India has always been the dream destination for people who want to explore one of the earliest civilizations in the world. Since time immemorial, India has received a number of keen travelers who came here and fell in love with its traditions and colors.
Hiuen Tsang from China (629-645)
One of the earliest and the most celebrated travelers to India, Hiuen Tsang came from China to India in search of Buddhist belief and practice. He has been described as the “prince of pilgrims” and his accounts carry a lot of information on the political, social and religious set up of India. Hiuen Tsang visited Kashmir, Punjab and proceeded to Kapilavastu, Bodh-Gaya, Sarnath, and Kusinagara. He studied in the University of Nalanda and travelled through the Deccan, Orissa and Bengal. Since he stayed in India for 14 long years, his accounts reflect what ancient India must have been once.
Megasthenes was a famous Foreign Envoy and ambassador of Seleucus Nikator of Syria . He visited the Chandragupta Maurya (Sandrokottos) court. He wrote the great book Indica which explains the reign of Chandragupta Maurya. He explained Social and administrative status at the time of Mauryas. Megasthenes was the first foreign envoy who visited India.
Fa-Hien is a Foreign Envoy who visited India at the time of Chandragupta II, known as Vikramaditya. He was a Chinese pilgrim. Fa-Hien was the first Chinese pilgrim to visit India. Fa-Hien came to India to collect Buddhist texts and relics. Fa-Hien visited Lumbini, the Buddha’s birth place. He compiled his experiences in a travelogue “Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms”.
Al Beruni from Persia (1000-1025)
Al Beruni was an Islamic scholar who was “commissioned” by Mahmud of Ghazni to write his monumental commentary on Indian philosophy and culture Kitab fi tahqiq ma li’l-hind. In the words of the historians today, “His observations on Indian conditions, systems of knowledge, social norms, religion … are probably the most incisive made by any visitor to India.” Born in Uzbekistan, this traveler remained in India for thirteen long years to understand its culture and literature.
Ibn Battuta from Morocco (1333)
Its unbelievable that a person could have traveled so much in times where no travelling paraphernalia was available. Meet Ibn Battuta who had a passion for travel unparalleled in history, inimitable by any individual. It is hard to believe that Ibn Battuta journeyed more than 75,000 miles (121,000 km), a figure unsurpassed by any individual explorer until the coming of the Steam Age some 450 years later. He was the only medieval traveller who is known to have visited the lands of every Muslim ruler of his time. His journeys include trips to North Africa, West Africa, Southern Europe and Eastern Europe in the West, Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and China in the East, a distance surpassing threefold his near-contemporary Marco Polo.
Marco Polo from Italy (b.1254-d.1324) Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler, is perhaps the most celebrated traveler even till today. He is said to have visited South India twice, in 1288 and 1292, where he saw a tomb of St. Thomas “at a certain little town” which he does not name. Many historians accept these dates and visits without question, and identify the little town that he speaks of with Mylapore.
Abdul Razzak from Persia (1442-1445)
One of the earliest mention of Vijaynagar empire in India comes through Abdul Razzak, the Persian traveler who visited it around 1440. His accounts of the Hampi marketplace, its architecture and grandeur have left a lot of corpus of history for later historians to work on. Abdul Razzak was the ambassador of Shahrukh of Timurid Dynasty.
Nicolo Conti from Italy (1420-1421)
Nicolo De Conti’ (fl. 1419-1444) was a Venetian explorer and writer who visited the west coast of India to Ely, and struck inland to Vijayanagar, the capital of the principal Hindu state of the Deccan. Of this city Conti gives an elaborate description and one of the most interesting portions of his narrative. From Vijayanagar and the Tungabudhra he travelled to Maliapur near Madras, present day Chennai.
Afanasy Nikitin from Russia (1469-1472)
Nikitin, the Russian merchant, spent more than two years in India traveling to different cities, getting acquainted with local residents and carefully describing everything he saw. The notes of the merchant were compiled in the form of a so-called “Journey,” that is more like a traveler’s log. This work accurately described the nature and political organization of India as well as its traditions, lifestyle and customs.
Domingo Paes from Portugal (1520-1522)
After the conquest of Goa in 1510 and its rise as capital of the Portuguese Estado da India, several Portuguese travellers and traders visited Vijayanagara and wrote detailed reports about the glory of Bisnaga or Vijayanagara. Most valuable are that of Domingos Paes written in c. 1520-22. The report of Paes, who visited Vijayanagara during Krishnadeva’s reign, is based primarily on careful observation as he describes in detail the so-called feudal nayankara system of Vijayanagara’s military organisation and the annual royal Durga festival.
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