As a traveller, mountain lover and someone who has explored the beauty of ladakh, I was stunned to read about “Ghulam Rassul Galwan”.
The Great Game
In the Beginning of 19th Century , the region of ladakh was caught in the rivalry between British & Russian empire.
Britain was trying to control central Asia to buffer the “crown jewel” of their empire British India.
Meanwhile, Russia was trying expand it’s territory & sphere of influence to create history’s largest land based empire. Russians would have been quiet happy to wrest control of India away from British as well.
Britain had solidified it’s hold on India, Including what are now Myanmar, Pakistan & Bangladesh. And Russia conquered central Asian khanates on it’s southern borders.
( Khanates was a political entity ruled by Khan, Khagan, Khatun or Khanum)
The front line between two empires was running through Afghanistan, Tibet & Persia.
This rivalry is famously known as The Great Game!
Today, the players are different , which are India & China. This is indeed a new Great Game.
Following the tragic events of 15th June between Indian & Chinese soldiers, many Indians heard the name of “Galwan river valley” of eastern ladakh for the first time.
As per the news, 20 Indian soldiers & a colonel were killed. While, several others were injured. The Galwan Vally, which is at the east of Siachen Glacier is the only direct access to Aksai Chin. The Galwan Vally was also the site of clashes between Indian & China in 1962.
River Galwan originates in the karakoram range through Aksai Chin & Eastern ladakh to river shyok, an important tributary of the Indus river. This Valley and the river holds significant strategic importance to both nations, but particularly India.
China’s objection over a bridge the Indian government is building across the Galwan nullah, has resulted in to the current stand off between the two nations.
Ghulam Rassul Galwan
Interestingly, very few know the remarkable ladakhi traveller and explorer Ghulam Rassul Galwan, whose name the river has.
In his Autobiography titled ” Servant of Sahibs” he describes his expeditions through the high Himalayas in to Tibet, Yarkand and through the pamir mountains in Afghanistan, the karakoram range and other parts of central asia.
( Yarkand is presently situated in uyghur autonomous region of Xinjiang, China.)
He assisted many Europeans towards the end of 19th Century and in to the early 1920’s .
Galwan traveled this part during the period of ” The great Game” between British & Russian Empire.
He lived an fascinating life, he traveled with likes of Major HH Godwin Austen, the English geologist, who is responsible for measuring height of K2, IN 1887.
(K2 is worlds second highest pick)
He also travelled with Sir Francis Yongehusband, the British empire builder, spymaster and army officer responsible for singing 1904 Anglo-tibetian treaty for more than 6 years between 1890 to 1896 during multiple expeditions.
Significant & important historical incident
It was an 1892 mission to Pamir mountains with Charles Murray, during which, name ‘Galwan nullah’ or ‘Galwan river’ came in to existance.
(Charles Murray was the 7th earl of Dunemor and lieutenant- colonel in British army at that time)
During the journey back , Caravan strayed away from traditional routes in Aksai chin due to bad weather. But wall of mountains & steep gorges trapped them & then 14 year old Galwan took the lead to find a way out of this puzzle.
Using his instincts & knowledge of the terrain, Galwan was instrumental in finding a easier way through a ravine. which kept expedition going without much trouble.
Historian Abdul Ghani sheikh writes that Murray was so impressed with Galwan that he decided to name this newly found Valley as ‘Galwan Valley’.
This was significant & important historical incident as colonizing westerners would typically name major geographical features after themselves, ignoring local history or common beliefs.
‘Servants of Sahib’
In early 1900’s Galwan teamed with American Adventurer Robert Barrett, It was during expeditions with Barrett Galwan picked up English.
By this time, he was also promoted as ‘ Caravan Bashi’ or ‘ Man in-charge of the Caravan. He overlooked collection of money, Buying or Hiring of Animals & Humans, Managed food supply.
Galwan acted as ‘ diplomatic representative of his Sahib’ while dealing for Barrett with Governors & Officials.
Barrett & his wife Katherine insisted Galwan write his book ‘ Servants of Sahib’, which was published in 1923.
Without his book, We wouldn’t have known as much about his extraordinary life.
Read more about “Galwan’s” adventures in his book, while history is repeating it self in many ways in “the New great Game” between ‘India’ & ‘China’.
Following are some books recommended by me on “The Great Game”