The Great Game: Anglo-Russian encounter at the borders of Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karakoram

The last act of the “Great Game” or “Большая Игра” (Bolshaya Igra), was played where the Tsarist Empire, the British Empire and the Chinese Empire joined in one of the highest and, at that time, one of the most inaccessible places of the planet. There, bristling with giant mountains, Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karakoram ranges converge.

English translation of a Bernard Grua’s article published on Agoravox: “Le Grand Jeu : rencontre anglo-russe aux confins du Pamir, de l’Hindou Kouch et du Karakoram”

Karakoram Range near Kunjerab Pass between Pakistan & China — Photo Bernard Grua
Karakoram Range near Kunjerab Pass between Pakistan & China — Photo Bernard Grua
Karakoram Range near Kunjerab Pass between Pakistan & China

Kunjerab Pass, the door of high Chinese Pamir

Leaving China, coming from Kashgar or Tashkurgan, we enter Gojal, the upper part of Hunza Valley, via the Kunjerab Pass located at 4,693 meters. This presents a typical Pamir topography. Bordered by glaciers and rounded peaks contrasting with the sharp ones of Karakoram, which are revealed later, it is a wide plateau with short grass, where, mainly on the Chinese side, yaks graze in summer.

Alpine meadow (“pamir”), Pakistan side, Kunjerab, 4,693 meters — Photo Bernard Grua
Alpine meadow (“pamir”), Pakistan side, Kunjerab, 4,693 meters — Photo Bernard Grua
Alpine meadow (“pamir”), Pakistan side, Kunjerab, 4,693 meters, and rounded peaks bordering it to the West — On the right, in the photo, the arc of the Chinese border
Peak and glacial moraine west of the pamir of Kunjerab (Pakistan side) — Photo Bernard Grua
Peak and glacial moraine west of the pamir of Kunjerab (Pakistan side) — Photo Bernard Grua
Peak and glacial moraine west of the pamir of Kunjerab (Pakistan side)
Summit, glacier and moraine west of the pamir of Kunjerab (Pakistan side) — Photo Bernard Grua
Summit, glacier and moraine west of the pamir of Kunjerab (Pakistan side) — Photo Bernard Grua
Summit, glacier and moraine west of the pamir of Kunjerab (Pakistan side) — At the foot of the scree in the foreground, on the right, see the two tiny silhouettes giving the scale
Close-up view of a glacier, west of the Kunjerab pamir (Pakistan side) — Photo Bernard Grua
Close-up view of a glacier, west of the Kunjerab pamir (Pakistan side) — Photo Bernard Grua
Close-up view of a glacier, west of the Kunjerab pamir (Pakistan side)
Summits, glacier and moraine, east of the pamir of Kunjerab (Chinese side) — Photo Bernard grua
Summits, glacier and moraine, east of the pamir of Kunjerab (Chinese side) — Photo Bernard grua
Summits, glacier and moraine, east of the pamir of Kunjerab (Chinese side)
Summits seen, towards the South and Pakistan, at the top of the descent of the Kunjerab — Photo Bernard Grua
Summits seen, towards the South and Pakistan, at the top of the descent of the Kunjerab — Photo Bernard Grua
Summits seen, towards the South and Pakistan, at the top of the descent of the Kunjerab
The road and the river seen from the tight switchbacks descending from the pass of Kunjerab towards Sost — Photo Bernard Grua
The road and the river seen from the tight switchbacks descending from the pass of Kunjerab towards Sost — Photo Bernard Grua
The road and the river seen from the tight switchbacks descending from the pass of Kunjerab towards Sost
Glacier and outlet between Kunjerab and Sost — Photo bernard grua
Glacier and outlet between Kunjerab and Sost — Photo bernard grua
Glacier and outlet between Kunjerab and Sost
The Kunjerab river above Sost — Photo #BernardGrua
The Kunjerab river above Sost — Photo #BernardGrua
The Kunjerab river above Sost

Gojal, Upper Hunza Valley, bordered by Afghanistan and China

Once, during summer 1889, Francis Younghusband, near Shimshal Pass (between China and the northeast of the kingdom of Hunza), 4,735 meters, met Captain Bronislav Grombchevsky. They shared meals, vodka and brandy. The Russian officer showed the map he had in his possession. Younghusband was shocked by the advance of his competitor and opposed the continuation of his armed expedition to Leh through Ladakh, already under British control. As a result, confining his winter exploration between Ladakh and Tibet, Grombchevsky lost all his luggage and his horses. He and his team survived with difficulty.

The Passu peak, 7,478 meters, and its glacier not far from Gulmit, 2,465 meters — Photo Bernard Grua
The Passu peak, 7,478 meters, and its glacier not far from Gulmit, 2,465 meters — Photo Bernard Grua
The Passu peak, 7,478 meters, and its glacier not far from Gulmit, 2,465 meters, place of the meeting between Francis Younghusband and the Mir of Hunza, Safdar Ali
Secondary peak of Passu peak — Photo Bernard Grua
Secondary peak of Passu peak — Photo Bernard Grua
Secondary peak of Passu peak
The cones, also called Passu Cathedral, or locally Tupopdan, 6,106 meters, seen from Hussaini — Photo Bernard Grua
The cones, also called Passu Cathedral, or locally Tupopdan, 6,106 meters, seen from Hussaini — Photo Bernard Grua
The cones, also called Passu Cathedral, or locally Tupopdan, 6,106 meters, seen from Hussaini, 2,435 meters, on the Younghusband route between Passu and Gulmit.
Passu cones, 6,106 meters, seen from the village of Passu, 2,500 meters — Photo Bernard Grua
Passu cones, 6,106 meters, seen from the village of Passu, 2,500 meters — Photo Bernard Grua
Passu cones, 6,106 meters, seen from the village of Passu, 2,500 meters
Zoodkhun (Gojal, Pakistan), 3,300 m, in the foreground, village of the Chapursan valley — Photo Bernard Grua
Zoodkhun (Gojal, Pakistan), 3,300 m, in the foreground, village of the Chapursan valley — Photo Bernard Grua
Zoodkhun (Gojal, Pakistan), 3,300 m, in the foreground, village of the Chapursan valley after the descent of the Irshad pass, 4,969 meters, at the bottom right of the photo, coming from Bozai Gumbaz (Pamir Afghan). In 1891, Colonel Yanov prohibited Younghusband from taking this route.
Hindukush peaks bordering the southern Chapursan Valley at Zood Khun (Gojal) — Photo Bernard Grua
Hindukush peaks bordering the southern Chapursan Valley at Zood Khun (Gojal) — Photo Bernard Grua
Hindukush peaks bordering the southern Chapursan Valley at Zood Khun (Gojal)

Karimabad, the ancient capital of Hunza kingdom in the heart of Karakoram

On his own initiative, Safdar Ali would work on creating the pretexts leading to his loss. In winter, in the absence of the Gurkhas locking the Shimshal Pass, he resumed his deadly assaults on the caravans between Ladakh and Xinjiang. He believed that Russian and Chinese forces would fly to his aid, if necessary. He even began to attack neighboring communities and Kashmiri possessions. In November 1891 the British went on the offensive, attacking a bunch of military works from Nagar and Hunza as they headed upward north from Gilgit. Safdar Ali fled from Baltit Fort (Karimabad, 2,400 meters) and took refuge in Kashgar (Xinjian). The British detachment replaced him with his half-brother, Muhammad Zafim. The latter reigned from 1892 to 1938. The state of Hunza and the neighboring Nagar were incorporated into the British Indies. Furious, the Russian foreign minister, Nicolas de Giers, exclaimed:

Hunza River Valley, Nagar (left bank) and Rakaposhi Peak, 7,788 meters, seen from Karimabad — Photo Bernard Grua
Hunza River Valley, Nagar (left bank) and Rakaposhi Peak, 7,788 meters, seen from Karimabad — Photo Bernard Grua
Hunza River Valley, Nagar (left bank) and Rakaposhi Peak, 7,788 meters, seen from Karimabad in a southerly direction from where British troops took control of the kingdom in November 1891.
Karimabad: Ultar Peak, 7,388 meters, overlooking the Baltit Fort, 2,400 meters — Photo Bernard Grua
Karimabad: Ultar Peak, 7,388 meters, overlooking the Baltit Fort, 2,400 meters — Photo Bernard Grua
Karimabad: Ultar Peak, 7,388 meters, overlooking the Baltit Fort, 2,400 meters, taken by the English and from where Mir Safdar Ali fled in November 1891 to Xinjiang
Rapakaposhi summit, 7,788 meters, seen from Aliabad, 2,200 meters — photo Bernard Grua
Rapakaposhi summit, 7,788 meters, seen from Aliabad, 2,200 meters — photo Bernard Grua
Rapakaposhi summit, 7,788 meters, seen from Aliabad, 2,200 meters, shortly before arriving in Karimabad from Gilgit
The Rakaposhi, 7,788 meters, and its glacier at Ghulmet (Nagar, left bank of the Hunza river) — Photo Bernard Grua
The Rakaposhi, 7,788 meters, and its glacier at Ghulmet (Nagar, left bank of the Hunza river) — Photo Bernard Grua
The Rakaposhi, 7,788 meters, and its glacier at Ghulmet (Nagar, left bank of the Hunza river), 1,985 meters, near Karimabad, coming from Gilgit. On the route of the English troops who, in 1891, took control of the Nagar and Hunza
Bubuli Motin (Lady finger), 6,000 meters, and Hunza peak, 6,270 meters, overlooking West Karimabad — photo Bernard Grua
Bubuli Motin (Lady finger), 6,000 meters, and Hunza peak, 6,270 meters, overlooking West Karimabad — photo Bernard Grua
Bubuli Motin (Lady finger), 6,000 meters, and Hunza peak, 6,270 meters, overlooking West Karimabad
Rush Peak Summits, 5,098 meters, north of Karimabad — Photo Bernard Grua
Rush Peak Summits, 5,098 meters, north of Karimabad — Photo Bernard Grua
Rush Peak Summits, 5,098 meters, north of Karimabad
Summit, north of Karimabad — photo Bernard Grua
Summit, north of Karimabad — photo Bernard Grua
Summit, north of Karimabad

Notes

Pakistani places mentioned in this text from North to South and down the Hunza River along the Karakoram Highway:

  • Kunjerab Pass leading from Xinjiang to the Hunza valley
  • Sost (with the west departure of the track towards Chapursan valley and Irshad pass leading to Bozai Gumbaz in the Afghan Pamir)
  • Passu (with the north west departure of the track towards the Shimshal Valley and Shimshal Pass)
  • Hussaini
  • Gulmit
  • Karimabad (capital of the former kingdom of Hunza)
  • Aliabad
  • Ghulmet
  • Gilgit (British advanced military base in the late 1880s)

Main information source :

Peter Hopkirk : The Great Game, On secret service in High Asia ; John Murray Publisher (1990).

All pictures are © Bernard Grua and cannot be used without his written approval.

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The Great Game: Anglo-Russian encounter at the borders of Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karakoram — Bernard Grua
The Great Game: Anglo-Russian encounter at the borders of Pamir, Hindu Kush and Karakoram — Bernard Grua

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Contributor to French and foreign medias: geopolitics, heritage, history, expeditions | https://bernardgrua.net https://bernardgrua.blogspot.com | FR EN SP GE

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