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Trans-Asiatic Harrdt Cintrogen Expedition, 1931-32

By  M.M. Munshi

The first car nears the summit of Burzil Pass - A half track at Burzil Pass 13,857 ft. on Great Himalaya Range between Gurais and Gilgit.

 By M.M.Munshi

It was and is still believed by most of us that earliest record of motor transport having surmounted the Great Himalaya Range  was made by a couple of Honey Staurt tanks and few weapon carriers of the 7th Light  Cavalry supporting the Infantry in storming of the 11,500 high Zojila Pass in relief of the Leh operation on 4th November 1948.

In reality the earliest record of motor transport of having not only surmounting but also having crossed the great Himalaya Range was made by half tracks of the Trans Asiatic Harrdt-Cintrogen Expedition in crossing the  14,000 ft high Burzil and other passes between Srinagar and Gilgit and beyond in 1931.

In an era of glorious expeditions  there was hardly any more splendid expedition undertaken than the  1931-32  Trans Asiatic Harrdt Cintrogen Expedition sponsored by National Geographic and undertaken by Harrdt with his French team. During early 1920s Harrdt had traversed the Sahara  in his half track vehicles designed by Andre Citrogen . On April 4th 1931 with seven specially designed cintrogen half tracks Harrdt set off from Beirut in Lebanon in an attempt to reach yellow sea by roughly following the route of Marco Polo’s journey seven centuries earlier. 
 The expedition was supposed to cross the Asia from Beirut to Beijing,avoiding the Pamirs through Soviet Turkish republics in one  set of half tracks,but Soviet refusal to permit the expedition through their territory the expedition had to be divided ; one set of seven half tracks assembled on east coast of China and moved westwards and another set of seven half tracks moved from Mediterranean through Lebanon,Syria, Iraq,Iran, Afghanistan to Srinagar in India covering a distance of 5,580 kms  from Beirut to Srinagar in 81 days  between April  4th April to 31st June 1931

The half tracks performed very well in deserts as well as river crossings on their own power . Despite expert opinion at Srinagar that the expedition with its half-tracks will never be able to make up to Gilgit, the expedition left Srinagar  on Trans Himalayan journey on 12th July 1931 with only two of its half tracks supp lemented by ponies,/mules and porters for transportation of equipment, including spares for vehicles, fuel, supplies and other things. Going was very smooth for the half tracks between Srinagar to Gurez ,but beyond Gurez  lot of difficulties were met with in ascending the Burzil Pass in waist deep snow and in talus and scree covered slopes on the north face of the Himalayas; especially between Godoi and Bunji  where fresh landslides and rock falls had had eliminated the track. At places the half tracks were hauled with ropes to prevent side slipping. At places the half tracks were dismantled and carried in parts on porters over small bridges and badly damaged portions of the tracks. One of the cars near Astor was got stranded on its front wheels and right track while the road under the left track collapsed was retrieved almost by a miracle. Beyond Gilgit between Nomal and Chalt , with the  time left at the disposal of the expedition and limit of having reached the limit of motor-able tracks the half tracks were abandoned and expedition proceeded with ponies, mules the only means of practicable transport  after crossing the Karakorom Range. The expedition  used 60 double humped camels,80 ponies/mules and in due course of time reached Kashgar (Kasi) in Sinkiang(modern Xinjiang) on 19th September 1931.The journey eastwards was continued in half tracks of the China group which met them on 24th October and reached Beijing on 12th Feb 1932.. The expedition eventually traveled to Vietnam unfortunately losing its leader George Harrdt at Hong kong  due to pneumonia. 













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