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Folios of the Raj

Bhupesh Bhandari  |  New Delhi 

Tales of the adventuring angrez are available in print and on the net.
Hyder Young Hearsey (1782-1840) was born of an English father and a Jat mother. He was named after Hyder Ali, Tipu Sultan's father, and was called Hyder Jung before he anglicised his name.
Hearsey belonged to one of those Anglo-Indian families that formed the bulwark of the British rule in India, chipping in with military or civilian service whenever required.
He lived, by any yardstick, a busy and eventful life. Hearsey started out under Perron, the last great French adventurer in India, who was at that time on the rolls of Scindhia.
But once Perron started dreaming of setting up a French establishment in India, Perronistan, Hearsey left him and joined the services of George Thomas. The two forces met at Georgegarh. Perron won the battle and Thomas, a broken man, died shortly.
For Hearsey, the battle of Georgegarh was just the beginning of a long life in the outdoors. In 1812, he accompanied William Moorcroft, the horse doctor who became a famous explorer, to Tibet.
The two travelled under the disguise of fakirs and crossed into the forbidden land from the Mana pass "" just the stuff high adventure is made of.
Three years later, Hearsey was in the thick of the British campaign against the Gorkhas. He was taken captive and escaped the wrath of his enemies only because he had saved their leader from a bear during his earlier travels with Moorcroft.
Once British rule over Kumaon and Garhwal was established, Hearsey claimed the Dun valley as his because, he said, the exiled king of Garhwal had sold it to him for Rs 3,000!
In 1905, Hugh Pearse wrote The Hearseys, Five Generations of an Anglo Indian Family, capturing every detail of Hearsey's life. More than hundred years later, you can not only read the book on the net but also download it fully. All for free
The Raj had its own large army of adventurers who travelled on foot or on horseback over virgin territory, fought wars and gathered vital intelligence for their masters. Some of them even happened to be prolific writers and these books often turned out to be bestsellers.
The good news is that you can get books on the lives of the great adventurers of the Raj by browsing through the net or by looking at the travel section of some book shops "" you will find them in some dirty, unkempt corner of the shelf.
Moorcroft, after Tibet, made a second journey, this time to the North West of Hindustan. The travel took its toll on him and he died in the wilderness of the mountains in 1825.
A book on his travels was published many years later in 1837 in London and went on to become a bestseller, going into several reprints. You can still buy an Indian print of Travels in India, Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan: In Punjab, Ladakh and Kashmir, in Peshawar, Kabul, Kunduz and Bokhara; from 1819 to 1825.
You might also like to read Col Kirkpatrick's An Account of the Kingdom of Nepaul, A Mission to That Country in 1793. The author was sent To Nepal during the reign of Ran Bahadur Shah by Wellesley. The book not just gives a vivid account of the land and its people but also the machinations in the royal court.
Then there are the Great Game books. You could start with Alexander "Bokhara" Burnes' Cabool: Being a Personal Narrative of a Journey to, and Residence in that City, in the years 1836, 1837 & 1838 and move on to the several books written by Francis Younghusband, the last great British adventurer.
But the pick of the lot is Lhasa and Central Tibet by Sarat Chandra Das. A Pundit on the rolls of the British, Das' book has all the twists and turns of a thriller. On his return, he even put together a dictionary of Tibetan words.
If this is a subject that fascinates you, there is great news awaiting you. The diaries of Pundit Nain Singh, who made no less than three journeys to Tibet for the Geographical Survey of India in the 1860s and 1870s coming back with exact measurements of the country's topography, are being republished by a bunch of intrepid researchers.
Last but not least, a number of research papers and books on the events of 1857 are certain to be published this year as it is the 150th anniversary of the Mutiny.
But one book that you cannot afford to miss is An Eyewitness Account of the Indian Mutiny by Field Marshal Roberts of Kandahar (aka Bobs Bahadur). Born in Kanpur and educated in England, Roberts had come to India a few years before the Mutiny.
During 1857, he was the staff officer to John Nicholson during those eventful days and was amongst the last to attend the great man before he died. His book captures beautifully the build up to the siege of Delhi in 1857 as well as the events after that. Happy hunting.
Francis Younghusband,
Publisher: Rupa, Price: Rs 263
Sarat Chandra Das,
Publisher: Book Faith India,
Price: Rs 225
Colonel Kirkpatrick, Publisher: Asian Educational Services,
Price: Rs 595
Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar,
Publisher: Mittal Publication,
Price: Rs 1295
W. H. Sleeman,
Publisher: Rupa & Co.,
Price: Rs 595

First Published: Sat, January 13 2007. 00:00 IST