In the 1930s, maps of the northern Karakoram and, to its north-most, of the Aghil and Kunlun mountain ranges, were largely empty white spaces marked with the tantalising word 'Unsurveyed'.

The few details that existed were the result of Herculean efforts by men such as explorer George Whitaker Hayward (1860s), who lost his life in his endeavours; topographer Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen (1860s); geographer Kenneth Mason (early 20th century) and a handful of other men. Even so, these details were generally sketchy.

This was long before satellite imagery became a mapping tool. It was a period when surveyors had to physically enter the regions, painstakingly take measurements with theodolites from high altitude stations and plot each and every feature on the plane table. Expeditions were understandably cumbersome, requiring large complements of equipment, rations and porters to carry it all.

In 1936, Ceylon-born Englishman Eric Shipton was 29 years old and an accomplished mountaineer. He and his lifelong friend Bill Tilman - 10 years Shipton's senior - planned a major expedition 'on the back of a [used] envelope.' This was to become famous as the Shaksgam Expedition, 1937. Making up the rest of the party were Michael Spender and J.B. Auden, each a brother to a famous poet.

An Urdu translation of one of the masterpieces of mountaineering and exploration work is as much a reader's delight as the original

In late May 1937, the expedition crossed the Great Asiatic Watershed in the central Karakoram region - since labelled Muztagh-Karakoram - to descend into the Shaksgam River valley, sandwiched between the Karakoram in the south and the Aghil Mountains in the north.

Over the next three months, the four surveyors and their core group of Sherpa porters remained cut off from the rest of the world, as they climbed peaks and took measurements and bearings to transfer an unknown physical world on to paper.

The result of this expedition was Shipton's matchless work, titled Blank on the Map. Published in 1938, the book is celebrated to this day as a masterpiece of mountaineering and exploration work.

Arguably the greatest mountaineer-explorer of the 20th century, as a writer Shipton is admired for being a master of the understatement, giving no more notice to a perilous situation than a dry 'we got into difficulties.' His sense of humour is equally subtle.

Though a bible for mountaineers and trekkers all over the world, Blank on the Map is virtually...

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