Sunday, December 13, 2009
Walking like a Pundit
Toward Lapche, Nepal -- photo by Rod Jackson of the Snow Leopard Conservancy
That's right -- walking. Not talking like a pundit.
Today I counted my paces like the pundits of British colonial yore.
I failed the last time I tried.
I broke stride and forgot my count when my wet dog took his place between an elderly couple sitting on a bench.
Should never have taught Fred to jump up on park benches.
But today there were no distractions -- it was too cold for the usual flume walkers.
My mantra was a soto voce count -- 23... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... 24 ... 2 ... 3 ... 4 ... each four steps being two strides, and an average distance of 9.8 ft.
You won't believe it, but the chanting calmed Fred.
He didn't tug on his gentle leader, and he waited patiently when I jotted down the paces. It was a little weird.
The reason for the exercise?
I wanted to measure the distance of my daily dog walk.
The straight-line distance is 1.566 miles on my topo map, but I know it is longer because the path is as crooked as a water snake.
To get a better measure I had to do some serious pundit walking, which means counting paces.
The clandestine mapping of Central Asia by colonial British was a riveting chapter of what Kipling called the Great Game, the British and Russian struggle for imperial hegemony.
The British were masters at this sort of thing, systematic and thorough.
And when it came to the players of the Great Game, there was no shortage of clever, eccentric, and obsessed characters to draw upon from the rank and file of the military and civil service.
The pundits though weren't Brits.
They were mostly young Muslim and Hindu hill men who were willing to masquerade as devout Buddhists on pilgrimage to some remote holy mountain.
Politically it was a lot safer to use a native than an Englishman.
So the Survey of India trained the pundits as secret agents.
They disappeared into the rarefied air of the Himalaya and Karakoram looking pious, spinning their prayer wheels, and counting their paces on a string of prayer beads.
Hidden in the prayer wheel was a compass and notes, and in their staff was a thermometer.
They shot the sun with a sextant secreted in a chest with a false bottom, and in their begging bowl they took the temperature of boiling water to determine altitude.
Some of them were gone for years, one was captured and sold into slavery, and others never came back.
My task was easier and probably more gratifying.
When I got home I calculated the distance of my daily dog walk.
As I said, my computer software calculated the straight line distance as 1.566 miles.
Calculations from my pundit walking yielded 1.846 miles.
Not even 4 miles round trip, I'm embarrassed to say.
Time to push the end point to 2.5 miles.
Looks like I'm in for more pundit walking.
If you like to read well written history that you just can't put down, I strongly recommend Peter Hopkirk's books. The pundits are covered to a varying extent in each of the three books below.]
Hopkirk, P. 1982. Trespassers on the roof of the world, the secret exploration of Tibet. J.P. Tracher, Inc, Los Angeles
Hopkirk, P. 1992. The Great Game, the struggle for Empire in Central Asia. Kodansha International, New York
Hopkirk, P. 1996. Quest for Kim, in search of Kipling's Great Game. John Murray, London
Waller, D. 1990. The Pundits, British exploration of Tibet and Central Asia. The University Press of Kentucky [This is a thorough and detailed historical account of the pundits, apparently based on the author's Ph D dissertation at Vandernbilt University.]