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Fine map of a section of Tibet, illustrating "The Pundit's Journey" through the region, with the accompanying article from the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, entitled Geographical Discoveries in Tibet.

The journey was described in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society as,

among the most important, as regards geographical discovery, that has been made in the present century.  For the first time the vast lacustrine plateau of Tibet has been traversed by an educated traveler, who was able to take observations and describe what he saw; and thus a great increase has been made to our scanty knowledge of Tibet.

The map illustrates the final expedition of Nain Singh Rawat for the Great Trigonometric Survey and accompanied the Account of the Pundit's Journey in Great Tibet from Leh Ladakh to Lhasa and of his Return to India via Assam.   As noted in the description of his expedition by Captain H. Trotter, as published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society in June 1876,

His instructions were to proceed by a much more northerly route than the one he had previously followed. From Lhasa he was to endeavour to get attached to the caravan which proceeds thence every three years to Pekin.  If he failed in accomplishing this, he was to endeavour to return to India by an easterly route from Lhasa, down the course of the Brahmaputra if possible.

The map illustrates the route taken through the region in red, while providing a fine general overview.  

The Pundit Nain Singh Rawat

Nain Singh was born in Milam village of Munsyari tehsil in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand on October 21, 1830. His father Amar Singh was known as Lata Buda, and grandfather Dham Singh Rawat was a big landlord, who was rewarded Jagir (land) in Golma and Kotal villages by the Kumauni King Deepchandra in 1735.

Most of his early education was held at home. After leaving school, Nain Singh helped his father in their traditional trans-border trade between India and Tibet. During the trade, he visited several trade centers in Tibet with his father, learnt the Tibetan language, customs and manners, and became familiar with the Tibetan people. This knowledge of Tibetan language, local customs, and protocols helped Nain Singh during his future survey missions.

1. Schlagintweit Brothers’ Expedition (1855-1857).  At the age of 25, Nain Singh was first recruited by the German geographers, Schlagintweit 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 met old Deb Singh Rawat in the Johar valley, who advised them to recruit three members of his family for their expedition – Man Singh Rawat (Mani Compasi), Dolpa Pangtey and Nain Singh Rawat. Nain Singh’s first exploration journey was with these Germans from 1855 to 1857. During this mission, he travelled to Mansarovar and Rakastal lakes in Tibet, then further to Gartok and Ladakh.

2. Education Department (1858-1863).  After the expedition with the Schlagintweit Brothers, Nain Singh joined the Education Department as a teacher at the Government Vernacular School in his village Milam in 1858. Later, he was appointed as the headmaster of this school, where he served till early 1863. During those days, people commonly used to address to the teachers with the name “Pundit” (Knowledgeable Person).  

 3. Great Trigonometrical Survey (1863-1875).  In 1862-63, Education Officer Edmund Smyth was in correspondence with Captain Montgomery to recruit some trustworthy natives as explorers for the Great Trigonometrical Survey. On the recommendation of Edmund Smyth, Nain Singh and Mani Singh Rawat were selected for this expedition at a starting salary of rupees twenty a month. Nain Singh worked in the active service of the Great Trigonometrical Survey from 1863-1875. Nain Singh was given code names "Chief Pundit" or "No. 1" for this clandestine expedition by the survey officials. He not only worked as a surveyor in the GTS, but also trained many surveyors and explorers for other expeditions.

Nain Singh Rawat as a surveyor in the Great Trigonometrical Survey made the following important expeditions from 1865 to 1875 :

  1. 1865-66 : Kathmandu – Lhasa – Mansarovar Lake.
  2. 1867 : Origin of Sutlej and Indus rivers, and Thok Jalung (Tibet).
  3. 1870 : Douglas Forsyth’s First Yarkand – Kashgar Mission.
  4. 1873 : Douglas Forsyth’s Second Yarkand – Kashgar Mission.
  5. 1874-75 : Leh – Lhasa – Tawang (Assam).

Nain Singh Rawat explored most of the unknown territories of the Central Asia and Tibet beyond the Great Himalayas. His collected scientific information about the geography of these regions provided a major contribution in the mapping of the Central Asia.

For his extraordinary achievements and contributions, Nain Singh was honored with many awards by the Royal Geographical Society, the Paris Geographical Society, and other European institutions. The survey journeys of Nain Singh got place in many books, magazines, and research papers of different languages around the globe. 

Colonel Yule, addressing the Royal Geographic Society at the time of its presentation of the Society's Gold Medal to Nain Singh, said, "It is not a topographical automaton, or merely one of a great multitude of native employees with an average qualification. His observations have added a larger amount of important knowledge to the map of Asia than those of any other living man!"