The Long Riders' Guild

The Price of Pilgrimage - page 2

The Mana Pass which Daniel Robinson crossed with his two horses lies between the largely uninhabited Tibetan plains and the mountainous regions of northern India.

Physically starving, Robinson later told a friend that he was overjoyed to see the soldiers of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police. Yet having tasted the wind and lived side by side with his horses through a great adventure, the emotionally relieved equestrian explorer made no apologies for following the hoof-prints of other nomads over the historic Mana Pass. Naïve fool that he was, Robinson had no way of knowing his true trial had just begun.

Imprisoned in the land of Hospitality

It was undoubtedly innocent of Daniel Robinson to think he would be greeted by a display of the famed Indian hospitality, a legendary tradition which has made the country a magnet for peaceful pilgrims throughout the centuries.


Yet the man could hardly have presented much of a threat when he staggered into the Indian army camp severely weakened by altitude sickness, pneumonia, malnutrition and a kidney infection. And while it’s true that Daniel Robinson was initially welcomed at the encampment, he was soon arrested and his horses taken into military custody. The weary journeyer later told a reporter he was then blindfolded and forced to march for three hours to an Indian intelligence centre. There he was interrogated by intelligence agents who denounced the equestrian explorer as a suspected Chinese spy and trespasser.


Things were had already turned bad when Robinson glimpsed an army intelligence letter which referred to him as an “intruder.”


Though his interrogators were eventually satisfied that Robinson was a harmless, if ill-prepared traveller, he was nevertheless charged with violating India’s immigration laws.  He faces a sentence of five years if convicted, and he has been  threatened with two years in custody awaiting a trial date if he protested his innocence.

The price of a pilgrimage

After his arrest, Robinson was taken to Pursari Jail where was placed in a cell with nearly two dozen Indian prisoners. He was held there throughout November and December, during which time he was hospitalized twice.


When his case came to court on January 7 the Indian authorities no longer believed Robinson was involved in espionage. Nevertheless, he was charged with crossing the Indo-Tibetan border illegally.


Local authorities took little interest in the historic nature of Robinson’s journey.


At a recent seminar Jambian Gyamco, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, had described how despite the dangers the Tea Horse Trail had served as a corridor for cultural and economic exchanges between China and India.


"This ancient road, whose name ‘Cha Ma’ means "tea horse" in Chinese, was an extension of the ancient Silk Road," Gyamco had reported.


But the Indian authorities weren’t interested in ancient history.


Nor were they impressed by the remarkable feats of courage and endurance Robinson had displayed on his 3,000 kilometre (1,875 mile] journey.


The only thing that concerned them was that after being frightened into confessing, the English equestrian explorer had pleaded guilty to crossing their border illegally.


To his shock, on January 9, 2007 a local magistrate fined Robinson 25,000 rupees [£288; $565] and sentenced him to a year in prison for illegally entering the country.


Puzzled by the severity of his sentence Robertson said, “I knew it wasn't an orthodox way of entering the country. But I thought the worst I could expect would be a fine and repatriation to England. I didn’t think I would end up in prison because I’m not a criminal. I even hoped they might give me a visa so I would be able to meet my daughter and spend Christmas in India.”


This photo was taken of English equestrian explorer Daniel Robinson after he was imprisoned in India.


Family and Friends pay the price

Back in England, Robinson’s widowed mother, his family and friends had become frantic with worry. They eventually learned of his arrest but were distraught to discover the ill man had only had one visit by a representative of the British Foreign Office.

Mary Selman, a family friend, said she was surprised at how little had been done to assist Daniel.

"As a British person, I thought the Foreign Office was there to help you. But that isn't the case. They told us Daniel's location was too remote and they would not visit him again until May,” she said.

Disappointed at the lack of governmental support, on December 15th Selman journeyed to India with Robinson’s 19-year-old daughter, Justina.

Upon arriving at the remote Himalayan capital, the British women were shocked to discover that the local magistrate had not even allowed Daniel Robinson to have a lawyer present at his trial.

Despite the fact that she had travelled five thousand miles, local authorities at Hardiwar Prison in the northern Indian state of Uttaranchal only permitted the distraught daughter to visit with her father for 40 minutes. What Justina found wasn’t a healthy prisoner, but a man who was emaciated, ill and suffering.

After visiting her father, Miss Robinson said, " Even though I hadn't seen him in more than a year, they allowed me less than an hour to visit with him in that horrible prison. It left me in tears and completely heartbroken.”


Describing his predicament in a letter dated January 17, Robinson wrote: "I am in a prison built by the British in 1902. It is very small. In my barrack, which is 10 foot square, there are 16 of us sleeping on the floor. It's tight for space and I cannot lie with my legs stretched out at night. Hygiene is very poor because of open drains filled with urine, spit and food. They try to keep it clean, but it's a hopeless battle.”

The horse acts as our guide on the secret road of life

Perhaps it won’t surprise you to learn that despite his own terrible troubles, this idealistic man has expressed great concern about the horses who helped him make this incredible journey. As any Long Rider will tell you, it is the mutual conquest of dangerous hardships that cements our lifelong friendship to these beloved animals.

Daniel Robinson is no different.

"I nearly died on the Tibetan plateau. Coming over a freezing mountain pass at the end, I was suffering from altitude sickness, exhaustion and dehydration. I really thought it might be the end. But I just couldn't leave the horses to die up there. Those animals had been through hell with me and I'd developed a spiritual bond with them."

The Long Riders’ Guild is currently attempting to confirm the location and welfare of Daniel’s horses, especially as it is believed his mare may have foaled by now.

The terrain across which Daniel Robinson journeyed is so severe that there are even few Long Riders who can relate to the hardships he and his horses endured while travelling across the top of the torturous and twisting Himalayas. This photo was taken by Matthieu Paley, one of the friends of The Guild.


An Outcry in India

If he could travel down country to the warm and crowded cities of the south, Daniel Robinson would be pleasantly surprised to learn that news of his case has shocked the Indian nation.

India’s leading newspaper, The Daily Pioneer, published a scathing editorial wherein it called for the release of the hapless traveller.

"As a human rights case, the Robinson case is a tragedy; as a public relations exercise, an unmitigated disaster. This Englishman is no jihadi caught crossing the Line of Control. He is not a smuggler, not a drug-runner, not even an illegal migrant from Bangladesh, millions of whom have walked into this country without fear of interception.

The “crime” in question was to retrace ancient trade routes in the Himalayas, which is in crying need for scholarship in that region, and to stray into Indian territory due to his horses falling ill and becoming pregnant.

The area that Mr. Robinson crossed is not particularly sensitive. It is the least contentious part of the 4,056 km Sino-Indian border and does not have any significant military objectives or deployments on either side. Indeed, the Chinese routinely permit Indian pilgrims to travel to Mansarovar Lake and Mount Kailash from an adjacent pass.

The Robinson episode is not merely a miscarriage of justice, it is so ridiculous a legal case as to make a laughing stock of India and Indian bureaucracy. The inability to tell the difference between an eccentric adventurer and an espionage agent reflects poorly on policing and jurisprudential skills. It also paints a picture of a very insensitive, rule-driven governing system that would be completely comfortable with North Korea or with the isolationism of Enver Hoxha's Albania.

What the authorities should is to withdraw the case against Robinson and request the court to allow the poor man to go home. His spirit of adventure survived Communist China; let India not write its obituary,” The Daily Pioneer thundered !


An Appeal for Mercy

On February 12, 2007 a higher court will hear Daniel Robinson’s appeal and decide if the Long Rider should be released based, among other things, on an international petition circulated by the Robinson family and supported by The Long Riders' Guild.  

If this appeal fails, Robinson will spend a long time in the Indian prison.

Daniel was indeed naïve and foolish when he entered Indian territory without an entry visa via a sensitive mountain pass. By that act the Tea Horse Trail pioneer undoubtedly committed a crime. Yet Robinson, who entered India with no criminal intent, has always been honest about that mistake.

“I may be stupid,” he said, “but I didn’t have any bad intentions. I just got carried away by the spirit of adventure and didn’t know how to stop.”

Regardless of the legalities, it cannot be denied that Robinson has successfully completed an epic journey over some of the hardest terrain known to man. Ironically, it was not the thousands of miles or the traditional dangers that brought him low. It is the punishing treatment heaped upon him by the real enemies of adventure, those born without imagination.


Naïve, brave, foolhardy, courageous. All these words have been used to describe Daniel Robinson, the English equestrian explorer who made a dangerous 3,000 kilometre crossing of the infamous Tea Horse Trail from China to India.

What would the Mahatma Do?

Here at The Long Riders’ Guild we are very familiar with the ideals of freedom, courage and sacrifice as those are the values which enable The Guild’s equestrian Argonauts to undertake life-changing, and often perilous, journeys around the world. That is why we are urging the Long Riders residing in thirty-three countries to join us in signing the Robinson family petition, a petition which seeks the immediate release of this imprisoned equestrian explorer. Details about Daniel’s case, and the petition, may be viewed at this website -

I would leave you with this final thought.

India has traditionally enjoyed a reputation for spiritual generosity. Yet until now the Robinson case has been defined by bureaucratic severity, not tolerance and forgiveness. Far be it from me to gently remind my friends in India that it was the great Mahatma whose actions and philosophy should guide us now.

Mohandas Gandhi, is rightly considered to be the father of the Indian nation.

Though tiny in body, he was a giant in spirit. Among the Mahatma’s many accomplishments was his pioneering of “Satyagraha,” the resistance of tyranny through civil disobedience. His timeless teachings of non-violence, communal tolerance and religious forgiveness inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Biko and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Motivated by the bravery of the Mohatma, The Long Riders’ Guild is calling upon the Indian court to remember what that great law-giver, Gandhi said, “In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place… It is the law of an eye for an eye that makes the whole world blind.”

Free Daniel Robinson !

Update:  Thanks in part to an international equestrian campaign led by The Long Riders’ Guild and the British Horse Society, Daniel was freed on May 7th, 2007Click here to read more.

Beloved father of India, and spiritual role model to millions, Mahatma Gandhi symbolizes the concepts of mercy and forgiveness which The Long Riders' Guild hopes the judicial system of India will use as their role model when they consider Daniel Robinson's case on February 12th, 2007.

CuChullaine O’Reilly has spent more than twenty years studying equestrian travel techniques on four continents. A Founding Member of The Long Riders’ Guild, he made lengthy trips by horseback across Afghanistan and Pakistan before leading the Karakorum Equestrian Expedition through five mountain ranges, including the Himalayas, and traversing the Diamer Desert, thereby setting the record for the longest recorded horseback ride in Pakistan’s history. CuChullaine was thereafter made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He is the author of Khyber Knights, the thrilling tale of his adventures in Pakistan, The Long Riders, the world's first equestrian travel anthology, The Horse Travel Journal and The Horse Travel Handbook. During the course of one of his equestrian journeys CuChullaine was tortured and illegally imprisoned in Pakistan’s notorious ‘Pindi Prison.

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