“I shall wander about the wilds of Central Asia, still possessed with an insane desire to try the effects of cold steel across my throat…” – George Hayward
On a bright July morning in 1870, near the tiny village of Darkot at the head of the Yasin Valley, high in the Hindu Kush Mountains, the British explorer George Hayward was brutally murdered and buried in a shallow grave. He was 32 years old.
In the two years before his death Hayward had risen from nowhere as a Royal Geographical Society-sponsored explorer, crossed the Karakoram watershed in winter without a tent, charted the course of the Yarkand River with only two Ladakhis and a yak for company, been held hostage in the fabled caravan town of Kashgar as one of the first two Englishmen to visit Eastern Turkestan, traversed the Indus Gorge at the worst time of year, and ultimately – and fatally – become politically and emotionally involved in the dirty little wars fought on the ill-defined fringes of Kashmir.
Murder in the Hindu Kush is the story of how a middle class orphan from Leeds became one of the most daring and reckless of all the footloose Victorians who explored the high mountains of the Indian Subcontinent and Central Asia, and of how he finally met his lonely and violent end in that remote upland valley.
Expanding on the glimpses of Hayward in books by John Keay and Peter Hopkirk, and placing his tale firmly in the context of “the Great Game” – the cold war of intrigue and exploration fought by Britain and Russia in the wild spaces of Central Asia – Murder in the Hindu Kush draws on Hayward’s own original letters and reports, and on other unpublished documents in the archives of the Royal Geographical Society and the British Library to tell the tale of a man driven by “an insane desire”, who by the end of his life was on the wrong side of both the British Raj and the mighty Maharaja of Kashmir. It also examines the swirling mass of rumours and conspiracy theories that surrounded his gruesome demise.
The author’s own travels in Hayward’s footsteps, meanwhile – through Kashmir, Xinjiang and northern Pakistan – bring the story up to date and reveal how the echoes of the Great Game and British imperial policy in Kashmir still reverberate in this troubled region of Asia today.