If you have visited Google recently, you must have seen a man standing in the midst of hills, and looking at something. He is none other than, an early Indian explorer, Nain Singh Rawat. Let’s take you in his world.
Pandit Nain Singh Rawat was one of the first pundits who explored the Himalayas for the British. Born in 1830 in Milan, Pithoragarh, Nain Singh Rawat was called a Pandit on account of his profession of teaching.
Nain Singh’s early education was mostly at home. Subsequently, he helped his father in their traditional trans-border trade with Tibet.
He visited several trade centers in Tibet, learned the Tibetan language, customs and manners, and became familiar with the Tibetan people. This knowledge helped Nain Singh during his future survey missions.
He is known for his extensive and arduous travels and survey work in Tibet and southern parts of Russia.
He wrote his memoirs on the basis of his extensive travels. For his valuable contributions to discoveries, he was awarded the prestigious Companion of Indian Empire.
Pundit Nain Singh Rawat received a Royal Geographical Society gold medal in 1876.
He mapped the trade route through Nepal to Tibet, determined for the first time the location and altitude of Lhasa, and mapped a large section of the Tsangpo, the major Tibetan river.
Later he became a school teacher in the village of Milam in the Upper Himalayas.
In 1863 Nain Singh and his older cousin, Mani Singh joined the Survey of India and trained as surveyors.
They were taught to walk at a constant pace of 33 inches. To keep track of the number of paces, they were given rosaries, with 100 beads instead of the traditional 108.
One complete circuit of the rosary would mean 10, 000 paces and measure 5 miles!
In 1865, Nain Singh and Mani Singh left Dehra Dun, the Survey of India’s headquarters, for Nepal.
From there Mani returned to India by way of western Tibet, but Nain went on to Tashilhunpo, Shigatse, where he met the Panchen Lama, and Lhasa, where he met the Dalai Lama.
During his stay in Lhasa, his true identity was discovered by two Kashmiri merchants residing at Lhasa, but not only did they not report him to the authorities, they lent him a small sum of money against the pledge of his watch.
Nain Singh returned to India by way of Mansarowar Lake in western Tibet.
On a second expedition, in 1867, Singh explored western Tibet and visited the legendary Thok Jalung gold mines.
He noticed that the workers only dug for gold near the surface because they believed digging deeper was a crime against the Earth and would deprive it of its fertility.
By measuring the boiling temperature of water, he calculated the altitude of Lhasa to be 3240 m above sea level –astonishing precision, when you consider that we today believe it to be 3540m.
From the angular altitude of stars, he then calculated the latitude of Lhasa. In 1874, Nain Singh went on his third and last excursion into Tibet, to survey the route from Leh to Lhasa.