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Books & Maps

This period led to a significant amount of exploration and travel, especially in the regions of the Karakoram, Hindu-Kush, Pamirs, and Turkestan. And Other Travellers To Turkestan. However, the two travellers who were among the main British players of this "game" were Ney Elias and Francis Younghusband. Elias wrote little himself, but his life is covered in Morgan's biography, Ney Elias. Explorer and envoy extraordinary in High Asia. Younghusband, on the other hand, was a prolific writer, and his early travels and participation in the game are especially covered in his, The Heart of a Continent.

Insofar as Tibet was concerned, the Great Game came to a head when Britain, mainly in the person of Curzon, the Viceroy of India, believed that Russia was gaining undue influence in Tibet with the intention of gaining influence over, or access to, India. This fear was largely fueled by the activities of a Russian Buddhist lama, Aagvan Dorjiev , who was an advisor to the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, and who traveled a number of times to St.

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As a result of his fears, Curzon sent Younghusband with a military force, into Tibet in order to negotiate a treaty which would counter the as it turned out, imagined Russian influence, and increase the security of India's northern frontier. Younghusband's account of these events are found in his book India and Tibet. There are also two first person accounts from journalists who were with Younghusband.

The Younghusband mission opened up the opportunity to survey parts of Tibet, and hence included a cartographer Captain C. Rawling whose experiences are captured in his book, The Great Plateau. An excellent overall history of this episode is provided in Fleming's Bayonets to Lhasa. It is also covered in the three biographies of Younghusband, by Seaver , Verrier , and the most recent one by French.

Younghusband was a fascinating man.


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His pioneering experiences in the Himalaya, such as described in The Heart of a Continent , and Wonders of the Himalaya , as well as his later involvement as head of the Royal Geographical Society in the early Everest expeditions , alone, would establish an important place for him in the history of the region. The British were not the only ones exploring the region, however. In the period between the Swede, Sven Hedin, made four trips to Tibet.

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In his inappropriately named book, A Conquest of Tibet , not even Younghusband claimed to have done that! During the latter, he claims to have "discovered" things seen years earlier by Strachey and Smyth see Longstaff , for example. Allen provides a good discussion of this controversy and its background. Two other accounts of interest date from One is significant only because of the wonderful writing, Easton's An Unfrequented Highway.

The two are related, since Easton and McGovern met each other in Tibet on the latter's return trip to India. Perhaps the best overall history of Tibet and description of its culture, up to the early 's, is give by Bell. He had a close relationship with the 13th Dalai Lama, and was a passionate student of the country, its people, culture and religion. A very different type of cultural study is offered in Schell's Virtual Tibet , which is an exceptionally well presented commentary on the West's perception of, and fascination with, Tibet.

And, just for balance, perhaps the worst history of Tibet that I have read is Feigon's Demystifying Tibet. There are two books that do a fairly good job of capturing Tibet and Lhasa in the late 's, just before it was changed forever by the Chinese invasion. The first is Harrer's well known Seven Years in Tibet. The second is the account of the trip in by the American broadcaster Thomas Lowell and his son Thomas. The Lowells were only in Tibet for a very short time, so the depth of their understanding must be somewhat limited compared to Harrer, their book is very well researched, and is wonderfully illustrated, with over photographs, 32 of which are in colour.

One other book that may be of interest, in this context, is Panikar's India and China. As any of the above-mentioned general histories of the Great Game make clear, this was not only about Tibet. The "game" was being played across all of Central Asia. A number of my books deal with the history and exploration of these other regions. These are outstanding well-researched sources.

Much of our detailed understanding of the mountains bordering the top of the Indian sub-continent came from the great survey of India, which was begun in , and carried on for about years. The story of the first 50 years of the survey is told in Keay's, The Great Arc. Later activities of the survey, especially in the western Himalaya and Karakoram regions, are covered in Keay's, When Men and Mountains Meet.

It does not cover the later period of the survey, such as the survey of the Karakoram or Kashmir, but is an extremely well researched scholarly book on the survey, its execution, its implications and significance. Finally, there is also The Forbidden Frontiers: The Survey of India from by Styles, which while of interest, is not especially good. The early mapping of Tibet, however, was more difficult due to the country being closed to foreigners. Hence, much of the early mapping was done secretly.


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For an overall history of early exploration and mountaineering in the Himalaya and surrounding mountains, Mason's, Abode of Snow and the two volumes of Kurz's, Chronique Himalayenne are key sources. In terms of first person accounts of early mountaineering in the Himalaya and Karakoram, the main descriptions that I have are Conway's Climbing and Exploration in the Karakoram-Himalayas , the Workmans' In the Ice World of the Himalaya , and the previously mentioned The Heart of a Continent and Wonders of the Himalaya by Younghusband.

These are all accounts by pioneer explorers who were active around in the late 's. Each includes the climbing history of these mountains, although the former has an outstanding bibliography, while the latter is much better illustrated. One of the key mountaineer explorers in the first part of the 's was Tom Longstaff, whose expeditions are documented in his book This is my Voyage.

Two other key players who were kindred spirits with Longstaff, and who built upon his exploration of Nanda Devi in the Garhwal, were Tilman and Shipton.

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Their collective expeditions are models for all to follow and envy. Both wrote extensively. I also have the original editions of a number of these books, including Blank on the Map , , Upon that Mountain , , and The Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition, , I also have the original editions of a number of these, including The Ascent of Nanda Devi, , , Mount Everest , , and Nepal Himalaya , While Tilman is often described as dry and somewhat cold, his writing is anything but. He is one of the best writers that I have read in any genre, and his dry sense of humour and gift for pointed understatement is great.

These are must-read books for anyone interested in the era, the geography, or the culture of the Himalaya in the first half of the 's. This provides a good overview and provides context for both Shipton's books, and the background to his not leading the British expedition to Everest. There are two biographies of Tilman. There are a number of other first hand accounts documenting the early climbing expeditions, that include detailed accounts of the marches in and the reconnoitering of the mountain and its surroundings.

These I discuss under other topics, and they appear in the annotated bibliography , below. This provides not just a history of K2, but also a review of the early exploration of the Karakoram region. Most of the climbing books, which are written by westerners, are fairly one-sided in their treatment of the Sherpa and porters, who more often than not are treated as anonymous smiling happy people who carried equipment, set up tents, and brought tea. Morris , who was a journalist for the Times covering the British expedition to Everest, is an exception.

He seemed as interested in painting a portrait of the the people and their culture as in describing Hillary's ascent of Everest. The Sherpa were key players in these expeditions, and yet the treatment of them frequently did not reflect this. For example, Unsworth describes some of the problems that occurred at the start of the British expedition due to their being treated like second class members of the expedition.

The topic of the interaction of Sherpa with foreign climbers, and the impact on Sherpa culture is discussed wonderfully by Ortner in her anthropological study, Life and Death on Mt. Everest: Sherpas and Himalayan Mountaineering. Also, see her books, Sherpas Through their Rituals.

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Finally, in this vein, in order to get a first hand perspective from the other side , the reader is directed to the two autobiographies of Tenzing Norgay, Tiger of the Snow , and After Everest , and that of Ang Tharkay if you can find it. Different countries seem to have adopted or claimed different mountains. To a lesser degree, K2 is associated with Italy. The first reconnaissance of the mountain was by the Italian Roberto Lerco in , and some of the key surveying and photographing of the mountain was undertaken in by an unsuccessful expedition to climb the mountain led by the Duke of Abruzzi.

Finally, the Italian association with K2 was consolidated by the first successful summit in by an Italian team led by Ardito Desio. Finally, to help understand much of the above in the context of the times, a good general history of India is James's, Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. For an overview of the literature on Everest from first sighting until first summit, see my essay, From First Sight to Summit: A Guide to the Literature on Everest up to the Ascent.

This is a monumental piece of well documented research. But what is most refreshing is how well it reads. It is a book that flows from cover to cover. I only wish that the authors of my history books in school had the same combination of passion, command of material and written language. This is a master work.

Another great history of Everest can be found in the collection of photographs, maps and first person accounts edited by Peter Gillman. This is a wonderful book covering the history of the mountain from its first "discovery" by Europeans up to the time of writing, If one wanted an overview of the mountain, and was going to buy only two books, I suspect that Unsworth and Gillman might be the best choices. They complement each other beautifully.

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In order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1st summit, National Geographic Magazine put out a special edition in May This issue is of interest less for the articles, than for the excellent large format map of Everest, showing the key routes. What is of additional value is that this map is available on-line, as is an interactive 3D relief map of the Mountain and surrounding region, and a degrees interactive panorama view from the summit. Click here to access the site. Both the physical copy of the magazine and the online resources will likely be of interest to students of the mountain.

While I have a general interest in Everest, my focus has been mainly on the expeditions leading up to the first ascent in by Hillary and Tenzing.


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  • My collection covering this period is complete famous last words! Buxton, A key part of this document is the table at the end of this section. The European exploration of the Everest region is rooted in map making. From many perspectives, there can be no empire without maps, and Britain at the time was certainly an empire. Mapping India was no small feat.