The Great Game raged through the wilds of Central Asia during the nineteenth century, as Imperial Russia and Great Britain jostled for power. Tsarist armies gobbled up large tracts of Turkestan, advancing inexorably towards their ultimate prize, India. These rivals understood well that the first need of an army in a strange land is a reliable map, prompting desperate efforts to explore and chart out uncharted regions. Two distinct groups would rise to this challenge: a band of army officers, who would become the classic Great Game players; and an obscure group of natives employed by the Survey of India, known as the Pundits.
While ‘the game’ played out, a self-educated cartographer named William Lambton began mapping the Great Arc, attempting to measure the actual shape of the Indian subcontinent. It was completed four decades later by a fellow officer working for the Survey of India, George Everest, who would have a special mountain named in his honour. The Great Arc would then lauded as ‘one of the most stupendous works in the whole history of science’. Meanwhile, the Pundits, travelling entirely on foot and with meagre resources, would be among the first to enter Tibet and reveal the mysteries of its forbidden capital, Lhasa.
Featuring forgotten, enthralling episodes of derring-do combined, and of the most sincere efforts to map India’s boundaries, Mapping the Great Game is the thrilling story of espionage and cartography which shrouded the Great Game and helped map a large part of Asia as we know it today.