Magazine article Geographical

Mapping the Forbidden City: Rough Sketch Map of Lhasa, Tibet (1904)

Magazine article Geographical

Mapping the Forbidden City: Rough Sketch Map of Lhasa, Tibet (1904)

Article excerpt

This simple black-and-white plan of Lhasa, Tibet, was issued with the Geographical Journal of March 1904. It formed a sort of 'tail-piece' to a major article, Notes on Tibet, by Douglas W Freshfield.

The map was compiled by Laurence Austine Waddell, based on information that he elicited from locals. "It shows in considerable detail, and I believe with very fair correctness," he wrote, "the leading landmarks of this forbidden city. The plan of the environs of Lhasa on the same sheet as the plan is based on AK's map, but contains more details."

Waddell was a traveller, Orientalist and medical officer in the Indian government service. He was appointed chief medical officer on the Tibet expedition led by Sir Francis Younghusband. He also acted as the expedition's 'cultural expert', superintending its official collections of literature and art. Waddell had previously been stationed with the Indian Army in Darjeeling, during which time he repeatedly risked his life by crossing the border into Tibet to study the language and culture.

The Lhasa Valley has been inhabited for several millennia. During the mid-seventh century, the first king of the unified Tibet, Songsten Gampo, established his capital there and began an ambitious construction programme. However, in the ninth century, the assassination of King Relpachen resulted in the country's fragmentation and it wasn't until 1642 that Lhasa was restored as the Tibetan capital.

The city was long closed to outsiders, sheltered by insurmountable geographical barriers and zealously guarded by the Buddhist Lamas. Its forbidden status made it an irresistible challenge to a succession of travellers and explorers, including Colonel Prjevalsky, the Littledales and the great Swedish explorer Sven Hedin. All dreamed of reaching Lhasa, but none got within ten days' march of the holy city. Only one Englishman had ever reached Lhasa--the eccentric Thomas Manning in 1811.

Fittingly, Waddell was among the first Westerners to enter the city--only a few months after this map was published. On 3 August 1904, Younghusband and his forces camped outside Lhasa's gates, and within a month, the Tibetans had capitulated.

Waddell went on to publish his impressions of the city, along with a record of the Younghusband expedition, in his book Lhasa and Its Mysteries. …

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