6 Mar 2011

Dangerous grandparents

Corsican bandit? Dangerous terrorist? No, but probably an English spy.

This is a photograph of my paternal grandfather, Ralph Patteson Cobbold, who, in 1897/1888, spent a year wandering around Central Asia in the area of the Hindou Kush and Pamir mountains, roughly speaking where Afghanistan, the then Indian part of the British Empire (now Pakistan), China and Russia come together. His declared objective was hunting mountain sheep (ovis poli), ibex, bears and tigers, and he looks more or less equipped for that in the picture above. But most contemporaries were firmly convinced that he was actually sent by the British government to spy on the Russians and their plans in the area.

Here is a satellite picture of the area. They didn't have satellites in those days. Or aeroplanes.

He was actually captured by the Russians at one point but escaped and walked back to Kashmir. As he put it in his book Innermost Asia, published in 1899, "I feel it is time to return as none of my boots have any leather left on their soles, I have lost all of my pack animals and have no money beyond that which I may borrow."

A little big man, he lived to be 94. Here he is dressed for the mountain conditions, which involved sleeping in yurts at minus 27 degrees.