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Item #: OP4610-8792
HUNZA AND THE RAJ: BRITISH INVOLVEMENT IN THE KARAKORAM MOUNTAINS 1876-1946: INCLUDING THE REMARKABLE LIFE OF SIR MUHAMMAD NAZIM KHAN LVSI. Robert Wright 2021 Tall paperback New Multiple copies available
By Wright, Robert
Price: $1.99


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2021, 1st edition. 323 pp, ills. Paperback, only edition, New. 

In the latter half of the 19th century Britain’s defence policies in regard to India’s north-west frontier were increasingly dictated by Russia’s swift expansion of empire eastwards across Central Asia, in which they annexed a chain of decaying Moslem Khanates to the north of Afghanistan. By 1876 they had captured Tashkent, Samarkand, Bokhara, Khiva, and Khokand, and had crossed the Alai mountains until they were drawn up along the western border of Chinese Turkestan; from where they were surveying the Wakhan Pamir, directly to the north of Hunza and Gilgit, as their next acquisition. 

It was known that the Russian Cossack army, spread wide across the barren Steppe, dreamed of nothing finer than swelling their ranks with cutthroat tribes enlisted along the way in a charge towards lush and exotic South, with Kashmir as their first prize. It was also known that successive Tsars had coveted a warm-water port on the shores of the Arabian Sea, by way of Persia, in order to increase their military capabilities and trade, and thereby further threaten Britain’s possession of India. 

The petty chiefs along this frontier were seen either as ‘puppets of the British’, or as ‘creatures of the Tsar’, and so Russia’s evident interest across the Pamir mountains led to a race to map the dwindling unexplored areas of wilderness remaining between the two empires so that first influence could be claimed over them.

Other than selected gifted officers there were no lower ranking white British troops ever posted to the sensitive Gilgit frontier. Where the history was of tyrants, royal patricides, and few heroes; of the cruelties of slavery and the drudgery of serfdom; alleviated by the tribal pastime of looting the silk route caravans, nomads with herds of yaks for transport. In 1862 it was reported to the British Agent in Leh that ten richly laden caravans had been robbed – meanwhile the Abolitionists in Parliament saw the Chinese slave markets of Kashgar and Yarkhand as the blackest blots left on earth.

A state of affairs that was to be overturned by stories of the young subalterns’ gung-ho battles and camaraderie framed in isolation amidst a sublime mountain chain. With only 16 officers theirs was an astonishing campaign to train and lead a rag-bag army of Gurkhas, Afghan rogues, and Kashmir Dogra troops, all of them speaking several languages, and then show them the way to force open a bandits’ stronghold.

Those mostly young officers had to think for themselves, behave confidently, be devoted and robust in spirit, and ever determined to do what they saw as right. ‘Forward policy’ on the border demanded such qualities. Their initial campaigns hardly needed their provoking, and although small were as thrilling as they could hope for in which to win their medals and promotions.

For its physical and political geography, and for the unique scientific discoveries abounding in the area, Hunza is simply the most extraordinary valley I know of in the greater Himalayan chain. The only things they ever had an abundance of were rocks and ice; and their greatest achievement is that from such unfavorable beginnings they have created the most peaceful, least fanatical, best educated and well organized gardened valley in Pakistan today.

A secondary intention has been to represent some more friendly experiences of Pakistan, rather than the dire ‘bad press’ the country receives in the West, as in four visits between 1970 and 1988, totalling a year in the country, I never had any trouble with anyone whatsoever. To archaeologists, anthropologists, mountaineers, and elitist back-packers Pakistan is well known as one of the most exciting and hospitable countries in the world. The book is lavishly illustrated both with old photos of the historic characters within, as well the author's own Kodachrome slide photos of this vast mountain environment

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