Nain Singh Rawat was one of the first of the late 19th century Indian explorers who explored the Himalayas for the British. He hailed from the Johar Valley of Kumaon.
He mapped the trade route through Nepal to Tibet, determined for the first time the location and altitude of Lhasa, and mapped a large section of the Brahmaputra, the major Brahmaputra River.
On 21 October 2017, Google celebrated Nain Singh Rawat‘s 187th birthday with a Google Doodle
Rai Bahadur Nain Singh Rawat was born to Lata Burha in 1830 in Milam village, a Shauka village in the valley of Johar, at the foot of the Milam glacier where the river Goriganga originates. The Rawats ruled over the Johar valley, during the reign of Chand dynasty in Kumaon; this was followed by the Gorkha rule.
In 1816 the British defeated the Gorkhas but maintained a policy of non-interference and friendship towards the Johar Bhotias.The famous Bhotia explorers mostly belong to the village of Johar.
After leaving school, Nain Singh helped his father. He visited different centres in Tibet with him, learned the Tibetan language, customs and manners and became familiar with the Tibetan people. This knowledge of Tibetan language and local customs and protocol came in handy in Nain Singh’s work as a “spy explorer“.
Due to the extreme cold conditions, Milam and other villages of the upper Johar valley are inhabited only for a few months from June to October. During this time the men used to visit Gya’nyima, Gartok and other markets in Western Tibet.
In 1855, Nain Singh Rawat, now a well-disposed and intelligent man of 45 years, of traditional Bhotia stature – short, stocky and stubborn – was first recruited by German geographers the Schlagintweit brothers.
In 1863, Nain Singh Rawat and his cousin, Mani Singh Rawat, were sent to the Great Trignometric Survey office in Dehradun where they underwent training for two years. This included training on the use of scientific instruments and ingenious ways of measuring and recording and the art of disguise. Nain Singh Rawat was exceptionally intelligent and quickly learned the correct use of scientific instruments like the sextant and compass. He could recognise all major stars and different constellations easily. This was possible due to exhaustive practice and a drive and determination in the hand-picked men.
In 1865–66, Nain Singh travelled 1200 miles from Kathmandu to Lhasa and thence to Lake Manasarovar and back to India. His last and greatest journey was from Leh in Ladhak via Lhasa to Assam in 1873–75. For his extraordinary achievements and contributions, Nain Singh was honoured with many awards by the Royal Geographical Society.
In 1873–75, he travelled from Leh in Kashmir to Lhasa, by a route more northerly than the one along the Tsangpo that he had taken on his first journey.
Nain Singh Rawat died at Moradabad of cholera on approximately the 1st of February, 1882
On 27 June 2004, an Indian postage stamp featuring Nain Singh was issued commemorating his role in the Great Trigonometric Survey. In 2006, Shekhar Pathak and Uma Bhatt brought out a biography of Nain Singh with three of his diaries and the RGS articles about his travels in three volumes titled Asia ki Peeth Par published by Pahar, Naini Tal.