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Libros: ¨The Great Arc – The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named¨- John Keay.

Libros: ¨The Great Arc – The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named¨- John Keay.

En igualdad de condiciones, entre leer en inglés y leer en español me decanto siempre por mi lengua materna. Pero hay ocasiones en las que esa opción no es posible, como fue el caso de este libro que tenía mucho interés en leer.  


Mussoorie es una ciudad en el norte de la India. La estuve visitando en marzo de 2021, en un viaje que hice en moto desde Delhi (está a unos 280 kilómetros). Allá visité la casa donde vivió George Everest. Así lo escribía en mi blog:


¨El cuerpo pedía andar por el monte. En primer lugar cogí la moto y conduje hasta Cloud´s End. Ahí dejé la burra y di un paseo hasta el templo de Jwalaji, en la colina Benog. A lo lejos se podían divisar nevadas cumbres de los Himalayas. De ahí me fue hasta la casa de Sir George Everest, que vivió aquí entre 1833 y 1843. El monte más alto de la tierra, el Chomolungma o cuando lo midieron los británicos Peak XV, fue renombrado en su honor como monte Everest (muy a su pesar porque en su día se opuso a ello). También un paseo chulo desde donde aparqué la moto hasta el llamado George Everest Peak, repleto de banderas tibetanas ondeando al viento.¨


Tras esa visita me dio por investigar un poco más la vida de Sir George Everest y ver cómo había acabado por Mussoorie. Una cosa llevó a otra y acabé aprendiendo sobre la gran empresa llamada en inglés ¨The Great Trigonometrical Survey¨. No pude encontrar ningún libro en español al respecto, pero sí este sobre el que escribo estas líneas, que estaba en la biblioteca.


Dice así la contraportada:


¨The Great Arc – The Dramatic Tale of How India Was Mapped and Everest Was Named.


The Great Indian Arc of the Meridian, begun in 1800, was the longest measurement of the earth´s surface even to have been attempted. Its 1,600 miles of inch-perfect survey took nearly fifty years, cost more lives that most contemporary wars, and involved equations more complex than any in the precomputer age.


Rightly hailed as ¨one of the most stupendous works in the history of science,¨ it was also one of the most perilous. Through hill and jungle, flood and fever, and intrepid band of surveyors carried the Arc from the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent up into the frozen wastes of the Himalayas. William Lambton, an endearing genius, had conceived the idea; George Everest, an impossible martinet, completed it. Both found the technical difficulties horrendous. With instruments weighting a half-ton, their observations often had to be conducted from flimsy platforms ninety feet above the ground or from mountain peaks enveloped in blizzard. Malaria wiped out whole survey parties; tigers and scorpions also took their toll. Yet the results were commensurate. The Great Arc made possible the mapping of the entire Indian subcontinent and the development of its roads, railways and telegraphs. India as we now know it was defined by the process. The Arc also resulted in the first accurate measurements of the Himalayas, an achievement that was acknowledged by the naming of the world´s highest mountain in honor of Everest. More important still, by producing new values for the curvature of the earth´s surface, the Arc significantly advanced our knowledge of the exact shape of our planet.


This saga of astounding adventure and gigantic personalities is here told in detail for the first time. With an eye for intriguing incident and an ear for the telling phrase, one of the finest writers on India vividly resurrects the nineteenth century´s most ambitious scientific endeavor¨.


¨If the impression given is less that of a scientific set piece and more of a monumental example of human endeavour, then so it was. Travelling India with an eye on the Arc, I found it impossible not to become obsessed with the sheer audacity of the enterprise. Like Mount Everest, which seen from afar looks a respectable peak but not obviously the world´s highest, so the Arc viewed from a distance of 200 years looks impressive but slightly quixotic. Get up close, though, breathe the sharp air around and sense the monstrous presumptions, and the Arc, like the mountains, soars imperiously to dwarf all else. Measuring the one, like climbing the other, is revealed as the ultimate challenge of the age.¨


Sobre el autor:


¨John Keay is the author of four acclaimed histories: The Honourable Company, about the East India Company; Last Post, about imperial disengagement in the Far East; the two-volume Explorers of the Western Himalayas; and most recently, India: A History. His other books include India Discovered and Into India. John Keay is married with four children, lives in Scotland and is co-editor with Julia Keay of the Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland.¨


Extraigo algunos párrafos que me han llamado la atención del libro.


¨The word ¨jungle¨ comes from India. In its Hindi form of jangal, it denotes any area of uncultivated land. Indian jungles are not necessarily forested, and today less so than ever. But well away from centres of population there do still survive a few extensive and well-wooded jungle tracts, especially in eastern and central India. Often they are classed as game sanctuaries, a designation which implies few facilities for the visitors but some much-advertised protection for the wildlife.¨


Habla sobre el origen de la palabra ¨jungla¨, que viene de la palabra en hindi ¨jangal¨, área de tierra no cultivada.


¨The trail from Panch Pandol to Yellapuram wound through ´the wildest and thickest forest that I had ever invaded´. It took three days; but at least the weather stayed fine and the vegetation was at its most spectacular after the recent rains. Voysey and Everest rejoiced as they rode, then quipped as they climbed. At last the canopy thinned and, seeing again the sky and the summit, both men spontaneously roared a favourite Shakespearian couplet:


Night´s candles are burnt out, and jocund day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain´s top.


Everest, however, misquoted; and neither man seems to have been aware of Romeo´s next and more cautionary line: ´I must be gone and live, or stay and die.¨


Este párrafo menciona unas líneas que dijo Romeo en la obra de Shakespeare y Everest y Voysey recitaron:


¨las velas de la noche se apagan y el día alegre se

pone de puntillas en las brumosas cimas de las montañas.

Debo haberme ido y vivir, o quedarme y morir.¨


¨Everest´s predecessor as Superintendent of the Great Trigonometrical Survey is less obviously commemorated. In fact, to this mild and reclusive man of science there seems to be no memorial at all. There is not even any structure which can certainly be associated with his work. It has, though, been my privilege to stand at his graveside. The place proved hard to find and was not at all distinguished. I doubt if anyone has been to Hinganghat to look for it in the past fifty years. The locals knew nothing of its whereabouts nor, until my wife began spelling out his epitaph, had they ever heard the name of William Lambton.¨


El predecesor de Everest en la difícil misión fue William Lambton. Un hombre que debería haber pasado a la historia y no ha sido así, ha caído en el olvido. El autor descubrió el lugar donde está enterrado en Hinganghat, a unas cincuenta millas de Nagpur, en el estado de Maharashtra.


¨The man behind this flurry of orders was the new Commandant of Lambton´s regimen, a twenty-seven-year-old Colonel called the Honourable Arthur Wesley. Wesley, better known by the later spelling of ¨Wellesley¨, would one day become better known still as the Duke of Wellington, victor of Waterloo. Besides commanding the 33rd Foot, he was the younger brother of Richard Wesley (or Wellesley), then Earl of Mornington and also about to leave for India. Richard had been appointed Governor-General of the British possessions in the East and blithely perceived his task as that of augmenting them. Young Arthur and his regiment, including the elusive Lambton, were in for a busy time.

The two men first came face to face, when sailing on the same ship from Calcutta to Madras in 1789. Arthur Wellesley, en route to a war which his brother was aggressively fomenting with the ruler of the independent state of Mysore, was much too preoccupied to quiz the newcomer. He was, though, puzzled by him. Lambton, now perhaps in his late thirties, had obviously been out of circulation far too long. Tall, strongly built and clean-shaven, with reddish hair already thinning, he was awkward in society and unusually economical in his habits.¨


El Duque de Wellington es de sobra conocido por los alaveses por su decisiva participación en la Batalla de Vitoria. Me lo había encontrado en India al leer las novelas de Sharpe, de Bernard Cornwell, y ahora vuelve a aparecer por aquí.


¨The existance of the Himalayas had been known to the ancients. Ptolemy, the first-century astronomer and geographer, had called them the ´Imaus´ and ´Emodi´, both words presumably derived from the Sanskrit (H)ima-alaya, or ¨Abode of Snow¨. He showed them as a continuation of the Caucasus mountains running east from the Caspian Sea. Subsequent travellers, like Marco Polo in the thirteenth century, usually trod some version of the ancient Silk Road which, through skirting the north of the western Himalayas, left Tibet and the central Himalayas well to the south. But Tibet had been regularly penetrated in the seventeenth century by Jesuit missionaries from India, and the first convincing account of the mountains comes from one of their eighteenth-century sucessors. This was the Italian Ippolito Desideri who in 1715 departed Kashmir for Lhasa and was horrified to find, even in late May, the snow deep on the trail and the mountains ´the very picture of desolation, horror and death itself´. ´They are piled one on top of another,´he wrote, ´and so close as scarcely to leave room for the torrents which course from their heights and crash with such deafening noise against the rocks as to appal the stoutest traveller.´¨


¨When in 1820 the Himalayas were at last acknowledged to be loftier than the Andes, the peak of Nanda Devi, known as ´A2´ and measured at 25,479 feet, was thought the highest in the world. It retained this distinction for twenty-five years.¨


Este párrafo explica como la montaña india Nanda Devi tuvo la distinción de ser la más alta del mundo durante 25 años, hasta que se descubrieron otras mayores.


¨For the final triangulation across the plains, George Everest designed sixty-foot towers built of masonry. His drawings show vertical cross-section, horizontal cross-sections and external elevation.¨

¨One of the Great Arc´s towers, minus its topmost railings, survives at Begarazpur to the north of Delhi. From here the Arc regained the hills as it climbed the Siwaliks towards the Dehra Dun base-line and the Himalayas.¨


Para las mediciones trigonométricas se utilizaron en tiempos de Everest unas torres de mampostería de unos 60 pies (18 metros). Una de ellas se encuentra en Begarazpur. Encontrar el lugar en Google Maps no me ha sido fácil. Creo que la torre será esta que está indicada como Garghgaj - Watch Tower, en Begrajpur, otra manera de escribir el nombre anterior. Se encuentra a unos 120 kilómetros de Delhi y lo tendré en cuenta la próxima vez que haga un viaje al norte con la moto.


¨The so-called ´Observatory´ on The Ridge at Delhi served as one of the Great Arc´s trig stations. Poor visibility here provoked one of Everest´s nastier outbursts, although the haze in this near-contemporary photograph is due to fading¨.


Este párrafo habla sobre el difícil carácter que podía tener Sir Everest y del observatorio que utilizaban en Nueva Delhi, en The Ridge. Corro con frecuencia por un parque homónimo y fantaseaba pensando que por el camino que suelo recorrer Everest anduvo anteriormente de forma habitual. Al lado hay un complejo llamado ¨Delhi Earth Station¨ y pensaba que podría ser un heredero de ese observatorio. Sin embargo, enredando un poco en Internet he dado con la localización a la que se refieren: Pir Ghaib, que visitaré pronto.


En Dehra Dun hay un museo con objetos de la Great Trigonometrical Survey, esta gran empresa, y también lo pongo en la memoria porque esta historia me ha fascinado.


¡Increíble lo que pudieron hacer este grupo de hombres a lo largo de las décadas que duró el proyecto (1802-1871)!

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