Saturday, February 13, 2010

Trans Asiatic Harrdt Cintrogen Expedition,1931-32

This is a guest post by Man Mohan Munshi ji who has generously offered to share some more stuff from his incredible collection. 
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                                        The first car nears the summit of Burzil Pass
   A half track at Burzil Pass 13,857 ft. on Great Himalaya Range between Gurais and Gilgit.
  FIRST EVER ACROSS THE HIMALAYAS  BY MOTOR TRANSPORT
   By M.M.Munshi
It was and is still believed by most of us that earliest record of motor transport having surmounted the Great Himalaya Range  was made by a couple of Honey Staurt tanks and few weapon carriers of the 7th Light  Cavalry supporting the Infantry in storming of the 11,500 high Zojila Pass in relief of the Leh operation on 4th November 1948.

 In reality the earliest record of motor transport of having not only surmounting but also having crossed the great Himalaya Range was made by half tracks of the Trans Asiatic Harrdt-Cintrogen Expedition in crossing the  14,000 ft high Burzil and other passes between Srinagar and Gilgit and beyond in 1931.

In an era of glorious expeditions  there was hardly any more splendid expedition undertaken than the  1931-32  Trans Asiatic Harrdt Cintrogen Expedition sponsored by National Geographic and undertaken by Harrdt with his French team. During early 1920s Harrdt had traversed the Sahara  in his half track vehicles designed by Andre Citrogen . On April 4th 1931 with seven specially designed cintrogen half tracks Harrdt set off from Beirut in Lebanon in an attempt to reach yellow sea by roughly following the route of Marco Polo’s journey seven centuries earlier. 
 The expedition was supposed to cross the Asia from Beirut to Beijing,avoiding the Pamirs through Soviet Turkish republics in one  set of half tracks,but Soviet refusal to permit the expedition through their territory the expedition had to be divided ; one set of seven half tracks assembled on east coast of China and moved westwards and another set of seven half tracks moved from Mediterranean through Lebanon,Syria, Iraq,Iran, Afghanistan to Srinagar in India covering a distance of 5,580 kms  from Beirut to Srinagar in 81 days  between April  4th April to 31st June 1931

The half tracks performed very well in deserts as well as river crossings on their own power . Despite expert opinion at Srinagar that the expedition with its half-tracks will never be able to make up to Gilgit, the expedition left Srinagar  on Trans Himalayan journey on 12th July 1931 with only two of its half tracks supplemented by ponies,/mules and porters for transportation of equipment, including spares for vehicles, fuel, supplies and other things. Going was very smooth for the half tracks between Srinagar to Gurez ,but beyond Gurez  lot of difficulties were met with in ascending the Burzil Pass in waist deep snow and in talus and scree covered slopes on the north face of the Himalayas; especially between Godoi and Bunji  where fresh landslides and rock falls had had eliminated the track. At places the half tracks were hauled with ropes to prevent side slipping. At places the half tracks were dismantled and carried in parts on porters over small bridges and badly damaged portions of the tracks. One of the cars near Astor was got stranded on its front wheels and right track while the road under the left track collapsed was retrieved almost by a miracle. Beyond Gilgit between Nomal and Chalt , with the  time left at the disposal of the expedition and limit of having reached the limit of motor-able tracks the half tracks were abandoned and expedition proceeded with ponies, mules the only means of practicable transport  after crossing the Karakorom Range. The expedition  used 60 double humped camels,80 ponies/mules and in due course of time reached Kashgar (Kasi) in Sinkiang(modern Xinjiang) on 19th September 1931.The journey eastwards was continued in half tracks of the China group which met them on 24th October and reached Beijing on 12th Feb 1932.. The expedition eventually traveled to Vietnam unfortunately losing its leader George Harrdt at Hong kong  due to pneumonia. 


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Man Mohan ji came across these photographs in a library in Hoshiarpur. I searched around on the net and realized that the book was probably 'The Citroen-Haardt Trans-Asiatic Expedition From Beirut to Beijing by Halftrack, 1931-1932' published by National Geographic Society in 1932. At Google books found an interesting News article regarding the expedition in The Sydney Mail dated April 13, 1932. According to the article  the purpose of Georges-Marie Haardt's expedition was to estimate the business and trade possibilities of central Asia. Read the News article here.
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5 comments:

  1. Got this wonderful info. via an email from my mamaji Roshan Lal Das:
    Bunji [...] was notorious for its harsh climate and weather. Before 1947 this used to be a punishment posting for J&K govt. employees. A very common threat that the meek kashmiris would issue, "bu barath tch Bonji." i.e 'i' ll send u to Bonji'( another version of hell). Incidentally it is nearer to a place called Hunza, famous for its long living inhabitants.

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  2. I like to collect books on Kashmir - and I was curious about this expedition. After some research on the net I was not able to get the exact book - however I bought the National Georaphic society's 100 years of Adventure and discovery (1987) The details of this expedition are written under the Chapter: "Glorious Expeditions" A really great find.

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  3. The October 1931 issue of National Geographic Magazine has an extended article on the expedition with pictures of course. I was interested when researching for an article on globalization. They had more globalization then than at present. A multi-national scientific expedition led by a Frenchman lasting several months met half way by a group of Chinese scientists and accompanied by them to Peking.

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  4. Thanks for such information. Burzil is the highest motor vehicle pass on earth.

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