THE ROYAL GEOGRAPHICAL SOCIETY - HONG KONG
"The Great Journey: Retracing the steps of Nain Singh"
by Diego Azubel
on Monday, 26 November 2007
2/F Olympic House, So Kong Po, Causeway Bay
Drinks Reception 6.30 pm; Lecture 7.30 pm
We are delighted to welcome explorer and photojournalist Diego Azubel to Hong Kong again to address the Royal Geographical Society on "The Great Journey: Retracing the steps of Nain Singh". Mr. Azubel previously lectured on "The Great Walk", his epic 4,000 km walk along the entire length of the Great Wall. As well as the excitement of the journey, Mr Azubel's lecture shows Tibet's breathtakingly beautiful landscape through his stunning photographs, as well as spectacular Buddhist temples, Lhasa, ancient cities, enduring traditions and spectacular mountain scenery.
In 1865, Nain Singh, a spy working for the British government in the days of the "Great Game", walked in disguise to Lhasa from Katmandu and then back to India following the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra. Singh succeeded where numerous previous expeditions had failed, usually because of discovery of spying equipment or the agents' disguise being seen through. Singh was the first known outsider to succeed on the journey to Lhasa. Counting his own steps using beads and boiling water to assess altitude, and with the help of a hidden sextant, Nain Singh produced the first map of the hitherto almost unknown and forbidden country of Tibet with incredible accuracy. This gave the British Raj an enormous advantage as it played out the "Great Game" with its northern rivals, Russia and China.
On 27 October 2004, almost 140 years later, Mr Azubel set out to pay tribute to this great explorer by retracing Nain Singh's trip, following in his footsteps across Tibet. For over seven months, Mr Azubel followed Nain Singh's footsteps from Katmandu to Lhasa, and from Lhasa to Mount Kailash along the Brahmaputra. During his journey, Mr Azubel travelled over 2,600km on foot at an average altitude of 4,000 metres with the highest point at 5,360 metres. He lost 17 kilograms, and was forced to inject himself with anti-rabies vaccines after being attacked by a Tibetan Mastif.
On the original expedition, in October 1865, Nain Singh, an Indian teacher disguised as a monk and trained by British secret services, set out on the expedition by foot that took him over 3,000km across the Himalayas in winter, to "add information to the map of Asia". Nain Singh left Katmandu on his way to Lhasa where he stayed a few months secretly before heading out West tracing the Tsangpo River and crossing the border into his hometown Milam, in India.
In 1877, the Royal Geographical Society honoured him with a gold medal as 'the man who has added a greater amount of knowledge to the map of Asia than any individual of our time'. He is now regarded as one the greatest explorers of all time with his journey being the first and only recorded one-man expedition to traverse the Himalayas on foot in winter. Singh also probably completed the most difficult part of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, the largst mapping exercise in history, led by Sir George Everest, of eponymous mountain fame.
Beginning in October 2004, just as his predecessor had in 1865 from Katmandu, Mr Azubel, solo and unsupported, followed Nain Singh's steps. In the first stage of a two-part journey, Mr Azubel first reached the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, a journey of 1,000km, reaching 5,200m in altitude. He then set out on the second stage of 2,000km to Lake Manasarovar (4,590m) and the Holy mountain of Mount Kailash (6,638m), about 1,000km to the west. Mr Azubel traversed Tibet in winter temperatures as low as -400C. He followed the Tsangpo River to its very source, a glacier in Mount Kailash in the Northern Himalayas. After a 53km sacred circumambulation around Mt Kailash through the Dolma La at 5,600m and one of 90km around the holy Lake Manasarovar (where he wouldn't leave without a dip), Mr Azubel headed south for the last steps of his journey to the Indian town of Milam.
Mr Azubel is an Argentinean explorer, expeditioner and photojournalist based in Beijing. As well as his well-known photography particularly of China, which has frequently been exhibited in Hong Kong, he has published work on projects from landmines in Cambodia to slavery in Mauritania and the reindeer people of Mongolia. Mr Azubel's 15-month walk along The Great Wall of China and his documentation of it are the subject of regular exhibitions and documentaries on Discovery Channel. In 1989 Mr Azubel made his last appearance at the University of Buenos Aires, where he was studying for a degree in Electronic Engineering, and decided to make exploring and photography his career. In 1990 Mr Azubel found his first job as a photographer and combined this work with his passion for travel. In 1996 the hunger for knowledge about other cultures drove him out of his homeland and took him overland from France to India followed by a year in and around Asia. Next came West Africa, where he stayed another year and then finally he moved back to Asia for what turned out to be his previous greatest expedition: "The Great Walk", following which he settled in Beijing.
Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this lecture, which is HK$50 for Members, HK$100 for Members' guests and HK$150 for others.