Nain Singh Rawat : His Multi-faceted Contributions and Abiding Legacy


 30 May, 2015 : Jyoti-Devindra Sabhagar, Tiksen Bazar 

Day II  :11.30 to 13.30 Hrs 

                    Organized by Munsyari Library & Mountain Research Centre ( ML&MRC) and Johar Shauka Kendriya Samiti 


150 Anniversary of Nain Singh Rawat's Explorations in Tibet ( 1865 – 1875 ) 

      Presentation by : R.S. Tolia, PhD : President-designate Munsyari Library & Mountain Research Centre, Munsyari, Pithoragarh

Background : 

This event celebrates 150th Anniversary of Nain Singh Rawat's inaugural GTS Exploraions which commenced on 12 January, 1865 from Moradabad where he commenced taking his scientific observations and which ended on the 27th October, 1866 in Dehradun, the head-quarters of Survey of India, and present 'provisional;' capital of Uttarakhand.He took 21 months to complete this historic scientific expedition. During the year many other events are proposed to be organized, including establishment of a stat-of-art Library cum Mountain Research Centre, dedicated to conduct multi-disciplinary physical and socio-economic studies focusing on Munsyari block/region itself and the entire mountain ecosystem under the direct supervision and guidance of post doctoral research scholars hailing from Munsyari region itself- a most befitting tribute to the greatest son of th soil produced by this cis-Himalayan region. The co-organizers of this major event is the proposed/under-establishment Munsyari Library & Mountain Research Centre, Munsyari.

His Brief Life-sketch : 

Pandit Nain Singh Rawat
Pandit Nain Singh Rawat
Born on 21 October , 1830 , Father  Amar Singh ( aka Lata ) and his second wife, village Bhatkuda ( Goriphat ); Lala Burha maried a third time, from which Kalian Singh was born and he returned to Milam in 1848, just a year before his death; cousin Mani Budha tried to help the family. Burdened with family burden Nain Singh went over to Badrinath in 1851, and took his wife from  Mana village, lived in Mana for 3 years. Returned to Milam in 1854 and finding life difficult without any employment he proceeded for Tehri-Mussoorie on 15 April 1854. In February 1856 when he was proceeding towards Ramnagar he heard about an expedition being lead by three German brothers, Hermann, Adolphe and Robert Schlagintweit. Adolphe and Hermann were making preparations for an expedition to Ladakh-Turkistan and Mani Patwari was being deputed with them mani Patwari was an influential Johari who was made Patwari by the British Government and was a cousin of Nain Singh. On being persuaded by Mani Budha, the eldest member of the family, of the same name, Mani Patwari agreed to take Nain Singh along in the team. On 18th February, 1856 Nain Singh left with the Schlagintweit brothers Expedition to Ladak and Turkestan. The mystery surrounding his year of death has been finally settled thanks to the researches conducted by Dr Prayag Singh Rawat, who hails from Bona village. He died at a relative young age of just 52 years, in 1882, obviously greatly enfeebled by the strenuously long journeys on -foot. While his year of departure has been established now narrative of his final years and actual cause of early termination of life, sustains the Nain Singh saga. Earlier 1895 by the Survey of India office, also held by PAHAR as correct quoting Surveyor A.N. Singh , as the official source; and yet another deduced as 1892, going by Charles A. Sherring's statement with picture of Nain Singh, in his book the British Borderland, ' died 14 years ago'. 1906-1892 , giving 14 years.    

In Schlagintweit Brothers' High Asia Scientific Mission : Turning Point ( 1856 )

Hitherto no comprehensive assessment has appeared on the great amount of scientific and socio-economic observations and data that was collected by this historic three year High Asia Scientific Exploratory Mission. Munsyari Library & Mountain Research Centre's first few publications are being planned to share comprehensive findings collected by this team, of which Mani Patwari, Gulab Singh Negi, Lal Singh Karki and Moruva Koranga and Nain Singh himself were party members. ( Mani Budha Ke Vanshaj; RS Tolia, JSS, 1996, p. 22 ). It is quite interesting to recollect that this team of Research Group consisted mostly of persons hailing from this region, where this Research is being set up. This Survey known as the Magnetic Survey of India ended with the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, which engulfed the entire North-Western Provinces, with Meerut being its epi -center. Mani and Nain Singh were employed as Interpreters and Nain Singh's command and control over Tibetan language, keen desire to learn the ropes and over all conduct impressed these brothers so much that they offered him to come to Europe and join this Scientific Company. Fate willed otherwise, but the loss of Schlagintweit was the gain of the entire scientific world, as we shall see later.     

It was this Journey that was to prove to be the TURNING POINT in the illustrious career of Nain Singh Rawat as also the history of the Trans-Himalayan Explorations of the Great Trigonometrical Surveys ( GTS ) later, who were to employ him as the First or the Original "Pundit" of the Records of the Survey of India and the Proceedings of the Royal geographical Society, London.

Henry Strachey and Stint in Education ( 1858 )

The Great Mutiny of 1857 created a near anarchic situation in and around Delhi and between May 1857 to July 1858 te mountain areas were totally cut-off from the plains and it impacted on Nain Singh's family very severely. Whie Nain Singh na his younger brother Magu were crossing the Pindar valley, the usual connect between the higher cis-Himalayan tracts, they came across Henry Strachey, one of the three great names in Himalayan explorations, Richard, Henry and John Strachey. Like the three Schalgintweit brothers the contributions of Strachey brothers has also not been fully shared with the common hill men. One of the earliest descriptions of Richard Strachey of the Munsyari region was published in the Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal, to which younger John Strachey, who was serving in Garhwal district, has been used. Similarly John Strachey undertook journeys into the Chaudans-Byanse and beyond Lipu-lekh regions and mentioned that it was wrong to make the river Kali as the boundary between India and Nepal after 1815, as large parts of Byanse-Dharchula Bhotias ( Rang ) lay across, east of Kali. He even mentioned that the ancient Kumaon boundary lay across the Lipu-lekh pass, and he was shown stone-boulders accompanying Shauka traders marking the Indian border ! These brothers collected specimens of plants and High Himalayan minerals etc and several plant species are named after these brothers, the Strachianas. 


Following this great tradition, the audience may be happy to learn, that some of the plant-species have recently been named after Dr Yash Pal Singh Pangtey, one of the most eminent Botanists produced by modern India, hailing from our Munsyari region. ML& MRC looks forward to Dr YPS Pangtey and Dr Gopal Singh Rawat's, another eminent scientist, produced by this region, to guide and lead the budding scientists from this region and even beyond.

On Henry Stratchey's recommendation the Inspector of Schools Webber and the Deputy Commissioner of Kumaon Colvin appointed Nain Singh as a Teacher, in May 1858. These were early days of formal schools and Milam school is one of the first Tehsili Schools that were established in British Kumaon. It would not be out of place to mention that as a Teacher, it was one of the several First that was to be attached with his name, a young man of 28 years, with a large family and under heavy financial burden. For three years Nain Singh taught in this school which came down in September with the transhumance followed by the Johari Shaukas. It was during this period that the Inspector of Schools, Smythie, another great name in Himalayan explorations, that was setting up vernacular schools all over Kumaon. While there was not much of a problem in Johar region the schools in Darma Pargana were facing teething problems. As is well known the Darm and Byanse-Chaudans have exceptionally well maintained their traditional languages, which belong to the Tibeto-Burmese Family, whereas in Johar the Johari Saukas have lost their ancient language, the Saukia-khun ( as discovered by G.A. Grierson, the great linguist ) and had been considerably Sanskritised, which linguistically speaking is most unfortunate, but was a natural consequence of being on the main-trade route, the Ramnagar-Bageshwar- Milam-Untadhura route, that carried most of the Indo-Tibetan trade route, of that time.    

Spreading Education in Garbyang ( 1862 ) with Bachua Buda Garbyal

January 1862 saw Nain Singh being sent to Pargana Darma and a new school was opened in Dharchula. With the help and co-operation of the most eminent person of the region, Bachua Budha Garbyal, one of the richest and enlightened persons in the entire border region. This was the first school in Garbyang and no government assistance was provided for its opening. In September 1862 when Major Smythe inspected this school he was extremely pleased with the progress of the students. Nain Singh , however, found the monthly salary of 15 rupee woefully inadequate to support his big family- he was so heavily indebted with debts he had incurred that he was unable to even the interest of this burden.This was also the time when the Trigonometrical Survey of India ( TGS ) was looking for border -people like Nain Singh hailing from the groups who were traditionally trading with western Tibet, as due to highly disturbed tribal conflicts in Turkestan, Bokhara, one of the Schlagintweit brothers, Adolphe, was murdered, and no westerner ( White man ) could be considered safe. As a strategy it was decided to train persons from the border regions and carry on with the stuck-up geographical survey -work. It was this situation which not only opened employment opportunities for bold and enterprising youth of this border region but also resulted in the most romantic-period in the entire history of Surveying and Cartographic history of the world.  

Measuring the Roof of the World

Every Crisis is an Opportunity for some, and this severe political crisis in the world history, rendering the passage of any 'White Man' in the disturbed Turkestan, the Kashghar-Bokhara region, opened the gates for those who had courage to dare. This breed of courageous men from the border – region were not an accidental find as the narrative now disclose but it was the kind of over-all command that these border-people had demonstrated, when the early adventurers like William Moorcroft in 1812, the celebrated Superintendent of the Company Studs, went incognito via the Niti Pass near the Lake Mansarovar and were detained by the Tibetan troops and got freed, on their personal guarantee, or when Mani Budha went after the team of Schlagintweut brothers, in search of the source of Sutlej later in 1856 and escorted safely back to Kumaon, that showed their over-all cloud beyond the Passes. Further, the second Commissioner George William Traill had also found out that it was these Johar Saukas who did not give up to the Gorkha troops, when they crossed Kali, ran over the entire Kumaon region, for as many as nine long years ! Ultimately it was their interest of trade, their only and ancient source of livelihood, that forced them to come to terms with the new rulers of Kumaon-Garhwal, the Gorkhas ( 1792-1815 ).

It is most unfortunate that hitherto, for many years, the great scientific and daring explorations carried out by these great explorers, hailing from these border-areas, had not been given their due and were deliberately run down as being part of 'spying operations' on behalf of the ruling class, the British rulers. It was conveniently forgotten that when the Gorkhas ran over, almost unopposed, it was the Johari arms, that did not bend for as many as 9 long years, it was the loyalty of these honest border-traders, to their ruling class the Chand Kings, that they arrested one great conspirator of all times, who only looked after his personal and family interest, and joined every other foreign -party, who could help him. It was the proven loyalty besides their heroics and courageous act that had commended them to a task which could be carried out only by a very small select group of people, with proven track record of highest loyalty to their employer. This integrity of purpose and performance in services was also to be repeatedly reflected, equally in the work, assigned to them. Loyalty, integrity, commitment to work and utter sincerity of purpose have proved the hall mark of the descendants of Nain Singh and other other Johari explorers, and that is the continuing legacy of Nain Singh and early explorers from this region. It is this set of human quality that has been a continuing saga that has made this region famous and well-known all over the world.

Scientific Explorer, Chief Trainer, Travel-Writer and Pioneer Hindi Author

Joining Survey School in Mussoorie in December 1862, now financially secure, Nain Singh never looked back. On 12 January, 1862 in Bageshwar Inspector of Schools,  Major Smythe advanced rupees 100 each to Nain Singh and Mani Patwari and engaged them on behalf of the Survey of India, at a monthly salary of 40 rupees. Both of them reached Dehradun in February 1863 and as Colonel Walker, the Surveyor general was away from Dehradun, they were asked to report to Major Johnson, for receiving formal training in survey work. Year 1863 found bot the cousins receiving training in Survey, use of theodolite, sextant and barometer. It was in March 1864 that a decision was taken by Captain Montogomerie to send them across to Tibet and on receipt of these orders both returned home, in Tejam.

Survey work of Nain Singh commenced in 1864, and as mentioned at the outset, with his marking first observations in his daily-diary on 12 January 1865 from Moradabad a new scientific history commenced being written which was ultimately result in describing him " as a man who has added a greater amount positive knowledge to the map of Asia than any individual of our time."  In concurring with the application for the bestowal of a village in Rohilkhand with a revenue of Rs 1,000, Lord Salisbury, Secretary of State for India, wrote to the Viceroy of India, as follows:

" The successful travels of the 'Pundit' ( the secret name earmarked for Nain Singh, to maintain his anonymity during the troubled years of the survey work in records published for the consumption of the scientific world of Europe ), crowned as they have been recently by a most remarkable journey from Ladakh by way of Lhasa to Assam, have for many years past attracted attention not only in England but among geographers all over Europe. In concur with your Excellency in the high value you set upon these services, and I have muc pleasure in expressing my approval of the manner in which you propose to recompense them ". Nain Singh was afterwards made a Companion of the Indian Empire ( C.I.E.), one of the highest decorations conferred on citizens of the British Empire for their outstanding services, for his services to geography. ( Major Kenneth Mason: Kishen Singh and the Indian Explorers, The Geographical Journal, The Royal Geographical Society, London; Vol. LXII, July to December, 1923, p . 438 ).

His Enduring Gifts to Scientific World & Geography

In a most active career of eleven years in the Survey of India ( 1864- 1875 ) he completed the following route surveys and in between his exploratory undertakings trained a generation of young surveyors, as the Chief Trainer, some of whom excelled even their 'guru' in the quality of their results, a classic example of a successful trainer-guru :

1865-66 :  Kathmandu-Lhasa-Mansarovar ( 1,200 miles, major observations at 31 locations to determine the meridian heights of the Sun and other terrestrial bodies, including those of Lhasa, Tashi Lhanpo etc, route surveys covering Tadum-Lhasa-Gartok main route, source of origin of Brahmaputra, determined the flow of Brahmaputra river for the first time; temperature, boiling points, heght above th sea level, including those of Lhasa, Shigatse etc  ) 

1867     :  Sutlej-Sindhu source and Thok-Jalung ( Geographical information of about 18,000 square miles, route-survey of 850 miles, height above sea level of 80 locations, 190 latitude observations mapped at 75 points; flow of Sutlej from its source to Shipki-la, Brirish boundary, latitude of Gartok ascertained, flow of the two tributaries of Sutlej, their confluence and their course upto Ladakh )

1870     :  First Douglas Forsyth Tarkand-Kashgar Mission  ( Stationed at Leh and later returned back)

1873     :  Second Douglas Forsyth Yarkand-Kashgar Mission ( Nain Singh, Kalyan Singh, Kishen Singh and Jasmal took observations set by Trotter > Yarkand Diary, a major Hindi Travel Report, which discloses his great observational powers and sets him up as one of the greatest Hindi travel-writers of his age, a major contribution to development of Hindi, as it was also developing during this period;  a major find was a route that connected the plains of India with Turkestan without crossing the Kashmir territories ) 

1874-75 : Leh-Lhasa- Tawang ( Assam ) ( Out of 1319 miles, about 1200 miles had been surveyed for the very first time, including several Lakes, very large in their size, several rivers were discovered and a snow-clad range of mountain, the Nyenshen  Thanglha Range which lay on the norther side of Brahmaputra came to notice for the first time. Knowledge about the flow-route of Brahmaputra was considerably enhanced, next 100 miles of Brahmaputra was ascertained, hitherto totally unknown; several scientific observations, made this last journey, as the ever-lasting contribution of the greatest explorer of all times. Though not acknowledged by any archaeologist or historian so far the latest discoveries related to the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet, namely the Zhang Zhung civilization and the significance of these great Tibetan lakes, adds further importance to the survey finds of Nain Singh. The latest book of  John Vincent Bellezza, only acknowledges a indirect mention of Tsho Nam or Tengri Nor by Kishen Singh, as narrated by English archaeologist Richardson, and the trigger it provides for the right focus on remains of Zhang Zhung civilization, see The Dawn of Tibet, John Vincent Belezza, 2014, p. 18 )

Opening of Tibet and Key to Zhang Zhung Civilzation ?

Unfolding of the Tibet Treasure left behind by Nain Singh and his several disciples like Kishen Singh seems to be as inexhaustible as the icy and glassy Great Lakes of central Tibet and the snow-capped mountains of the Nyenshen Thanglha Range first discovered by him and the recent disclosure that the fabled Zhang Zhung Civilization, one of the major conundrums of history, are closely associated with the chain of Great Lakes that were surveyed by Nain Singh and later his cousin cum trainee, Kishen Singh, only adds to the abiding nature of his great legacy.

Nothwithstanding what the great discoverers of the western world and the great scientists belonging to the world of physical and social sciences and the world of literature, in several oriental and occidental languages may yet discover, the stature of Nain Singh grows with every passing year and he may perhaps one day emerge as one single individual whose final legacy may not even be fully assessed in the next 150 years.

Regional Tributes

Hitherto, the following works have informed the local people, of the great legacy left behind one of their own kith and kin, whom the scientific world outside has honored with some of the highest decorations that scientific bodies confer to the best in their respective fields, geography only so far:

 Johar Ka Itihas ( October, 1990 ) : With Introduction of Nain Singh's Itihas Rawat Kaum by R.S. Tolia ( JSS, Lucknow )
Johar Ka Itihas ( October, 1990 ) : With Introduction of Nain Singh’s Itihas Rawat Kaum by R.S. Tolia ( JSS, Lucknow )

Nain Singh Rawat, Teacher, Trainer and Writer ( May, 1992 ) : With Introduction by R.S. Tolia to Akshansh Darpan ( JSS, Lucknow )
Nain Singh Rawat, Teacher, Trainer and Writer ( May, 1992 ) : With Introduction by R.S. Tolia to Akshansh Darpan ( JSS, Lucknow )


Dhamu Budha Ke Vanshaj : R.S. Tolia ( August 1996, May 2000 ) ( Johar Sanskritik Sangathan, Lucknow )
Dhamu Budha Ke Vanshaj : R.S. Tolia ( August 1996, May 2000 ) ( Johar Sanskritik Sangathan, Lucknow )


Asia Ki Peeth Par ( PAHAR 2006 ) : Uma Bhatt , Shaekhar Pathak ( Jeevan tatha Anveshan I,  Lekhan II and Sarvekshan III )
Asia Ki Peeth Par ( PAHAR 2006 ) : Uma Bhatt , Shaekhar Pathak ( Jeevan tatha Anveshan I, Lekhan II and Sarvekshan III )




















Nain Singh memorial Lectures : Geography Department, Kumaon University ( 12 Lectures so far )  

      Nain Singh Memorial Lectures :  UP and later Uttarakhand Academy of Administration, Naini Tal, Uttarakhand 

Commemorative Stamps, Auditoriums, Roads,Busts and now an Adventure Sports Institute dedicated to Nain Singh 

Bust, with those of Kishen Singh and George Everest, the Surveyor general of India, at the Survey of India headquarters, Dehradun, the main Auditorium at the EC Canal Road Survey of India Complex, a road each inside the SoI complex in Dehradun and linking Thal with Munsyari have bee named after him; a First Day cover with his fascimile Postage Stamp has been released by a grateful nation. The latest memorial in his name is an Adventure Sports Institute, of the scale of Nehru Institute of Mountaineering ( NIM ), in Uttar Kashi, at the Balati Farm, Munsyari, has been  dedicated to his memory and is about to be commissioned in the 150th year of his commencement of the great surveys that have immortalized his name in the world history.

Survey of India Photographs

Munsyari and Johar salutes this great Son of the Mountains on this occasion and remembers him on this great occasion. The pictorials attached with this essay depicts the grandeur of his memorials, befitting the Man and his Deeds. Munsyari Library & Mountain Research Centre through this maiden offering looks forward to carrying forward the great tradition of dedication to work, hard toil, indefatigable will, service to the nation, integrity and great instinct of intellectual inquiry – left behind by Nain Singh Rawat.    

R S Tolia

Late Dr. R.S. Tolia, Ph.D., was former Chief Secretary ( 2003-05 ) and Chief Information Commissioner ( 2005-10) of Uttarakhand. He also served in various voluntary positions after retirement and devoted his time for Mountain Development Agenda.

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