Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Pundits

The Pundits: British Exploration of Tibet and Central Asia

DEREK WALLER
Copyright Date: 1990
Edition: 1
Pages: 348
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j076
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Pundits
    Book Description:

    On a September day in 1863, Abdul Hamid entered the Central Asian city of Yarkand. Disguised as a merchant, Hamid was actually an employee of the Survey of India, carrying concealed instruments to enable him to map the geography of the area. Hamid did not live to provide a first-hand count of his travels. Nevertheless, he was the advance guard of an elite group of Indian trans-Himalayan explorers -- recruited, trained, and directed by the officers of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India -- who were to traverse much of Tibet and Central Asia during the next thirty years.

    Derek Waller presents the history of these explorers, who came to be called "native explorers" or "pundits" in the public documents of the Survey of India. In the closed files of the government of British India, however, they were given their true designation as spies. As they moved northward within the Indian subcontinent, the British demanded precise frontiers and sought orderly political and economic relationships with their neighbors. They were also becoming increasingly aware of and concerned with their ignorance of the geographical, political, and military complexion of the territories beyond the mountain frontiers of the Indian empire. This was particularly true of Tibet.

    Though use of pundits was phased out in the 1890s in favor of purely British expeditions, they gathered an immense amount of information on the topography of the region, the customs of its inhabitants, and the nature of its government and military resources. They were able to travel to places where virtually no European count venture, and did so under conditions of extreme deprivation and great danger. They are responsible for documenting an area of over one million square miles, most of it completely unknown territory to the West. Now, thanks to Waller's efforts, their contributions to history will no longer remain forgotten.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4904-2
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. ONE The Great Trigonometrical Survey of India
    (pp. 1-32)

    On a September day in 1863, a Moslem named Abdul Hamid entered the Central Asian city of Yarkand. Disguised as a merchant, Hamid was actually an employee of the Survey of India, carrying concealed instruments to enable him to map the geography of the area. Hamid did not live to provide a firsthand account of his travels. Nevertheless, he was the advance guard of an elite group of Indian trans-Himalayan explorers—recruited, trained, and directed by the officers of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India—who were to traverse much of Tibet and Central Asia during the next thirty years....

  6. TWO First Attempts: Abdul Hamid and Nain Singh
    (pp. 33-53)

    The journey of Abdul Hamid to Yarkand was an “experimental expedition” initiated by Montgomerie with the assistance of the lieutenant-governor of the Punjab and with the Punjab government paying the cost.¹ Montgomerie selected Yarkand in Chinese Turkestan as the target because “our knowledge of that city [is] particularly vague” and because he believed that its position was erroneously marked on contemporary maps.²

    The locations of many of the cities of Central Asia, as recorded on the maps of the time, were derived from measurements taken by the pupils of the French Jesuit missionaries in China during the eighteenth century. While...

  7. THREE Across the Northwest Frontier: The Mirza, the Havildar, and the Mullah
    (pp. 54-98)

    Throughout the nineteenth century, like two juggernauts, czarist Russia and British India lurched toward each other across Asia.¹ In 1800, vast distances separated the two, but by the close of the century only a thin strip of Afghan territory, extending up to the Chinese border, prevented Russia and India from sharing a common frontier. In the intervening years the “Great Game,” a struggle for political and military supremacy in Southwest Asia, was played out in Afghanistan and Persia, through the deserts of Turkestan, and over the peaks and passes of the Pamir and the Hindu Kush.

    In 1809, the frontier...

  8. FOUR To Tibet and Beyond: The Singh Family
    (pp. 99-143)

    Western Tibet is that part of Tibet to the west of the 81° line of longitude passing through Lake Manasarowar, and to the south of the 35° line of latitude, which runs to the north of Lake Pan gong. It is bounded by Ladakh on the northwest and Nepal on the southeast.¹

    Lakes Manasarowar and Rakas Tal are in the extreme southwestern corner of Western Tibet, only forty miles north of the Nepalese border. With their attendant Mount Kailas, they are sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus. Mount Kailas is believed to be the home of Siva and center of...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. FIVE The Forsyth Missions to Yarkand and Kashgar
    (pp. 144-168)

    The Muslim insurrections in the provinces of Kansu and Shensi from 1862 onwards led to the loss of control on the part of the Chinese authorities over Chinese Thrkestan.¹ Under its new ruler, Yakub Beg, fresh opportunities were presented to the Indian government. One of these was the lure of increased trade.

    The possibility of increased commerce with Yarkand and Kashgar had long been viewed favorably by the government of the Punjab. The belief that there were substantial profits to be made did not die an easy death, despite the unsettled nature of the area, the immense difficulties of geography,...

  11. SIX Around Everest and Kanchenjunga: Hari Ram and Rinzing Namgyal
    (pp. 169-192)

    Nepal is a landlocked, roughly rectangular country, running in a northwest to southeasterly direction to the south of the main Himalayan chain. Its northern boundary forms the border with Tibet, and with the exception of Sikkim (now an Indian protectorate) to the east, it is bounded by the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. Approximately five hundred miles wide and one hundred miles broad, Nepal is the largest, both in size and population, of the three Himalayan states of Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. Along the southern border with India is a narrow strip of territory of grass...

  12. SEVEN “A Hardy Son of Soft Bengal”
    (pp. 193-213)

    Babu Sarat Chandra Das was an Indian of a different order from the other pundits of the Survey of India. He was a highly-educated and sophisticated man, who has been accurately described as a “traveller, and explorer … a linguist, a lexicographer, an ethnographer and an eminent Tibetologist.”¹ Das also played an important diplomatic role during the Macaulay mission of 1885-86. When, in 1901, Kipling immortalized the pundits inKim, the character of the secret agent Huree Chunder Mookerjee was most probably based on Das.²

    Rather than coming from one of the hill peoples, accustomed to trading with Tibet, Das...

  13. EIGHT The Tsangpo-Brahmaputra Controversy: Lala, Nem Singh, and Kintup
    (pp. 214-247)

    A glance at the map of Asia shows the river of Tibet, the Tsangpo, flowing through the country from west to east before turning south into India. The map also reveals the remarkable spectacle of three more great rivers—the Yangtse, Mekong, and Salween—flowing parallel to each other north to south, each separated from its neighbor by only fifty miles. To the west of the Salween is the Irrawaddy, reaching down to Rangoon from the mountains of the Burma-China frontier. Further west still, four more rivers, the Lohit, Dibong, Dihang, and Subansiri, run south from the Assam-China border to...

  14. NINE Questions of Secrecy
    (pp. 248-266)

    There was a natural desire on the part of the personnel of the Survey of India to obtain as much credit as possible from the exploits of their trans-Himalayan explorers. The whole idea of using Indian explorers to map the territories beyond the frontiers came from within the survey, as did their recruitment and training, most of the decisions on the objectives of their missions, and the analysis of their results. Men such as Montgomerie, Trotter, and Walker naturally wanted to publicize their own achievements and those of the pundits, particularly through the meetings and publications of the Royal Geographical...

  15. TEN Conclusion
    (pp. 267-273)

    Thirty years elapsed between the first experimental dispatch of a pundit and the pundits’ last known exploration, spanning the time between 1863, when Montgomerie sent Abdul Hamid off to Yarkand, and 1892-93, when Hari Ram and his son traveled in Nepal and Tibet.¹ The Survey of India’s primary focus of attention for geographical exploration varied during these three decades. Although the first pundit, Abdul Hamid, was directed into Chinese Thrkestan, this region was generally of secondary interest to the survey. The Mullah was sent there in 1873 on a return route to India after his explorations in Chitral, but other...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 274-303)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 304-315)
  18. Note on Map Sources
    (pp. 316-316)
  19. Index
    (pp. 317-329)