Heading for the Hills
The focus of John Keay’s two books is the evolving imperial game that British India played on its north-west frontier. The Khyber Pass was one of the great invasion routes of history, and for all the Victorians knew there were other access points hereabouts. Early on in the century there were worries that Napoleon might have a go, but it was Russian steps through central Asia that turned it into the Great Game and impelled some of the most extraordinary feats of exploration. As intrepid Russians pushed south, heroic Britons pushed north. ‘Bagging the Pamirs’ was a rather different proposition from ‘bagging Munros’ in the Scottish Highlands, yet surely only the Victorians could have arranged for a naval lieutenant, John Wood, to be the first Briton to stand on the roof of the world.