1892 Survey of India Map of Nepal, the Himalayas, Tibet

Nepal, with part of Tibet: N[orthern] T[rans] F[rontier] Sheets No. 15. 16. 22. 23. - Main View

1892 Survey of India Map of Nepal, the Himalayas, Tibet


A 'confidential' early detailed map of Nepal, caught between empires.


Nepal, with part of Tibet: N[orthern] T[rans] F[rontier] Sheets No. 15. 16. 22. 23.
  1892 (dated)     20.75 x 34.5 in (52.705 x 87.63 cm)     1 : 1013760


This is a rare 1892 large format dissected folding map of Nepal and nearby territories produced by the Survey of India. It is a first edition of what was at that time the most complete and accurate survey of Nepal, far exceeding earlier maps in its detail and comprehensiveness. Produced during a period of inter-imperial competition in the Himalayas, this map is a product of equal parts espionage and exploration.
A Closer Look
The map covers the entire extent of Nepal and portions of surrounding territories in great detail, showing major and minor roads, railways, rivers, lakes, monasteries, temples, bazars, hot springs, a toll house near the Nepal-Tibet border, and, of course, mountains, with elevations noted. A dashed line marked 'approximate boundary' runs northwest to southeast across the top half of the map, right through Mount Everest, foreshadowing subsequent territorial and border disputes in the Himalayas.
Historical Context
The expansion of British influence into the region is clear, as several conquered territories surrounding Nepal were later incorporated into the system of protectorates and associations that defined Company Rule in India. Railways, both extant and proposed, are indicated, showing the extent of their reach through northern India, to the foothills of the Himalayas and to Darjeeling, which had been reached by a narrow (2 foot or 600 mm) gauge railway less than a decade prior.

The compilation of this map by T. H. Holdich and his team was a major undertaking in its own right, merging maps from multiple sources on different scales and also incorporating new intelligence. The confidential box at bottom suggests that this map was considered highly valuable and top secret, to be used only by top-level officials and then returned to the Survey.
Imperial Competition in the Himalayas
Under the Shah dynasty, which consolidated power in the 18th century, the Gorkha Kingdom became a major military and economic force in the Himalayas, bringing it into conflict with neighboring states, including Tibet, a protectorate of the Qing. In 1788, the Gorkha Kingdom invaded Tibet following several disputes over trade and territory. The Nepalese were initially very successful but later were forced to retreat in the face of a Qing counter-attack. Qing troops in turn found it difficult to advance into Gorkha territory and a peace was signed by which Nepal became a Qing tributary.

But increasing British influence in the Himalayas in the 19th century broke these ties. Although the invasion of Tibet had been turned back, wars with other nearby states like Garhwal and Sikkim were more successful. Gorkha territory extended considerably to the west, east, and south, bumping into the British East India Company's ever-expanding interests in South Asia. The Anglo-Nepalese War (1814 - 1816) pitted Nepal against the East India Company and its Indian allies, which had been occupied or felt threatened by the Gorkhas. After fierce fighting, Nepal agreed to a peace whereby it lost most of its recent territorial gains in exchange for autonomy from the British.

In 1855, tensions between Nepal and Tibet brewed again, when Qing China was too preoccupied with several existential crises to become directly involved. Secure in good relations if not outright support from the British, Nepal invaded Tibet, but the fighting was costly and inconclusive, with the border town of Kuti (or Nilam Jong, today Nyalam) changing hands several times. Although a treaty was signed laying out grievances and proposing solutions to long-standing trade, territorial, and religious disputes, little of substance was changed by the war. By this time, outside powers were becoming increasingly interested in the Himalayas as a strategic region, and tensions between Tibet and Nepal became a proxy for wider struggles between Britain, Russia, and China in Inner Asia.

Although under the Rana dynasty (1846 - 1951) Nepal was strictly isolationist, it came to endorse the British presence in South Asia, sending troops to help quell the 1857 Mutiny and supporting the 1903 - 1904 British expedition to Tibet. Like the Shahs before them, the Ranas were wary of allowing British surveys on their territory, but eventually realized their potential value in any military conflict with Tibet. After repeated entreaties, British surveyors were allowed to conduct work in Nepal in the 1880s (though they had already been doing so surreptitiously since the 1860s).

By the 1890s, the British were looking to press their advantage in the Himalayas, which was resisted in Lhasa and Beijing, though for different reasons; Lhasa wanted to assert its independence and Beijing wanted to assert its control over Tibet. The British launched a military expedition in 1903 - 1904 that captured Lhasa, resulting in a string of treaties favorable to the British and unfavorable to both Lhasa and Beijing.

Geopolitics aside, the technical challenges in conducting surveys in the Himalayas given the steep terrain and frigid cold would have been staggering, though the Survey of India had several decades of experience surveying highlands nearby, and benefited tremendously from the efforts of pundits.
'Pundits' (or 'pandits'), also called 'native explorers,' were Indians, Tibetans, and other local peoples employed by the British Survey of India in the mid-late 19th century as agents to explore and map the vast regions of Inner Asia (Tibet and the Himalayas, Turkestan, western Mongolia). Their work combined elements of ethnography, cartography, exploration, and espionage. Pundits could more easily travel and disguise themselves as traders or lamas than Europeans. Moreover, most pundits came from communities in the Himalayas, and were much more accustomed to the climate, terrain, and culture of the Himalayas than surveyors from elsewhere in India, let alone Britain.

A named contributor to this map, Rinzin Nimgiyal (spelled variously, including Rinzing Namgyal), was one of the most prominent pundits, and was central to the mapping of Nepal in the late 19th century. His work was so highly regarded that he was invited to England to meet with the Queen in recognition of his efforts. An account of Rinzin Nimgiyal's earlier work for the Survey was written by G.W.E. Atkinson (credited with hill shading on this map) and published in 1889 in a report edited by H.R. Thuillier (a former Surveyor-General of India) titled Report on the Explorations... in Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet. A more recent scholarly account of his remarkable life and works is included in Derek Waller, The Pundits: British Exploration of Tibet and Central Asia (University of Kentucky Press, 1990).
The Great Trigonometrical Survey
The Great Trigonometrical Survey was a massive and ambitious undertaking to map the Indian subcontinent, which started as an independent project but was folded into the preexisting Survey of India under the leadership of Sir George Everest (1790 - 1866) (namesake for the mountain). As much of the Indian subcontinent had been thoroughly mapped by the mid-19th century, the Great Trigonometrical Survey began to focus more on the Himalayas and areas beyond British control. As the British and Russian Empires drew closer to each other in Inner Asia in the 19th century, the challenge of mapping out the intermediate regions was of critical importance in trying to gain an advantage. In the end, these surveys led to important scientific advances (in geography, cartography, and navigation) that were driven by geopolitical competition, akin to the space race of the 1950s - 1960s.
Publication History and Census
This map was produced by a team led by Thomas Holdich at the Survey of India in its Simla Drawing Office (Simla and the Survey's headquarters of Dehra Dun being located roughly 150 miles to the west-northwest of Pithoragarh, at top-left here). It is extremely rare, with the only other known example being held by the British Library. Two later editions are known to exist, from 1902 and 1907, with the former only being held by the Sächsische Landesbibliothek - Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Dresden and the latter seemingly held in a collection of maps that once belonged to the explorer Sven Hedin now housed at the National Museum of Ethnography, Stockholm and the Sven Hedin Foundation of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Sweden.


Survey of India (1767 - Present) is India's central engineering agency in charge of mapping and surveying the country. It was founded in 1767 by Major James Rennell, who took the post of first Surveyor General, with the mission to map and consolidate the territories of the British East India Company. The Survey undertook the Great Trigonometrical Survey between 1802 and 1852 in an attempt to accurately measure the Indian Subcontinent - considered one of the greatest feats of mapping of all time. It also sponsored clandestine surveys, at times disguised as Buddhist pilgrims, to infiltrate and map Tibet, then a closed country. With India's independence in 1947, the Survey was folded into the new Indian government, which it remains part of to this day. Learn More...

Colonel Sir Thomas Hungerford Holdich (1843 - 1929) was an English geographer and president of the Royal Geographical Society. He served as the Superintendent of Frontier Surveys in British India and was the author of several books, including The Gates of India, The Countries of King's Award and Political Frontiers and Boundary Making. Born in Dingley, Northamptonshire, England, he attended Godolphin Grammar School and then the Royal Military Academy, from which he graduated in 1862 with a commission in the Royal Engineers. He served in the Bhutan expedition of 1865, the Abyssinian campaign of 1867-1868, and the Second Afghan War of 1878-79. During peacetime, Holdich was engaged in the survey of India, serving on the Afghan Boundary Commission of 1884-86, the Tasmar Boundary Commission of 1894, the Pamir Boundary Commission of 1895, and the Person-Baluchistan Boundary Commission of 1896. For his work on the Afghan frontier, Holdich was awarded the Founder's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1887. In 1902, he was engaged by the governments of Argentina and Chile in The Cordillera of the Andes Boundary Case to determine the boundary between the two countries along the Andes Mountains. Holdich retired on half pay in 1898, and was placed on the Retired list with an Indian pension on February 13, 1900. Following his retirement, he spent his time extensively writing and lecturing on geographical issues, and he served as the president of the Royal Geographical Society from 1917-19. He also contributed an umber of entries to the eleventh edition of the Encyclopædia Brittanica. On a personal note, Holdich was married to Ada Vanrenen, with whom he had two daughters and two sons. Learn More...

G.W.E. Atkinson (fl. c. 1859 – 1898) was a British military surveyor and expert on Tibet, the Himalayas, and Central Asia who worked with the Survey of India in the late 19th century. He first joined the Survey in 1859 and worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming a Surveyor of the First Grade in the Drawing Office in Simla and later Assistant Superintendent of the same office in 1894, retiring in October 1898 and eventually receiving the rank of Esquire in 1901 in recognition of his services. He was considered an expert on 'transfrontier geographical mapping' and published several accounts of Indian and Tibetan pundits who had explored Tibet and neighboring regions for the British (most notably Narrative Account of Rinzin Nimgyl's Explorations in Sikkim , Bhutan and Tibet , in 1885-86). He also produced important maps on Kashmir (Map of Kashmir, 1873), Central Asia (Turkestan: and the countries between the British and the Russian dominions in Asia, first edition 1875), and a series of gazetteer maps. Learn More...


Very good. Map dissected and laid on linen.


OCLC 556741453.