Coffee, anybody?

The story of Cuppa Joe and the old chicks

I heard it first on the radio and then read a more detailed article which stated that according to research published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, people who drank four or five cups of coffee a day tended to live longer than those who drank only a cup or less. Coffee-drinking men cut their risk for death by 12 percent after four to five cups of coffee, according to the study. Women who drank the same amount had the risk of death reduced by 16 percent. I nodded my head as the reporter was droning on with the details, and imagined the scene in Madras, the octogenarian Iyer mama with his stainless steel glass and dovarah pouring the coffee back and forth, as the Hindu paper lay open at Page 2, whipping up the foam and muttering “Of course, that is what I have been saying, soon they are going to say the same about betel leaves and arecanuts…. Alamelu, ithe paru…naan enna sonnen? Used to tell my son the same thing years ago, that drinking coffee is good. Well he listened to it and that is why he finished his IIT and went to the states. Now these fellows have grandly discovered what we knew all along. I tell you.. this vella kaaaran is so clever... eppidi pesaren ........paaru.”

The thought of coffee brought back a memory from the past, a visit to ‘Coffee day’ at Calicut, which as anybody can attest is a coffee shop somewhat further from the crowds and the mainstream shopping area. In our college days, we used to go to ICH near Aradhana or Park restaurant opposite Mananchira for a cuppa, with the latter presenting a different ambience in an open park, that we all used to enjoy so much. But this as you can imagine was more recent. Ah! I am straying, we are at Coffee Day at Calicut, it had been a throat parching day, the missus needed accompaniment for shopping and a strenuous round of many a shopping street had been completed. After these arduous hours, the joint decision was to get a cuppa. And thus we landed up at coffee days, our cheery (late) family driver Mani in tow (May his soul rest in peace, he passed away last year). When we walked into Coffee days, we could feel the subtle change created by our grand entry. The place was full of hep and jean clad youngsters lolling round on the tables and sofas and so on. Girls and boys were chatting away, texting furiously and an odd one lapping away at his laptop. Many an expression changed as they saw us making our entry. I could almost hear the comments muttered under their breath…”man..look at those uncles..sheez..Wearing dhoti and all”..well, but naturally, we were happily clad in dhotis, mine at half mast and we strolled in purposefully. Without much ado we sat down and were provided a menu card full of various kinds of coffee. Mani looked at the menu and at me with incredulousness writ on his face and asked ‘what kind of coffee place is this? Rs 100 for a coffee?’ Can we not find an Indian coffee house or a Brahmin hotel? Well, too late, I told him and so we had our expensive coffee not in steel dovarahs and galsses, but in cups with patterns drawn on the foam, surrounded by the uncomfortable crowd. Soon we were off, and the visit consigned to the grey cells, though not the coffee taste. Nothing like the older ones. How do you like that – nowadays, you even need a proper attire to drink coffee in certain places in Kerala. I could have been even more hep in attire, but who bothers when you are back home..In Kerala, my motto is - always a dhoti…

This article was fun researching, for I came to understand a lot that I did not have an inkling about, for example how coffee was a passion for a king, the one who talked to his coffee plant for whole days and who also built the world’s first green house for his favorite plant and other stories of people who risked death moving saplings and seeds across continents. And the relationship goats had with coffee. In the interim even more of the brown liquid had been consumed, more of the beans ground and mixed with liquids like milk and water. The upper class European would abhor the sight of milk added to coffee and well, sometimes they act as though coffee is stuff they invented and perfected, with arched eyebrows and a scoffing expression. Pity that they do not have the faintest clue about the origins, but then again, that is how most things are.

And of course I recalled my younger days when we would get the coffee ground 75% peaberry, or robusta, 25% chicory and stuff it into the decoction filter for a great cup in the morning. We have still not got the right mix here and the experimentation with various brands and percolators continue. But I had written on those lines already some years ago in a few articles. But this one is more about the origins and to trace the stories we go to Africa.

Even the earliest stories around coffee are interesting. It appears that a goatherd named Kaldi took his goats up some hillocks in Ethiopia some centuries ago and the goats appeared energetic after munching some red berries of a wild plant. As stories go, the goatherd also chomped a few of these berries and found himself rejuvenated. The berries were actually coffee berries. Our man came down the hill extolling the virtues of the wonder plant and thus introduced the elixir named coffee to the human race. But all these stories have multiple versions. Another version continues that Kaldi’s enthusiasm prompted him to bring the berries to an Islamic holy man in a nearby monastery. The holy man suspecting it to be not of any good threw them into a fire, from which an enticing aroma billowed. The story then states that the roasted beans were quickly raked from the embers, ground up, and dissolved in hot water, yielding the world's first cup of coffee. Now as you saw, this myth originates in Ethiopia. Yemeni’s are not far behind in claiming that it comes from their lands as documented in 1001 nights. Here the people notice that the goats were no longer resting or sleeping at night and continued to be energetic. Anyway Mocha in Yemen, an oasis area became synonymous with coffee a little later and the brew gained popularity after the Arabs introduced it to the masses visiting Mecca for the Hajj. The first written mention of coffee is in the 10th century by Rhazes, famous Arabian physician, is first writer to list coffee under the name bunca or bunchum. The Yemenis made a closely guarded business of it, and supplied coffee or the ‘Wine of Arabia’ to various Muslim rulers and by the 14th – 15th century, the potion was quite popular in Arabia and Persia as well as many Ottoman ruled areas.

So as we see, the popularity of the beverage in Arabia resulted in the proliferation of innumerable coffee houses or kahve kanes in the Mecca Jeddah area. During the early 16th century coffee consumption was banned in Mecca based on an adverse report by a couple of physicians or hakims. Soon all coffee houses and warehouses in Mecca were burnt. But the Sultan of Cairo, his superior did not agree as it was overtly popular in Cairo where he said there were even better physicians who stated that it was an elixir of health in Cairo. The Governor of Mecca canceled the ban soon after and coffee continued to be drunk though the governor was tortured and put to death thereafter. However in 1542, Sultan Suleiman ‘the great’ banned coffee as it was considered a radical drink that started revolutions due to free mixing of people in places like coffee houses. But that ban too proved short-lived. Around that time, it appears that the first taste of coffee reached Europe through Vienna, where Christian priests tried to get it banned. But Pope Clement VIII after tasting the brew decided that it is too tasty to be banned and stated. "Why, this Satan's drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it, and by making it a truly Christian beverage."

Maybe the unadultered versions of the past could make you prance like a goat, or get geniuses like writer RK Narayan and Mathematician Ramanujam come up with masterpieces and discoveries or musicians like Shemmangudi to develop a new take on a wonderful Carnatic kirthanam, but the stuff you get these days have so many additives that you wonder what coffee will consist of or taste like in years to come, much like the direction tobacco took.

So we shall agree that goats discovered coffee for us, though there are other legends about Sheikh Omar, the bird, the coffee berries that saved him from starvation and so on. The Arabs popularized it and it was served in Mecca coffee shops which pilgrims visited. As they came back, they mentioned to others about this dark, bitter brew that provided people a much different perspective after imbibing it. Some of the pilgrims, who went for the annual Hajj, as we know, originated from the North Malabar areas, and one such person, an interesting character named Baba Budan will be our subject in the next paragraph. As the story goes, he lived some 1900 meters / 6300 ft above sea level, in a place called Vayu Parvatha or the Dattagiri hill range near today’s Chikmangalur. The place was popular in Hindu mythology too, and was known as the Chandra Drona Parvatha in some circles. It is also the place with a lot of those mystic Kurinji flowers, which flower once in 12 years.

Now those days were different. The Yemenis did not want the coffee planted elsewhere, so the seeds were always dead before they hit the Mecca markets, for you see, the Yemenis boiled them or pre roasted them so that it was good only for grinding & coffee brewing, not planting. Procuring or selling or stealing live seeds was punishable by death. It was during this period that Baba Budan decided to go on his hajj. Bab Budan was apparently a fakir, a learned sufi saint, and had other names/titles such as Hayat Kalandar and Hayat I Bahar. Well, like the introduction of silk by the smuggling of silk seeds by a holy man, our friend Budan sahib somehow acquired seven healthy coffee seeds during his Arabian sojourn around 1695 or so. Where he got it is a question, for if he did get healthy seeds, he must have got it from a courier at Mecca, which is highly doubtful due to the associated danger. Perhaps he went to Mecca via Mocha in Yemen, where he with his Sufi connections managed to get the seed from a source plantation. Perhaps he got them at Aden either before his dhow went on to Mecca or most probably during its return after he learnt about its good effects on the human mind at Mecca. As the story goes, he hid them in his hajj belt and brought it back to Malabar. After trudging back to the high ranges of Chikmangalur, he planted them and they were the first of the coffee plants of India. Whether he lived to drink coffee from the berries of the new plants is still a question that will have no answer for, but we do know that the myth took root and the man had a new name, Baba Budan, for he was saintly and a sufi saint at that.

He planted the seeds near the dattapeeta cave and continued preaching what he wanted to preach and people took note. The dattapeeta cave lent the name dattagiri range to the area much later. The seeds derived from the plants that originated from the first seven beans are called old chik. A third of India’s coffee comes from these old chicks. Perhaps much of Ceylon’s and probably all of Java’s coffee comes from these old chicks. How did that happen? In fact they may even have cousins in Latin Amercia. Let us check to see what happened.

Coffee drinking never took off in India in that medieval period. In addition to the Budan myth of Chikmangalur, wild coffee has been grown as far down as Waynad in North Malabar , but never as robust as the ones in the hills of Mysore. While Portuguese, Dutch and English records indicate no mention of their bringing coffee to India, we do know that the coffee from the hills were sold as wild produce in the markets of Mysore and Waynad. Perhaps they have been around since time immemorial, but were popularized after Budan saw the berries used to brew coffee in Mecca. And like theme songs or jingles or bikini clad babes to market a product these days, Baba Budan’s smuggled seed story popularized coffee consumption, not in India, but elsewhere. Nobody took notice till the Dutch found the brew interesting and took it to Europe which already knew about coffee through the Ottoman Turks. Soon, by the 18th century, it became a cash crop with much demand in Europe.

Borrowing from Uker’s book - The Dutch eventually carried coffee, perhaps the descendants of the first seven seeds of Baba Budan, to Ceylon (In 1658 the Dutch started the cultivation of coffee in Ceylon, although the Arabs are said to have brought the plant to the island prior to 1505) and then to Java (In 1696, at the instigation of Nicolaas Witsen, then burgomaster of Amsterdam, Adrian Van Ommen, commander at Malabar, India, caused to be shipped from Kananur, Malabar, to Java, the first coffee plants introduced into that island). They were planted by the Governor-General Willem Van Outshoorn on the Kedawoeng estate near Batavia, but these were subsequently lost by earthquake and flood. In 1699 Henricus Zwaardecroon again imported some slips, or cuttings, of coffee trees from Malabar into Java. These were more successful, and became the progenitors of all the coffees of the Dutch East Indies, where, after some effort, coffee growing was established on a commercial basis.It took a while before they caught on, but by now the Javanese blends were the ones hitting the European markets.

Back in India, the first of the cultivations of coffee was in the Anjarakandy (5 ½ candies of crops) plantation, managed in Tellichery by Murdoch Brown late in the 18th century, and the labor was fully imported from Ceylon ( you can see some linkages to the Thiyya origin here) on a regular basis for this and other plantations. Brown had many a problem with the local Moplahs and soon the Anjarakandy farm was closed down, but some of the seeds of the plantation went to the Mananthavady plantations in Waynad. While the Malabar coffee plantations never took off, the Mysore maharajah encouraged its cultivation (Batayi system whereby half the produce was handed over to the king) initially. Later the raja sold all of these to Parry & Co. Parry were also not too keen about coffee and the work of continuing coffee cultivation was taken up mainly by individuals.

Ukers continues - In 1706 the first samples of Java coffee, and a coffee plant grown in Java, were received at the Amsterdam botanical gardens. Many plants were afterward propagated from the seeds produced in the Amsterdam gardens, and these were distributed to some of the best known botanical gardens and private conservatories in Europe. In 1714, however, as a result of negotiations entered into between the French government and the municipality of Amsterdam, a young and vigorous plant about five feet tall was sent to Louis XIV at the chateau of Marly by the burgomaster of Amsterdam. The following day, it was transferred to the Jardin des Plantes at Paris, where it was received with appropriate ceremonies by Antoine de Jussieu, professor of botany in charge. This tree was destined to be the progenitor of most of the coffees of the French colonies, as well as of those of South America, Central America, and Mexico.

According to the most trustworthy data, de Clieu embarked at Nantes, 1723. He had installed his precious plant in a box covered with a glass frame in order to absorb the rays of the sun and thus better to retain the stored-up heat for cloudy days. Among the passengers one man, envious of the young officer, did all in his power to wrest from him the glory of success. Fortunately his dastardly attempt failed of its intended effect.

"It is useless," writes de Clieu in his letter to the Année Littéraire, "to recount in detail the infinite care that I was obliged to bestow upon this delicate plant during a long voyage, and the difficulties I had in saving it from the hands of a man who, basely jealous of the joy I was about to taste through being of service to my country, and being unable to get this coffee plant away from me, tore off a branch." "Water was lacking to such an extent," says de Clieu, "that for more than a month I was obliged to share the scanty ration of it assigned to me with this my coffee plant upon which my happiest hopes were founded and which was the source of my delight. It needed such succor the more in that it was extremely backward, being no larger than the slip of a pink." Many stories have been written and verses sung recording and glorifying this generous sacrifice that has given luster to the name of de Clieu.

Arrived in Martinique, de Clieu planted his precious slip on his estate in Prêcheur, one of the cantons of the island; where, says Raynal, "it multiplied with extraordinary rapidity and success." From the seedlings of this plant came most of the coffee trees of the Antilles. The first harvest was gathered in 1726.

It appears that a gift of love then helped propagate coffee to Brazil - A young Portuguese officer from Brazil charmed the French governor’s wife in French Guiana. She gifted him some coffee cuttings as a token of her love for him. The Portuguese officer planted these saplings in Brazil and began what are now the largest coffee plantations in the world

Coffee drinking in India

Even though the Dutch and the English dabbled with coffee plantations and seeds and all that, Indians were largely disinterested with the potion. I am not too sure what they drank, but I believe it was either milk or buttermilk and rarely was something warm drunk. Sometime around 1900 the tastes may have changed to drinking tea and coffee. Chalapathy in his wonderful book opines that it was around 1914 or so and is closely tied to colonialism. The first use in India is attributed to the Sudra coolie who returned from the estates. Perhaps it kept them energetic much longer. Soon it displaced naeeragaram and kanji from their place as the potion of choice. It did not enter mainstream for quite some time and was equated with liquor while purists stated that filter coffee is more addictive than beer and arrack. However for some reason it soon became a hit with the upper Brahmin class and even chaste Brahmin ladies were seen drinking coffee. Some even complained to Gandhi about it. Coffee was soon blamed for all the ills of the nation. But by the 1930 period, the rave had caught on and it was soon being served to guests. In fact even Lord Siva visits one in a popular novel of the time.

AS Chalapathy puts it beautifully, soon came a time when a family’s character was decided by the quality of coffee they served. If the visitor stated that ‘their coffee is awful’, it would be their darkest condemnation. Chicory came much later with the war as a means to adulterate pure coffee, the fact remained that the best coffee is made only with cow’s milk, interestingly they had ‘pasumpal kapi clubs’ too. Soon coffee became a part of the middle class Brahmin household. Somehow by that time, tea became the workers drink. In North India, and Kerala, tea is more popular and here again it is very strange. Tea was a drink favored by the Chinese and as we all know, it came down through the English to us. The habit of tea drinking, especially in Kerala seems to be more associated with Muslims. However, even though coffee was the drink of choice at Mecca, it never caught on with the Moplah of Kerala. But if coffee was the Wine of Islamic Arabia, why is it that in South India where Islam was introduced very early on, Brahmins drink coffee and Muslims drink mainly tea? Let’s see how readers come up with an answer. Nevertheless, the beverage of the Malayali’s choice in Kerala these days is provided by the aptly named beverages corporation.

But why is coffee in USA called a cup of joe? First I thought it was something to do with Joe star bucks or something, just like the hamburger is a Mac. It is navy history. There are a couple of stories around it. Quoting snopes,
1914 Cup of Joe Josephus Daniels was appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Woodrow Wilson. Among his Naval reforms were inaugurating the practice of making 100 fleet sailors eligible for the Naval Academy, the introduction of women into the service, and on July 1, 1914, he issued general order 99, which rescinded Article 827, the officers' wine mess. Rumor has it that from that time on, the strongest drink aboard Navy ships was coffee, and over the years, a cup of coffee became known as "a cup of Joe."

Cup of Joe" is an American nickname for coffee. Or perhaps it is because the word "joe" can be used to define an ordinary person. For instance, the phrase "an average joe" refers to the every day, typical man. Thus, a "cup of joe" would be a drink best suited for the common man.

Back to Baba Budan, the cave and the area had become a religious bone of contention. At Chikmangalur the religious factions were once arguing over the remains in the cave. The Muslims say the cave at Attigundi is that of Baba Budan whereas the Hindus say it is the throne of Dattatreya, whose arrival or appearance at the mouth of the cave will herald the final avatar of Vishnu ushering in a new millennium. The whole story becomes further complicated with the mention of a Sufi preacher Abdul Aziz Macci who was sent from Arabia in the 11th century. Locals also believe that Baba Budan from a later period was Dattatreya. In these animated discussions by people who have plenty of time for such matters, especially those not concerning any kind of labor from their part other than vigorously exercising their vocal chords, after consuming a good amount of coffee or tea, the origins of coffee from there and the old chik are forgotten, and are replaced by all kinds of religious fervor. But then, that is life, I suppose.

Oooh..after all this writing, my coffee urges are kicking in, I need my cuppa joe…Reddy’s store provides me two options, the Coorg coffee and the Kothas coffee, not Narasu’s, but what I want is a Brahmin variety that RK Narayanan loved, but then his sister is not around to make it.. I have to switch on the percolator and get it done, well, no other choice, maybe I will add a bit of the New Orleans Chicory coffee to the Dunkin donuts coffee to get it right…it is a chance I have to take… Time for my cuppa

All about Coffee - William Harrison Ukers
A planting Century – S Muthaiah
In those days there was no coffee – AR Venkatachalapathy
For those who need only a ready reckoner – See these NG pages
Coorg pic from Coorg Adventure
All B&W pics from Uker’s book

Previous coffee articles – Click on title

Filter Coffee
Goats and beans

Himalayan secrets…

The tale of two Cameras

It all started a long time ago, some 150 million years as experts opine, when the Southern world was one continent, that is, when the mass comprising India, Africa, Australia & South Africa was one land mass named Pangea. This mass later split into India, Africa, South America & Antarctica. Perhaps that was when our affinity towards the northern hemisphere started, and since some 60 million years ago, the Indian mass started to move rapidly across the equator @ 6”per annum, eventually closing up the ocean between them named Tethys. And then the masses collided. Post collision, the momentum continues to push the Indian mass, even now. The Indian plate then slid under the Tibetan plateau some 25 million years ago, and though the movement slowed, it continues in slow motion. The light fragments or minerals like quartz from the surface or the scum as they term it started to rise up forming the mountain range we know today as the Himalayas. The Everest Mountain started to go up and up and is close to 5 ½ miles or 29,030’ in height today. The height continues to increase @ an inch per year. As the Indian plate moved into Tibet, Nepal became smaller and smaller, and the Himalayas started to stoop over India. Today, if you were to spend some time on the mountain and dig, you will actually find fossils from the ancient Tethys ocean easily, strange isn’t it? And well, if you did not guess it already, the tip of Mt Everest is marine limestone, and that warm floor is now exposed to subzero temperatures at times, as low as 100°F below zero...

All the work of angry goddess Chomguluna, said the Nepali populace. But others from afar like the Swiss, the English and others more local like the Nepalese, the Chinese and Indians continue to scale the top of this young mountain. Every year a new record is set, for every year the Everest is taller by an inch. Many lose their lives, and the mountain is a literal graveyard with many hundred dead bodies amidst lots of trash. Today we will talk about two of the brave climbers who attempted it and two who retuned back after scaling the top of this rock …

Many years back, I had some rudimentary training on mountaineering. Our teacher in school taking us through the ropes, no actually, up the rocks was one Mr Pandey, our Hindi teacher. I still remember the basics of getting footholds, being close to the rock face, the art of belaying and the correct methods of hammering in crampons. We trained well and I was actually selected to go to the HMI or Himalayan mountaineering institute camp that autumn. But well, it was not to be, they had either a big avalanche or unseasonal snowfall that year and everything got cancelled. It was a pity, and I never got to meet the great Tenzing Norgay who was the then HMI principal at Darjeeling.

One of the subjects we studied in school was the John Hunt expedition and how Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay scaled Everest, beating many odds. After a while the story was forgotten, till I picked up on Hillary the other day and wrote about it. Then I read the book ‘Paths of Glory’ on the Mallory-Irvine attempt, by Jeffrey Archer.

The first team that got really close to scaling Everest was the Mallory- Irvine expedition (there were others in the team, but the final attempt involved only these two and the reasons why Mallory chose Irvine has never been properly explained). The year was June 1924. Mallory was the climber, Irvine was the handy man, having been involved with many an invention and modification and they were using the North Col route. The decision was to climb with oxygen and Irvine was adept with those contraptions that Mallory originally despised. He was also the camera maintenance person of the team. As they climbed, nearing the summit, Noel Odell, the support man saw them on the precarious second step (or perhaps the third) of the northeast ridge close to the summit (just 800 ft or some 3 hours away). Did they go beyond that point? Did one or both reach the summit? The questions have never been answered. The second step is a 15’ ledge that is particularly difficult to clamber and today there is an aluminum ladder in place for people climbing to it, but in those days one had to climb on another’s shoulder to get there, easier said than done in a state of extreme and deathly exhaustion, with the heavy oxygen cylinders and kit bags in tow.

As you saw, Mallory and Irvine never returned. Irvine’s ice axe was found near the first step, in 1933,. In 1991 an oxygen cylinder belonging to them was discovered near the 1st step. In 1999, Mallory’s body was found 200ft below the first step. His waist was encircled with the remnants of his climbing rope, and he had a serious rope jerk injury as well as a puncture wound in his forehead, signifying a fall while roped to Irvine and perhaps impalement on his axe. Mallory had planned to place a picture of his wife’s on the summit, which was not found in his pocket. His goggles were in his pocket signifying that he was descending at night and died during the descent, and this would have been so only if he had reached the summit late in the evening (otherwise they would have descended late afternoon). Irvine’s body has never been found, so also the two cameras the team carried. The cameras they carried were Kodak’s VPK vest pocket versions. It is clear from the accounts of more recent Chinese climbers that the body of Irvine is still around. A search is currently on for the cameras and Irvine’s body, to figure out if they indeed reached the top. Many call all this myth making, but then who knows? Perhaps there is evidence in the camera, perhaps not, as to whether Mallory and/or Irvine were the first on the summit.

The Kodak VPK autograph series of cameras were made in great numbers between 1915-26 and were reasonably affordable back then, costing $7.50-$10.00.One could write on the back of the film with a pen attached to the camera. Today the camera in question lies frozen at some 26000’, perhaps holding in its frozen innards the mysteries of that climb…

Now we get to the successful climbers Hillary & Tenzing. A myth states that Tenzing Norgay was not really born in Nepal around 1914 as a Sherpa, but had been born Namgyal Wangdi, a Tibetan Khamba in a yak herder’s hut on the east side of Everest, the mountain his people called Chomolungma. But after disease killed his parents' yaks, Tenzing's family were left destitute. In desperation, Tenzing was essentially mortgaged by his father as an indentured servant to a Sherpa family in the village of Thame, across the border in Nepal. Tenzing never forgot the humiliation, and he strived to make a name for himself, refusing to become a monk. Between 1935-53 he had already made 6 attempts with others on the slopes of the Himalayas. By 1952 he was already a regular climber, a sirdar managing other Sherpa’s and not just a porter Sherpa. A good climber, he had already reached a record height of 28,000’ with Swiss Raymond Lambert, just 1029 feet below the summit. In May 1953, Tenzing joined the Hunt expedition. This time the ascent was planned through the South Col as the Chinese had already closed the Tibet side that led to the North Col route.

The South Col Route was taken by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay for the ascent and is still the route used most frequently. It goes through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall and Western Cwm up the Lhotse Face and past the South Col and Hillary Step to the summit.

The North Ridge Route is the second-most popular route. It's a more difficult climb technically and requires a longer descent at high altitude than the Southern Route, though it avoids the dangers of the Khumbu Icefall.

Edmund Hillary kept bees for a living and was also experienced with various expeditions by then. In 1951 he had been on an aerial reconnaissance of Everest. He almost pulled out of the climb when he found that his pal Shipton had been replaced by Col Hunt. But he remained and found himself paired with Tensing for the climb up the Mt Everest. Interestingly Tenzing was to become his savior, rescuing him during a fall down a crevice. Edmund Hillary was to make history with tensing and record it for posterity in his camera, also a Kodak, but this one was made in Germany.

Avid adventurer John Goddard recounts the interesting background relating to this camera purchase, which will have a bearing on this narrative.

Ed was to meet up with the expedition in India, but discovered not long before he sailed that there was no official provision for photography by the high teams, so was tasked with getting his own camera to cover this. He wasn't knowledgeable as a photographer, so went along to a camera store for advice on what was suitable for a climber's camera. They sold him the pre-war Retina. I believe the store in question was Town Hall Cameras, near the top end of Queen Street, Auckland. Ed had the Retina instruction booklet, a film and spare time on the sea voyage to teach himself how to use the camera. Because the early Retinas, in common with many leaf-shutter 35mm cameras, had no body release, it also had no interlock between the film wind and the shutter release. The film release lever had to be moved after each shot to allow you to wind on, then you re-cocked the shutter. Ed hadn't got into a routine with this sequence during the expedition, and said he scored quite a few blank frames on eachfilm. Inadvertent double exposures could have been equally likely, I suppose, but he hadn't mentioned them. The Retina was a type 118, in very nice condition, and had travelled very well and carefully for a climber's camera.

Hilary and Tenzing set out on 28 May to the summit after the other team had oxygen equipment issues close to the summit and aborted. After an issue related to Hillary’s frozen boots which wasted much remaining time in having to thaw them, he and Tenzing attempted the final ascent wearing 30-pound packs. The crucial move of the last part of the ascent was the 40-foot (12 m) rock face later named the "Hillary Step". Hillary saw a means to wedge his way up a crack in the face between the rock wall and the ice and Tenzing followed. They reached Everest's 29,029 ft (8,848 m) summit, the highest point on Earth, at 11:30 a.m. As Hillary put it, "A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top."

They spent only about fifteen minutes at the summit. Hillary took the famous photo of Tenzing posing with his ice-axe, but as they said, since Tenzing had never used a camera, Hillary's ascent went unrecorded. However, according to Tenzing's autobiography 'Man of Everest' when Tenzing offered to take Hillary's photograph Hillary declined - "I motioned to Hillary that I would now take his picture. But for some reason he shook his head; he did not want it". Afterwards, Tenzing was met with great adulation in India and Nepal. Hillary and Hunt were knighted by Queen Elizabeth, while Tenzing received the George Medal from the British Government for his efforts.

So as we know, Tenzing and Hillary were the first people to conclusively set their feet on the summit of Mount Everest, but journalists being what they are, were persistently repeating the question which of the two men had the right to the glory of being the first one, and who was merely the second, or the follower. Colonel Hunt, the expedition leader, declared, "They reached it together, as a team."

In an interview with Joshua Hammer Sir Edmund had reminisced about how Norgay had saved his life by quickly checking his fall into a bottomless Everest crevasse. "Tenzing and I were a team," said Hillary, "and it was teamwork which got us up Everest." Norgay on the other hand enthralled Hammar with the oft-told story of his final ascent up Everest with Hillary, but he declined, as always, to reveal the secret that has intrigued the world for all these years: Who really got up there first? "It was partnership—Ed and I, we together from start to finish," Tenzing insisted, flashing his bashful smile. "This is one question that can never be answered."

Since then the question has been asked so many times, Hillary alluded to his being the first, much later and Tenzing concurred in a later biography. He said: "If it is a discredit to me that I was a step behind Hillary, then I must live with that discredit. But I do not think it was that."

Well, both of them are gone now, nobody to corroborate the other or wish to, so why not take a second look at the camera and the photo session with a second hand Kodak Retina (118 second type, released during the late 30's, and about 9,000 were sold) with an uncoated Carl Zeiss Jenna Tessar lens. Goddard opines - Ed had to remove two of 3 gloves from his right hand to operate the camera on the summit - he had an inner silk glove which enabled controls to be manipulated. On May 2003 the National Geographic magazine published the frames taken by Hillary during the climbing with Tenzing, most frames are B&W (due to wrong exposure settings) despite they were Kodachrome, but the photo with Tenzing on the summit is in color.

In Hillary’s book, he says the following – I waved Tenzing up to me. A few more whacks of the ice axe, a few more weary steps and we were on the summit of Everest….I took the camera out of my windproof and clumsily opened it with my thickly gloved hands. I clipped on the lens hood and the ultra violet filter and then shuffled down the ridge a little so that I could get the summit into my viewfinder. Tensing had been waiting patiently and now at my request, he unfurled the flags around the ice axe and standing at the summit held them above his head. The thought drifted through my mind that this would be a good photograph if it came out at all. I didn’t worry about getting Tenzing to take a photograph of me, as far as I knew, he had never taken a photograph before and the summit of Everest was hardly the place to show him how.

He then talks of taking photographs in every direction, placing a cross given by Hunt (Tenzing’s 1953 biography states that Hillary actually left a cloth cat and not a cross) at the summit, while Tenzing placed his chocolates there and they started the descent after 15 minutes after Hillary picked up a handful of stones as souvenirs.

Following the ascent Tenzing felt that Hillary had made several disparaging remarks about him and his contribution to the climb. In 'Man of Everest', Tenzing says "Hillary is my friend. He is a fine climber and a fine man, and I am proud to have gone with him to the top of Everest. But I do feel that in his story of our final climb he is not quite fair to me: through he indicates that when things went well it was his doing, and when things went badly it was mine. For this is simply not true."

After Tenzing’s success he was awarded the George Medal, but not a knighthood. Tenzing died of a bronchial condition in Darjeeling, India, in 1986. His memories weren't always comfortable. It is said that towards the end of his life, Tenzing had struggled with loneliness and alcoholism and had a difficult phase with his last wife. However, Hillary and Tenzing remained friends throughout their lives. Tensing was to say that the Rs 2,000 insurance and the prospect of pension for life kept him climbing, and leaves some tidbits of the expedition. Interestingly he had done away with the kukri much before the climb, he had a Swiss army knife and wore Lambert’s red scarf for luck, for he was always worried that Lambert’s ghost was up there near the summit. He was also worried in those days that the burra sahebs would carry off the goddess to Britain or that a yeti would devour him, and then it is interesting that luke warm nimbu pani – lime juice that kept the two hydrated during the climb, not fancy Gatorade or some other energy drink.

But the mystery will always remain – Who reached the summit first? What actually happened as they came down Everest?

To understand that you must realize that India had just been granted independence and Hunt as well as the British establishment wanted to clearly have a British subject be the first atop the summit. My take is that if Hillary was the first, Tenzing would not have bothered about refuting it for Hillary was a sahib to him. Even if Tenzing was bothered, nobody would care for his take too much in the west as he was not strictly speaking, an Indian or a British subject. So why did they say that both reached the summit (almost) together? Was it so that Tenzing was the first and Hillary did not want false credit or liked any falsehoods propagated about him being the first? Was it because of anticipated violent crowd reprisal in Nepal & in India? Or was it because the only proof, the picture taken by Hillary showed Tenzing atop the mountain and that there was only one picture taken because Tenzing was the first? We have seen that clicking a button was not rocket science and it would not have taken Tenzing hours to learn how to click a picture. Provided Hillary had cocked the camera, all Tenzing had to do was aim and push down the plunger to release the shutter. Yes, he should be still during that time, but Hillary could have easily taken the risk with a few pictures, correct? I am also sure he had ample rolls of film. Surprises me also that a photo at Everest was not important for Hillary, but time to walk down and pick stones as souvenirs was!! But then again, it was as recorded, a gentleman’s agreement between them that they will share the laurels.

Kodak has stopped making film cameras and is close to bankruptcy. All the climbers we talked about, are dead, Tibet continues to rise up with the Himalayas while the Indian plate burrows into Tibet and the Himalayas slouches over India as Nepal becomes thinner by the day.

Today the only steps that I climb are the few at the gym, an occasional steep staircase or the small hillocks while trekking on Saturdays. But my thoughts and imaginations continue to scale mountains, dive deep under the oceans and fly many miles into space, when not traversing the centuries that we left behind. That will be a constant.

So who reached the summit first? You decide….


High Adventure- By Edmund Hillary
Fallen Giants: By Maurice Isserman, Stewart Weaver
Confetti of Empire: The Conquest of Everest in Nepal, India, Britain, and New Zealand – Peter Hansen

“ It has been a long road ... From a mountain coolie, a bearer of loads, to a wearer of a coat with rows of medals, who is carried about in planes and worries about income tax. Tenzing Norgay ”

Some notes from Peter Hansen’s analysis of the chaos after the descent to the land of the living

It was a strange situation. Who were these three people at center stage? John Hunt was of Welsh origin, Indian born, from Calcutta. Tensing was from Tibet, brought up as a Sherpa, living in Indian Darjeeling for many years, now free of the empire. Ed Hillary was a New Zealander, a British colony, but a white and very much a commonwealth citizen. The American magazine Life recorded Tenzing saying in his own broken English: "For me Indian Nepali same. I am Nepali but I think I also Indian. We should all be same-Hillary, myself, Indian, Nepali, everybody." John Hunt declared on arrival in Calcutta, after the events "I feel as if I have come back home." Hunt had been born in India and served in the Indian police near Calcutta in the 1930s. Most press coverage and public events in India, however, celebrated Tenzing as an Indian citizen.

As Hansen puts it - In the period that followed, the "conquest" of Everest became a symbol of nationalism in Nepal, India, Britain, and New Zealand. Since each of these nation-states claimed the ascent as their own. The expedition's return to Nepal, India, Britain, and New Zealand was profoundly influenced by the process of state building in the wake of empire. Britain competed with Nepal, India, and New Zealand to claim credit for the ascent since each of these nation states had recently become independent.

In Kathmandu, a "Tenzing Ballad" was sung in the streets, and placards showed Tenzing hauling a recumbent Hillary the last fifteen feet to the top. After Indian newspapers reported "Tenzing was First Man to Set Foot on Everest," Hunt said in an interview that Hillary had been first on the rope. While Hunt praised Tenzing's role in the ascent, he added that Tenzing was "a good climber within the limits of his experience." Tenzing reacted angrily to Hunt's comments, asking: "Is there any living man who has been on Everest seven times in a total of eleven expeditions?" Hunt soon apologized, and Hillary and Tenzing issued a joint statement that "we reached the summit almost together." The heavily edited official statement that they reached the summit "almost together," for example, suggests that the climbers and British officials who drafted it agreed with the underlying assumption that only one person could be first.

Nehru's relationship with Tenzing was interesting. "Since I had hardly any clothes of my own," Tenzing recalled, "he opened his closets and began giving me his. He gave me coats, trousers, shirts, everything-because we are the same size they all fitted perfectly." At later public events, Tenzing stood literally draped in Nehru's own jacket as a symbol of the secular Indian citizen.

But in the end, the three lived through the thick political mire left by the departing British and the political chaos created by the new incumbents. After all, they had braved the more challenging Mother Nature in the five and a half mile climb up to the summit.

Pics - various on the net - thanks to the uploaders...

The Kohinoor Diamond

The Jewel in the Queen’s Crown

The story of the Kohinoor diamond, if legends are to be believed, starts with the Syamanthaka Mani or Karna’s talisman. From there it starts its incredible journey through various locales, Golconda or Kollur to Malwa and Gwalior, then to Agra, Agra to Persia, Persia to Golconda, Golconda to Agra, Agra to Persia, Persia to Afghanistan, Afghanistan to Lahore and finally Lahore to London..Let us try and traverse through legends and time to the final phases and track the course of this jewel which was never sold, but always taken by force or gifted.

In those days prior to the popularity and development of South African Diamond mines, the only place where one could find diamonds was in India. Almost all the big diamonds came out of some mine in India, mainly around Golconda and wound their way through the hands of various Indian rulers to now rest with Western or Russian owners. This then is the story of a stone that started out as a chunky lusterless lump, got hived down many times, by so called experts, to less than half its size and caused joy and grief to many of its owners.


As is stated by scientists, the formation of natural diamond requires very specific conditions—exposure of carbon-bearing materials to high pressure, but at a comparatively low temperature range between approximately 900–1300 °C. These conditions are apparently met in two places on Earth; in the lithospheric mantle below relatively stable continental plates, and at the site of a meteorite strike.Something happened in the Deccan plateau or under it many years ago. Perhaps it was a meteorite strike or there were some kind of volcanic activity that brought up the naturally produced stones in the Deccan mantle to a diggable depth, near the banks of Krishna or Godavari in Deccan, or somewhere near Golconda or Kollur in Guntur. But then again, Golconda was a diamond market and many a diamond found in other mines reached Golconda from afar, so we are still just guessing the origins of a stone that got named the Ko-hi-noor…

Symantaka Mani legend

There are speculations that the Syamantaka is the same as the Kohinoor, but historic descriptions allude to the former being a ruby and so the legend may not be quite fitting. The Syamantaka was supposed to produce for its owner about (8 baharas) or 1.5 tons of gold daily, so that would make the British queen rather wealthy, had the Kohinoor been symantaka, but then the fact is that she uses Tupperware for cereal storage (not a joke – see telegraph article hyperlinked )like most of us, not gold tins from the tons she should have obtained by now. Then again, how a ruby would create gold is another matter for alchemists to figure out.

The curse of the Kohinoor

Whoever wears the Kohinoor is doomed, said the ancient curse, and as we shall soon see, its successive royal owners suffered untimely death or lost their kingdoms. Majid Sheikh explains - It appears that when Maharajah Ranjit Singh got a hold of the `Koh-i-Noor`diamond on June 1, 1813, a pandit approached the maharajah and told him that if he kept the so called `Syamantaka Mani` diamond of Golconda, nothing but bad luck and ruin would come his way. He also claimed that the `Samantik Mani` was lucky only for women and that it was fatal for men. Now the religious around the king devised a relief. The Fakir Azizuddin the Sikh occult master and the `pandit` decided that the diamond must always be with a woman, and since then the diamond was kept in the name of a wife of the maharaja. But he was still not happy and though he did not want to part with it, perhaps he wanted to test the curse, he left a will that the diamond be returned to the Krishna Temple of Golconda after he was gone.

Karna’s talisman (Mahabharata Circa 3200BC )

Text Extracted from ‘great diamonds of the world’.

A still more obscure and extravagant tradition identifies this stone with one discovered first some 5,000 years ago, in the bed of the Lower Godavery River, near Masulipatam, and afterwards worn as a sacred talisman by Karna, Rajah of Anga, who figures in the legendary wars of the Mahabharata. That such a stone should have been found in such a place is likely enough, as it may well have been washed down to the delta of the Godavari, which flows through one of the oldest and richest diamantiferous regions in the world. But its identification with the stone under consideration rests on no solid foundation, nor will it readily be believed that a gem, which remained unnamed till the eighteenth century, could be unerringly traced back to pre-historic times. Between this period and 1304, we have no information, but the fact that it remained in the Deccan region till Khilji’s forces took it away to Delhi.

1304 – Alauddin Khilji

Alauddin Khilji organized the invasion of Warangal with Malik Kafur as the General of the Army leading the looting spree. I had covered Malik Kafur earlier in another article. . After a fierce battle, Malik Kafur was able to occupy the Warangal fort. King Prataprudradev of the Kakatiya dynasty signed a treaty with Alauddin Khilji. Khilji thus got his hands on the famous diamonds of Golconda.

Between this period and the Mughal accession, various speculative owners such as the Lodhi’s, the Malwa kingdom etc owned the diamond. Babur is the first to place on record the fact that the large diamond (we still do not know if it is the Kohinoor) previously belonged to a Malwa ruler.

Mughul period 1526 - 1739


In 1526 Babur defeated and killed Ibrahim Lodi, at the battle of Panipat and a person who was killed was Vikramaditya, the former Rajah of Gwalior, who incidentally fought on his side. Before going into battle, Vikramaditya consigned his jewels to the fort of Agra (why he would do that is an unanswered question). Among these jewels was a notable diamond. It has been considered possible that originally Alauddin may have rewarded Vikramaditya's ancestors, two faithful brothers, not only with Gwalior but also with the diamond. Baburnama states - Humayun is gifted the diamond by Vikramjit’s family. Baber records this as a diamond that came to the Lodhis after Alauddin Khilji acquired it. According to Baber, the diamond could meet the whole world’s expense for half a day.

Persia – 1547

Between now and the end of the Moghul period, it went out of Moghul hands and came back. While western authors do not quite account for this period of ownership, the story goes as follows (sourced from
After an initial period of about 9½ years' rule, Humayun was driven out of India by the Afghan forces of Sher Khan. Humayun first fled to Sind, then to Persia, and did not return to India until after 15 years' exile. After his defeat by the Afghans and during his subsequent wanderings, there is some evidence that Humayun carried with him the large diamond that his father had handed back to him at Agra. Humayun would not part with it and when asked to sell it once, he said "Such precious gems cannot be bought; either they fall to one by arbitrament of the flashing sword, which is an expression of divine will, or else they come through the grace of mighty monarchs." Humayun's wanderings finally took him to Persia where the country's ruler, Shah Tahmasp, received him cordially. The exiled Mogul emperor was so kindly treated by the Shah that ultimately, as an expression of his gratitude, he gave him valuable jewels. One historian, Abdul Fazal, who later was to be employed as secretary to Akbar, Humayun's successor, has told in his Akbarnama that among the jewels which Shah Tahmasp received was the gem known as 'Babur's diamond' The presentation of this amazing diamond to the ruler of Persia by Humayun was confirmed by Khur Shah, the Ambassador of Ibrahim Qutb, King of Golconda, at the Persian court. He told of the gift of a diamond of six

mishquals, that was regarded to be worth the expenditure of the whole universe for 2½ days. However, he also said that Shah Tahmasp didn't think so highly of it and that afterwards he sent it to India as a present to Burhan Nizam, the Shah of Ahmednagar. But the emissary trusted with the diamond, Mehtar Jamal, may have failed to deliver the stone because Shah Tahmasp later sent out orders for his arrest. Nevertheless it is assumed that the diamond eventually reached its consignee in Golconda.

Emir Jemla 1652-56

A Persian gem merchant, Jemla became a trusted minister in the Golcondan court, however the king caught Jemla in an embarrassing and compromising situation with his own mother and Jemla fled with all he could get from the palace. He was destined to the Agra courts of Shahjehan. Jemla handed over the diamond he carried away to either the Mogul emperor Shahjehan or Aurangzeb his son. Where did these diamonds come from? From a goddesses eyes as he alluded? Was it just one diamond or did he give a second to Aurangzeb? We do not know. Let us assume Jemla gifted only one stone.

Shahjehan (confused in Tavernier’s accounts as Aurangzeb) wanted the large rough stone to be cut. The contract was given to an Italian gem cutter Hortensio Borgio. He destroyed the stone by hiving away nearly a half of it and earning the rulers wrath and heavy penalties. It is by now 280 carats and shaped like the half of a hens egg.

Confusion here for Baber’s stone was 6 or 8 mishkels heavy, and about 187 carats. If this cut mogul stone was different from the Kohinoor then the 280 carat great mogul gifted by Jemla vanished. Was it perhaps the other half of the gem Boragio cut? One stone became the 187 carat Kohinoor and the other the 280 carat great mogul. So that would mean the Baber diamond was a third stone….

Shajehan held on to his gems during his final days, but the supposedly austere Aurangzeb wanted it badly. During his last days, Shajahan threatened to powder his diamonds if he was not left alone. Aurangzeb used Jahanara to eventually corner the diamonds and after he laid his hands on it, she was found dead, poisoned.

The big stone, said to have been uncut, must be the Great Mogul which Aurangzeb showed Tavernier in 1665. But which is the diamond mentioned by Bernier as the one which Shah Jahan received from Mir Jumla, described as "that celebrated diamond which has been generally deemed unparalleled in size and beauty"? Is it Babur's diamond?

Famous diamonds explains - These and other questions were asked by several authorities following the arrival of the Koh-I-Noor in England in 1850. First there were people who believed that the Koh-I-Noor was the Great Mogul and that Babur's diamond was separate; secondly, there were people who believed that the Koh-I-Noor was in fact Babur's diamond; thirdly, there were others who identified the Koh-I-Noor with both Babur's diamond and the Great Mogul. We know for sure that there are three diamonds in existence which have a direct bearing upon the questions raised concerning the identity of the Great Mogul and Babur's diamond. They are the Orlov, weighing 189.62 metric carats, now in the Kremlin; the Darya-I-Nur, with an estimated weight of between 175 and 195 metric carats and presumed to still be among the Iranian Crown Jewels; and the Koh-I-Noor, whose former weight before it was recut was 186 carats, equivalent to 190.3 metric carats.

Finally on the topic of identifying these truly historic diamonds with gems that we know exist today, the suggestion that the Koh-I-Noor and the Great Mogul once formed parts of the same stone is impossible: the Koh-I-Noor is a white diamond where as the Orlov - if we assume it to be the Great Mogul (which it most likely is) - possesses a slight bluish-green tint. So, the Darya-I-Nur has been identified for sure as the largest fragment of the Great Table Diamond; a very strong case exists for identifying the Orlov as being cut from the

280-carat Great Mogul; and a less-strong, but nevertheless valid case can be made for identifying the Koh-I-Noor as Babur's diamond.

It continued to be in Mogul possession till 1739 when Persian Nadir Shah invaded Delhi. Mohammed Shah the mogul king parted ownership of the Kohinoor, getting tricked by Nadir Shah.

One story says that he carried away the Aurangzeb peacock throne which incidentally had Kohinoor as one of its eyes. But the other and more plausible story mentions that it was originally missing from the booty. Nadir had the palace staff interrogated and finally a lady in the harem divulged that Mohammed Shah carried it in his turban at all times. Nadir shah uses a ruse to obtain it. The interesting story goes thus – recounted form ‘The great diamonds’….

Nadir had now recourse to a very clever trick, in order to secure the coveted prize. Having already seized on the bulk of the Delhi treasures, and concluded a treaty with the ill-fated Mogul emperor, he had no further pretext for quarrelling, and could not therefore resort to violence in order to effect his purpose. But he skillfully availed himself of a time honoured Oriental custom, seldom omitted by princes of equal rank, on State occasions. At the grand ceremony a few days afterwards held in Delhi, for the purpose of re-instating Mohammed on the throne of his Tartar ancestors, Nadir suddenly took the opportunity of asking him to exchange turbans, in token of reconciliation, and in order to cement the eternal friendship that they had just sworn for each other. Taken completely aback by this sudden move, and lacking the leisure even for reflection, Mohammed found himself checkmated by his wily rival, and was fain, with as much grace as possible, to accept the insidious request. Indeed the Persian conqueror left him no option, for he quickly removed his own national sheepskin head-dress, glittering with costly gems, and replaced it with the emperor's turban. Maintaining the proverbial .self-command of Oriental potentates Mohammed betrayed his surprise and chagrin by no outward sign, and so indifferent did he seem to the exchange, that for a moment Nadir began to fear he had been misled. Anxious to be relieved of his doubts, he hastily dismissed the durbar with renewed assurances of friendship and devotion. Withdrawing to his tent he unfolded the turban, to discover, with selfish rapture, the long coveted stone. He hailed the sparkling gem with the exclamation, "Koh-i-Nur!" signifying in English, "Mountain of Light." Now finally the stone gets a formal name Ko-hi noor

Nadir Shah held on to it and but naturally suffered a cruel and destined death, after which the diamond went to his son Shah Rukh. Shah Rukh had a horrible time and was tortured mercilessly by Agha Mohammed Shah for the diamond, but did not part with it for a long time. In fact Shah rukh had handed it over to his Afghan supporter Ahmad Shah Durrani Abdali and thence to his son Timur after which the jewel finally ended up with Zaman Shah and later with his brother Shah Shuja.

The transfer between Shuja and Ranjith Singh the Sikh ruler is a well documented event, and involved much intrigue. However, before being captured, Shuja managed to send his family to Punjab to seek refuge in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s palace in Lahore. Wafa Begum, Shuja Mirza’s wife, carried the Koh-i-noor diamond with her to Lahore.

Before Ranjit Singh died in 1839, his priests tried to get him to donate the diamond to the Temple of Jaggannath (as we read earlier). Apparently he agreed to donate it, but by this time he was unable to speak and the keeper of the royal treasure refused to release the stone, on the grounds that he has not received such orders.

In 1843 Dhulip Singh, the last of Ranjit Singh's sons, then a minor, became the recognized ruler of Punjab. Two Sikh Wars were fought during his reign, leading to the annexation of Punjab by the British. On March 29th, 1849, the British flag was hoisted on the citadel of Lahore and the Punjab was formally proclaimed to be part of the British Empire in India. One of the terms of the Treaty of Lahore was as follows: "The gem called the Koh-I-Noor which was taken from Shah Shuja-ul-Mulk by Maharajah Ranjit Singh shall be surrendered by the Maharajah of Lahore to the Queen of England."

I will not get into the story thence, about the unsatisfactory cutting of the diamond, the expenses, the reduction in size by another 80 carats and so on, but the stone perhaps overvalued then at £140,000 is finally in one place.

The "Koh-i-Nur" is now preserved in Windsor Castle. A model of the gem is kept in the jewel room of the Tower of London and Indians going to the Tower of London return with awe and much criticism, for they see a lot of things that were taken away by the British, from India.

There was only one living being that had the honor of wearing it on more occasions than even the queen. It was a horse named Asp-i-laila, and it has a remarkable story as well, as Majid Sheik explains in his book ‘Lahore tales without end’. More on that another day

This is available now - Ranjit and Laila