Event Detail


Afghanistan: From the Oxus to the Pamirs

Bill Colegrave
Tuesday, 28 Feb 2012
Ladies Recreation Club, 10 Old Peak Road, Mid Levels
A presentation of his RGS London lecture.

Session 1:
5.30 onwards Drinks and Book Signing
6.30 7.30 Lecture

Session 2:
7.00 onwards Drinks and Book Signing
8.00 9.00 Lecture

RGS HK & LRC members HK$100 non members HK$150

No need to pre book, please buy tickets at the door.

Bill Colegrave tells the story of his search through wartorn Afghanistan for the real and ultimately surprising source of the Oxus River, through the notorious and mostly unexplored Wakhan Corridor to the Pamir Mountains. He weaves the explorations of Lord Curzon and Sir Francis Younghusband, who made the Wakhan Corridor the single most celebrated incident of the Great Game, with his own explorations, while describing the beauty of the Wakhan and the proud selfsufficiency of its nomadic people.

In the 19th century, explorers, the celebrities of their day, brought back stories of mysterious lands. The Oxus River was a particularly important prize, as it represented the likely frontier between the growing Tzarist Empire to the North, the British Empire and China to the East, protected only by mountain barriers that divided the potential enemies. The Oxus is the true barrier between two halves of Asia, a wild unnavigable river that is the natural frontier between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to the south and the Central Asian lands, known for long as Transoxiana.

The Oxus was reputed to start at an ice cave discovered by RGS President Lord Curzon in 1893 in the heart of the Pamirs at the end of the Wakhan Corridor, where the five great mountain chains of Central Asia merge into the Pamirs, commonly known as the "Roof of the World ". At least four different 19th and early 20th Century explorers claimed to have found the true source of the river, but the closing of the Wakhan to all but local travel for most of the 20th century left their theories for the most part untested or challenged.

In 2007, Bill Colegrave and two companions set out to rediscover Curzon's ice cave, to see if it was still as he had described and then to test the explorers' different theories. The surprising outcome is told in this lecture. His team entered Afghanistan at Ishkashem and then followed the Oxus/Amu Darya eastwards into the Wakhan Corridor, then climbed the Wakhan Massif to reach the upper Wakhan and Little Pamir. They were welcomed by one of the world's few remaining truly nomadic communities, the Kirghiz of the Pamir. The team then followed the Wakhan to its easternmost end where China, Afghanistan and Pakistan meet and finally reached a conclusion about the Oxus and its true parent stream. But much more than the finding of the river's surprising source, it was the beauty of the Wakhan and the proud selfsufficiency of its people that most impressed and excited Mr Colegrave's expedition.

Bill Colegrave was educated at Winchester College and Selwyn College, Cambridge University. Soon a leading merchant banker, he was the founder of the Colegrave Group, an asset financing merchant bank. He subsequently bought the guide book series Cadogan Guides, which he built into its present size and fame. He is presently an avid explorer and traveller, in addition to running his boutique hotel on France's Cote d'Azur. Recent expeditions include crossings of the Sahara and several forays into Northern Pakistan, Western China and Central Asia. Mr Colegrave is the author of numerous articles and lectures widely. In 2011, he published Halfway House to Heaven, the story of his adventures in Afghanistan.

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