Nain Singh (21 October 18301 February 1882), also known as Nain Singh Rawat, was one of the first Indian explorers (dubbed "Pundit (explorer), pundits") employed by the British India, British to explore the Himalayas and Central Asia. He came from the Johar Valley in Kumaon division, Kumaon. He surveyed the trade route through Ladakh to Tibet, determined the location and altitude of Lhasa in Tibet, and surveyed a large section of Brahmaputra River, Brahmaputra. He walked "1,580 miles, or 3,160,000 paces, each counted."

Early life

Pundit Nain Singh was born to Lata Burha in 1830 in Milam, India, Milam village, a Bhotiyas of Uttarakhand, Bhotia village at the foot of the Milam Glacier, Milam glacier on the Line of Actual Control, India-China border in the present day Uttarakhand state of India. Milam is in the Johar Valley, one of the Bhotia abodes in the Kumaon division, where the river Gori Ganga, Goriganga originates. The Rawats ruled over the Johar Valley, during the reign of Chand kings, Chand dynasty in Kumaon Kingdom, Kumaon; this was followed by the Gorkha rule. In 1816 the British defeated the Gorkhas but maintained a policy of non-interference and friendship towards the Johar Bhotias. The famous Bhotia explorers mostly belong to the villages of Johar. After leaving school, Nain Singh helped his father. He visited different centres in Tibet with him, learned the Standard Tibetan, Tibetan language, customs and manners and became familiar with the Tibetan people. This knowledge of Tibetan language and local customs and protocol came in handy in Nain Singh's work as a "spy explorer". Due to the extreme cold conditions, Milam and other villages of the upper Johar valley are inhabited only for a few months from June to October. During this time the men used to visit Gya'nyima, Gartok and other markets in Western Tibet.

Schlagintweit expedition

Singh traveled to Ladakh in 1856 along with family members Mani and Dolpha Singh, accompanying an expedition by Hermann Schlagintweit, Hermann, Adolf Schlagintweit, Adolf, and Robert Schlagintweit. He learned the use of survey instruments during this expedition. The Schlagintweit brothers planned to send Nain and Mani Singh to Lhasa as well, but in the end that expedition did not take place. They also wanted to take Singh with them back to Europe, but he declined. Adolf Schlagintweit wrote a letter of recommendation for Nain and Mani which they later presented to British survey officials.

British Tibetan expeditions


The East India Company, and later the British Empire, sought to form trade relations with Tibet. Additionally, exploration of Central Asia and Tibet were of particular interest during the Great Trigonometric Survey of India because their geography was largely unknown to the British. However, Qing China closed Tibet's borders after gaining significant control over Tibet's internal politics following the 1791 Sino-Nepalese War. A number of Europeans tried to reach Lhasa from India over the next hundred years; however, few successfully reached it, and most attempts at entry were turned back by local officials. A British attempt to reach Tibet from the east by traveling up the Yangtse River failed in 1861, and Edmund Smyth's attempts to enter Tibet from the west between 1861 and 1863 all failed as well. Because of the Great Triginometrical Survey's past success with native surveyors, Thomas Montgomerie (the astronomical assistant of the survey), proposed that native explorers be recruited to explore Central Asia and Tibet. Montgomerie's plan was approved in 1862, and his first recruits were Abdul Hamid (surveyor), Abdul Hamid for an expedition to Yarkand County#Qing dynasty, Yarkand, followed by Nain Singh and his cousin Mani Singh for an expedition to Lhasa.

Recruitment and training

In an 1861 letter, Smyth recommended Singh as a possible surveyor to Walker. Walker personally travelled to meet with Singh and recruit him and his cousin Mani. The two were sent to Dehradun, the Survey's headquarters, and placed under Montgomerie's command. The two would spend two years training for their expeditions, learning a number of surveying techniques. Because the survey needed to be clandestine, a number of techniques were developed to hide the surveying. Mercury for thermometers was hidden in the bottom of a bowl, notes were stored inside a Tibetan prayer wheel, prayer wheel, and survey gear was hidden inside luggage. A Japamala, string of prayer beads, which usually had 108 beads, was modified to only have 100 beads; the pundits were trained to move one bead every hundred paces to count their steps. They were also trained to have a precise stride length of 33 inches across varying terrain.

First expedition

Singh's first expedition began in 1865. He and Mani separated during the survey, with Mani traveling through western Tibet and Nain walking to Lhasa. Nain Singh reached Lhasa on 10 January 1866. He spent some time in Lhasa as a teacher of accounts before returning to India. During this expedition, Nain Singh estimated the altitude of Lhasa as 3,420 meters by boiling water; this was close to the actual value of 3,540 meters. He also estimated the position of Lhasa with celestial observations.

Second expedition

Singh's second expedition explored western Tibet in 1867. Nain and Mani were accompanied by Kalian Singh, Nain's brother, and the three disguised themselves as Bushahr, Bashahri traders. The expedition reached the goldfield at Thok Jalung, mapped the Sutlej river, performed an 850 mile long route survey, and verified the position of Gartok.

Third expedition

Singh's third and final expedition returned to Lhasa via a more northern route than his first expedition and ran from 1873-1875.


During his secret survey of Tibet, Nain Singh was the first non-Tibetan to visit many legendary areas of Tibet, including the Thok Jalung goldfields on 26 August 1867. He would later say that Thok Jalung was the coldest place he had ever visited. Nain Singh was a cousin of Kishen Singh (explorer), Kishen Singh, another famous pundit explorer.BALASUNDARAM, M., DUBE, A. Ramgarh, 1973, "Structure, India", Nature (journal), 242, 40 Digital object identifier, doi:10.1038/242040a0.


In May 1877, Singh was awarded the Gold Medal (RGS), Royal Geographic Society's Patron's Medal "for his great journeys and Surveys in Tibet and along the Upper Brahmaputra, he has determined the position of Lhasa, and positive knowledge of the map of Asia." Henry Yule received the award on Singh's behalf and in his acceptance speech said that "[Singh's] observations have added a larger amount of important knowledge to the map of Asia than those of any other living man." On 27 June 2004, an Indian postage stamp featuring Nain SinghTrigonometrical Survey
was issued commemorating his role in the Great Trigonometric Survey of India. In 2006, Shekhar Pathak and Uma Bhatt brought out a biography of Nain Singh with three of his diaries and the Royal Geographical Society, RGS articles about his travels in three volumes titled ''Asia ki Peeth Par'' published by Pahar, Naini Tal. The Nain Singh Range of mountains south of Lake Pangong are named in Nain's honour. On 21 October 2017, Google celebrated Nain Singh Rawat's 187th birthday with a Google Doodle.

See also

* Shauka - Johar * Krishna Singh Rawat * Mani Singh Rawat * Cartography of India



Further reading

; Secondary sources * * * * ; Primary sources * * * *

External links

A Nain Singh anecdote

by Derek Waller
Nain Singh Rawat – The Indian explorer who explored the Himalayas
{{DEFAULTSORT:Singh, Nain Indian explorers Explorers of Asia People from Uttarakhand Kumaon division Explorers of the Himalayas 1830 births 1882 deaths Recipients of the Royal Geographical Society Gold Medal Explorers of Nepal