25 Mar 2018

Frontier Explorations

Paper Presentation at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, Washington DC. Panel title: ‘Spatiality and Power in South Asia’

Aditi Saraf


Taking the colonial expeditionary travelogue as a point of entry, this paper examines the relationship between trade, travel and knowledge making in the Himalayan highlands. For this purpose, I read two different accounts of one "mission" to Bukhara undertaken in the 1830s. Alexander Burnes' Travels into Bokhara (1834) is framed as an endeavor to collect geographical, political and cultural information about a recalcitrant and exotic region. Another account of the same voyage, published twelve years later by Mohan Lal who accompanied Burnes as a translator reveals a different set of agendas and intimacies. Rather than approach the region a cartographic blank space or the final frontier, Lal's account is replete with stories that illuminate strategies of passage historically undertaken to traverse this region, stories that pivot around the paradigmatic figure of the itinerant caravan trader. Against the specific spatial configuration of the highland frontier, I trace the overlaps between networks of trade and networks of knowledge (Raj 2006) to show how the infrastructures of the highland caravan trade provided the conditions of possibility for the terrestrial survey of this region.

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
martin.saxer@lmu.de | +49 89 2180 9639

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