When Godwin-Austen Visited Skardu Valley

Posted on September 25, 2008
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, History, Travel
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Owais Mughal

Most of our readers may know that K2, the world’s second highest peak, is also called Mount Godwin-Austen. It is named after Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen (1834-1923) who was an Assistant on the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India. He was the first one to survey the area in modern times (1860s).

He wrote a paper which was read at the Royal Geographical Society meeting on January 11, 1864 and published in the society journal in the same year.

In this publication Godwin-Austen recalls a scene of a flash flood and land-slide that he witnessed while camped out between Mustakh Range and Skardu as follows:

Whilst lying in my tent, after finishing my work, I heard an unusual rumbling sound, and on going out I found all the men were wondering what it could be. After a few more seconds of suspense, some Balti coolies, who were cutting brushwood higher up the ravine, shouted that the stream was coming down, and in few seconds more we saw a black mass coming out of a lateral ravine from the right, and moving rapidly over the broad shape of boulders which formed the bed of the valley. Before the black stream reached us it divided into two, and we then saw that it consisted of mass of stones and thick mud, about 30 yards in breadth, and about 15 feet deep. The servants by the side of the little rill near the tents had just time to escape before it came down upon their fires. It was the most wonderful sight: a great moving, mass of stones and rock, some of great size, measuring 10 feet by 6, all travelling together like peas shot out of a bag, rumbling and tumbling one over the other, and causing the ground to shake. No one, who has not seen a flood of this kind, can form any idea of the mighty power of transport which the accumulated masses of water and melting snow acquire at these times, and I was almost bewildered by the spectacle (Godwin-Austen (1864), pp.27-28.)

On The Beauty of Skardu Valley:

In the same paper he also describes the beauty of Skardu valley which he witnessed one early morning.

Next morning, as the light in the east grew stronger, the view was never to be forgotten. From the south-east to north-west, the whole range of snowy mountains was visible, with only a few streaky purple clouds lying beneath them, which, without obscuring any of their sharp forms, added to their immense heights. K1 (Masher-brum) and K2, the second highest in the world, overtopped them all, and were conspicuous from their fine shapes (Godwin-Austen (1864)), p.27.)

Simplicity of Local People:

Godwin-Austen also describes the simplicity and innocence of local villagers of Skardu valley and how their material needs were very limited:

They dress entirely on puttoo, or woollen cloth, which they make themselves: cotton is never used, not even for turbans. Their knowledge of the world is almost limited to their own wild ravines, and though many have crossed the Mustakh (mountain range in Northern Pakistan), I met with very few, in the other direction, had been beyond Skardo (Skardu). During the winter months the men are engaged in hunting the Ibex, when these are driven off the higher ground by the snow and come down to streams. The animals are run down by dogs, which they take care of and prize highly. (p.45.)

Following photo is a face-on view of Masherbrum (K1) peak

On Weather-Hardiness of Locals:

Godwin Austin also recalls how local people were able to bear the strong weather in these words:

The wond blew all night, getting stronger towards morning; and I pitied the poor coolies with only the rough, sharp stones to lie on, and separate them from the ice. The Balti, who carry only one rug, huddled together two or three under the same covering. Mahomed told me next morning that he heard them saying, “Would that the Sahib felt it as cold as this! He would soon go back.” (p.39.)


1. Rare Maps of Pakistan by F.S. Aijazuddin

Photo Credits: Clicking on the photos above will take you to their source websites.

1. Title Photo is courtesy of Tree_Elf_ at Flickr.com.
2. K2’s photo is courtesy of howsthat at Flickr.com
3. K1’s photo is courtesy of Aitor Las Hayas at Flickr.com
4. Godwin-Austen’s protrait is from Wikipedia.

10 responses to “When Godwin-Austen Visited Skardu Valley”

  1. wasiq says:

    Thanks again Owais Sahib! Your fascinating-detailed posts will hopefully make their way into a bound volume one day soon — as a tremendous Pakistaniat compendium.

  2. Tina says:

    Can anyone find a photo or more information about the dogs of Balti people which hunted ibex? Does this breed of dog still exist? Thank you for any information!

  3. Tina says:

    Interesting that the servants weren’t really “coping” with the cold weather, but suffering, but of course the English, with their ideas of “quaintness” couldn’t really see that.

    The large flood of spring melt which the explorer saw, a major source of water for the subcontintent, has been greatly reduced by global warming, which causes less snow to form and the glaciers to become smaller. This is going to be a major cause of water shortage in years to come and it’s unknown how the people of Asia will cope with the crisis.

    Would love to see the pristine natural environment as this man saw it back in the day–people being able to live off the game in the mountains, etc. Ibex are highly endangered today!

  4. YOUNIS says:

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  5. Shopping Cart says:

    Your post is informative to every one,i don’t know before it.

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