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Nain Singh Rawat – The Indian explorer who explored the Himalayas

Nain Singh Rawat was known for his survey of the trade route through Nepal to Tibet, where he first time determined the locat
Nain Singh Rawat was known for his survey of the trade route through Nepal to Tibet, where he first time determined the location and altitude of Lhasa.

Article Index

  1. Introduction
  2. Who was Nain Singh Rawat?
  3. What was Nain Singh Rawat’s early life like?
  4. How did Nain Singh Rawat become a ‘Spy’?
  5. What all places did Nain Singh Rawat visit?
  6. Did he ever receive any awards or token of appreciation for his work?

Google Doodle is known to feature many famous people and celebrate them as well as celebrate several days that need to be remembered. One such day celebrated by Google Doodle was in 2017 when they celebrated the 187th birth anniversary of the fearsome Indian explorer, Nain Singh Rawat.

The doodle art was designed by paper cut artists Hari and Deepti Panicker, where they tried to portray Nain Singh Rawat the way he must have looked during his travels. The Doodle art showed a figure standing in the mountains, before the lake, with the figure of Nain Singh Rawat in a courageous and solitary posture. But for those who are not aware of him, let’s give you some History lesson today.

1. Who was Nain Singh Rawat?

Born on 21st October 1830 in Milam village, a Bhotia village at the foot of Milam glacier, Rai Bahadur Nain Singh Rawat, belonged to the Rawat’s ruled the Johar valley in the Chand dynasty, followed by the Gorkha rule. British defeated the Gorkhas, but instead of taking over, they decided to maintain a non-interference and friendly attitude towards the Johar Bhotias, and the famous Bhotia explorers belong to the village of Johar.

Nain Singh was known for his survey of the trade route through Nepal to Tibet, where he first time determined the location and altitude of Lhasa. He walked for almost 1580 miles or 3,160,000 paces, and he counted it.

2. What was Nain Singh Rawat’s early life like?

After completing his schooling, Nain Singh would accompany his father to visit different cities in Tibet. During this, he learned Tibetian language as well as comprehend the culture and customs of the local people. In 1855, the 25-year-old was recruited by German geographers, the Schlanintweit brothers, who reached out to the office of Survey of India, which allowed them to proceed with their survey. With three more members from his family, Nain Singh started his exploration trip in 1855 and 1857, where he traveled to Lake Manasarovar, Rakas Tal, and then further to Gartok and Ladakh.

Once the exploration trip with the German brothers was over, Nain Singh decided to join the Education Department, and he was appointed as the headmaster of a government school in Milam. He worked at the post of the headmaster from 1858 to 1863.

3. How did Nain Singh Rawat become a ‘Spy’?

In 1863, Nain Singh Rawat, along with his cousin Mani Singh Rawat was selected to be a part of the Great Trigonometrical Survey office in Dehradun. They spent two years in the office where they underwent training, which included learning the use of scientific instruments and ingenious ways of measuring and recording. They also learned the art of disguise in case it was ever needed.

Nain Singh Rawat was a quick learner, and his intelligence helped him learn the usage of scientific instruments like sextant and compass. He was able to recognize all the major stars and constellations easily. This secret ‘spy’ exploration mission needed a back story to make it work, and he decided to be a Tibetan Monk who has walked from his home region of Kumaon and been to places like Kathmandu, Lhasa, and Tawang. Nain Singh was trained to measure his pace precisely, and he was given instructions where he had to cover 1 mile in 2000 steps and measured those on Buddhist rosary or mala.

Other methods that were taught to them where the notes of measurement were coded in the form of written prayers, and these scrolls were hidden in the cylinder of the prayer wheel. He worked intelligently even during the most testing conditions where he traveled with the locals in caravans. His risk-taking abilities are the reason how he was able to map the vast expanses of Tibet and the river systems.

4. What all places did Nain Singh Rawat visit?

Nain Singh left the Trigonometrical Survey in 1865 and decided to head out for Nepal along with Mani Singh. Mani returned to India soon, but Nain Singh decided to explore Tashilhunpo further, and he met Panchan Lama. He continued his journey, and he met the Dalai Lama in Lhasa. In Lhasa, his identity was discovered by two Kashmiri Muslim merchants, but they decided to keep it a secret and lent him a small sum of money for his watch.

His second voyage began in 1867 where he explored the western Tibet and stumbled upon fabled gold mines of Thok Jalung. Locating a gold mine was a jackpot for people, but he was shocked to see the workers’ humility that they only dug gold that was near the surface and thought that digging more in-depth would be a crime. His last journey was the greatest, which he completed between 1873 and 1875, where he traveled from Leh in Kashmir to Lhasa.

5. What awards or token of appreciation did he receive for his work?

His contribution to the exploration of several areas was noticed and recognized by people, and Nain Singh was awarded a gold chronometer by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in 1868. In 1877, he was also presented with Victoria or Patron’s Medal of RGS with an inscribed watch by the Society of Geographers of Paris. Some other recognition for his excellent work was:

  • Government of India honored him with land-grant of two villages
  • In 2004, a post stamp with Nain Singh was released to appreciate his service in Great Trigonometric Survey
  • In 2006, his biography was brought out along with his diaries and RGS articles talking about his travels. These released in three volumes named “Asia ki Peeth Par” which was published by Pahar, Naini Tal.