery Strachey would meet Deb Singh at Milam on his way to the lakes and find out that Sutlej did take its source from Mansarovar). They measured Mansarovar and found it to be an oval shaped lake and by circumnavigating the lake found that the two lakes Ravan Hrudb and Mansarovar were not connected by any channel (This was corrected by Henry Strachey, when he discovered that there was a large stream three feet deep and hundred feet wide flowing from
Rakas Tal to Masarovar. This seepage of water was missed entirely by Moorcroft and Hearsey as they had stuck to the shores and failed to see what was on the other side of the raised bank of Shingle). This brought to close the mysteries related to the holy lake Mansarvar and the belief that Sutlej took its source from the holy lake of Manserover was finally proved correct.
LIFE OF NAIN SINGH RAWAT
Rai Bahadur Nain Singh Rawat was born to Lata Burha in1830 in Milam village in the valley of Johar. This beautiful valley in the Kumaon hills is located at the foot of the Milam glacier from which the river Goriganga originates. The Rawats ruled over the Johar valley, during the reign of Chand dynasty in Kumaon, this was followed by the Gorkha rule. In 1816 the British defeated Gorkhas but maintained a policy of non-interference and friendship towards the Johar Bhotias. The famous Bhotia explorers mostly belong to the village of Johar.
There is a history to how the Bhotias came to this valley and became the trading link between the Tibet and the rest of the world. When Mohammed Ghori invaded India between 1191 and 1193, there was a mass exodus from the Hindu Rajputana. The Rajput ancestors of Nain Singh, settled in a place called Jawala Bagarh. Around 1680, a prominent family member Hiroo Dham Singh went to Kailas Mansarovar for pilgrimage. The pilgrims in those days travelled in caravans fully armed to protect themselves from robbers. The Tibetians were being troubled greatly by Chinese invaders at this time. Hiroo Dham Singh along with a large number of fellow pilgrims and retainers helped Tibetans drive away the Chinese bandits who were looting and stealing the cattle, horses and sheep. Hiroo Dham Singh’s guerilla warfare tactics helped Tibetans in driving away these Chinese marauders. The Tibetans returned the favour by giving him trade concessions and thus a Lion’s share in the cross border trade with Gartok in Western Tibet. Hiru Dham Singh was also honored with the title of ‘Pradhan’ from the Government of Lhasa. While returning from this very beneficial pilgrimage, Hiroo Dham Singh and his party passed through the Johar valley, east of Nanda Devi. He liked the place so much that he settled in Johar with a large number of his clan members. This fateful incident led to the foundations of a flourishing trade being laid.
After leaving school, Nain Singh helped his father. He visited different centers in Tibet with his father, learnt the Tibetan language, customs and manners and became familiar with the Tibetan people. This knowledge of Tibetian language and local customs and protocol came handy in Nain Singh’s work as Spy Explorer. Due to the extreme cold conditions, Milam and other villages of the upper Johar valley are inhabited only for a few months from June to October. During this time the men used to visit Gyanima, Gartok and various other markets in Western Tibet. Each Indian trader of Johar, had a ‘mitra’ or colleague in Tibet. Initially, the splitting of a stone, each keeping one half, marked their partnership in trade. Henceforth, the Indian trader or his representative would carry the token to sell his goods in Tibet market only to his ‘mitra’s’ representative who would fit his half of the stone to the Indian’s.
In 1855, Nain Singh Rawat, now a well-disposed and intelligent man of twenty-five years, of traditional Bhotia mould – short, stocky and stubborn, was first recruited by German geographers – The Schalaginweit brothers. Baron Humboldt had sent these German scientists, to the office of Survey of India, which reluctantly allowed them to proceed for the survey. Adolf and Robert Schlagintweit had met old Deb Singh Rawat in the Johar valley, who even showed them a thanks chit signed by William Moorecroft and inscribed ‘Northern foot of the Himachal Mountains near Daba in Chinese Tartary, August 25th 1812.’ On his advice they recruited three members of his family for their expedition; Mani Singh Rawat, Dolpa and Nain Singh Rawat. Nain Singh’s first exploration trip was with the Germans between 1855 to 1857. He traveled to the lakes Mansarovar and Rakas Tal and then further to Gartok and Ladhak. After the exploration with the Schalaginweit brothers, Pundit Nain Singh Rawat joined the Education Department, being appointed as the headmaster of a Government vernacular school in his village at Milam from 1858 to 1863.
Before we embark on the Nain Singh’s journey with the British, let us have a closer look at the dynamics of the political climate of those times. British and Russians were engaged in a battle of one upmanship, in the vast desolate plains of Central Asia. It was Lieutenant Arthur Conolly of the 6th Bengal Native Cavalry who first coined this tussle into the now famous phrase ‘The Great Game’ in a letter to a friend. The secret missions and hawkish eye of the opponents led to wild speculations among the two adversaries. Some materialized, while others were mere presumptions of these ultra sensitive players of an equally ambitious and vague ‘Great Game’. Though Russophobia was on the rise with the successive generations of company men, just as the trail was getting hot, it was also becoming increasingly difficult to send officers on clandestine missions of map making as the risk factors were too great. If captured it meant certain death for these daredevil men. Secondly, the detection of such missions also meant political embarrassment for the British. Sir John Lawrence, Viceroy of India banned the British from venturing into these lands, his political view being that if they lose their lives, we cannot avenge them and so lose credit. It was Captain Montgomery who proposed to his superiors, a novel method to train the natives in scientific western methods of survey. These natives he had argued were far less likely to be detected than an European, however good the latter’s disguise. Moreover, even if they were unfortunate enough to be discovered, it would be politically less embarrassing to the authorities, compared to if a British officer was caught red handed making maps in these highly sensitive and dangerous parts. This was approved and the foundations were laid for a new era of cartographers, relying on the intelligence brought back by the trained natives. In 1862-63, Edmund Smyth was in correspondence with Captain Montgomery, who wanted some trustworthy men to train as explorers. Smyth strongly recommended the Bhotias, as they knew Tibetan language and were allowed to enter Tibet. Smyth selected Nain Singh and his cousin Mani Singh. Here it needs a mention that Education Officer Edmund Smyth was the first to realize the unique traits of the Bhotias. His own views were:-
The Bhotias have Hindu names and call themselves Hindus but they are not recognized as such by the Orthodox Hindus of the plains. While in Tibet, they seem glad enough to shake off their Hinduism and become Buddhists, or anything you like. They pass their lives in trade with Tibet and they are the only people allowed by the Tibeten authorities to enter the country for purposes of trade. From June to November they are constantly going over the passes, bringing the produce of Tibet (Borax, salt, wool, gold dust, also ponies) and taking back grains of all kinds, English goods, chiefly woolens and other things. The goods are carried on the backs of sheep, goats, Ponies, Yaks and Jhopoos (across between the Tibeten yak and the hill cow). Their villages are situated at an elevation of from 10,000 to 13,000 feet, at the foot of the passes leading into Tibet, though only occupied from June to November in each year. During the remainder of the year they move down to the foot of the hills and sell their produce to the Buniahs or traders.
In 1863, Nain Singh Rawat along with his cousin, Mani Singh Rawat were sent to the Great Trignometrical survey office at Dehradun where they underwent training for two years. This included training on scientific instruments and some ingenious ways of measuring and recording and the art of disguise. Nain Singh Rawat was exceptionally intelligent and quickly learned the correct use of scientific instruments like sextant and compass. He could also recognize all major stars and different constellations easily. This had all been possible due to exhaustive practice and a drive and determination in the hand picked men that are difficult to explain –
A sergeant major drilled them using a pace-stick, to take steps of a fixed length which remained constant even while climbing up, down or walking on plain surface. They were trained to record the distances by an ingenious method using a rosary. This rosary unlike a Hindu or Buddhist one, which has 108 beads, had just 100 beads. At every 100 steps the Pandit would slip one bead, so a complete length of the rosary represented 10000 steps. It was easy to calculate the distance as each step was 31½ Inches and a mile was calculated to be around 2000 steps. To avoid suspicion, these explorers went about their task disguised as monks or traders or whatever suited the particular situation. Many more ingenious methods were devised. The notes of measurements were coded in the form of written prayers and these scrolls of paper were hidden in the cylinder of the prayer wheel. The Pundits kept this secret log book up to date. The compass for taking bearing, was hidden in the lid of the prayer wheel. Mercury used for setting and artificial horizon, was kept in Cowri shells and for use poured into the begging bowl carried by the Pundit. The thermometer found place in the topmost part of the monk’s stave. There were workshops, where false bottoms were made in the chests to hold sextant. Pockets were also added to the clothes used during these secret missions.
Thus prepared and trained, the Pundits traveled for months at a stretch collecting intelligence in most difficult conditions, travelling closely with the natives in caravans. What was to follow, were some of the most glorious years in the exploration and mapping of Tibet and all its river systems and indeed some of the most fascinating explorations worth recounting. In 1865-66, Nain Singh traveled 1200 miles from Katmandu to Lhasa and thence to the Masarovar lake and back to India. His last and greatest journey was from Leh in Ladhak via Lhasa to assam in the years 1873-75. For his extraordinary achievements and contributions, Nain Singh was honored with many awards by the Royal Geographical society.
Nain Singh Rawat died of a heart attack in 1895, while visiting his Jagir, a plains village granted to him by the British in 1877.