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The Great Hedge of India: The Search for the Living Barrier that Divided a People

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  205 Ratings  ·  40 Reviews
Remarkable and "astonishing," says Jan Morris of Roy Moxham's account of his search for "one of the least-known wonders of Queen Victoria's India," and John Keay finds it "a compelling read, simply told, and simply wonderful." An unquestionably fascinating tale, as well as a travel book and historical detective story, The Great Hedge of India begins in a secondhand booksho ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published February 7th 2002 by Basic Books (first published January 25th 2001)
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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

I go to the supermarket today and I see those rows and rows of spices (garlic, onion, pepper, etc.) and I'd remember that once upon a time, in a not-too-distant past, these were as precious as gold and silver, and entire nation (Spain, Portugal, England, etc.) would finance expeditions, conquer territories and indulge in piracy and killings just to corner the sources of these.

Salt is not technically spice. Or is it? But similarly it was equally valuable before and is quite cheap nowadays unlike
...more
Prashanthini Mande
Apr 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Prashanthini by: Shanmugam
Shelves: history
"When I had first started my search for the Customs Hedge, I had been looking for a folly, a harmless piece of English eccentricity. It had been a shock to find that the great hedge was in reality a monstrosity; a terrible instrument of British oppression."

Recently, I have been reading a lot about Indian history, particularly about the British rule and the freedom struggle. No other book gave me a proper scale of British atrocity like this one.

Leo Tolstoy says this in A letter to a Hindu:

"A com
...more
Shanmugam
Apr 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Untiring Effort of an Adventurous Human Spirit

Roy Moxham unearths a reminder of an ugly episode from British Empire of Bengal Presidency during the 19th century. Mr. Moxham found a small reference in a book published 100 years ago. A phenomenon which was never recorded by historians of either British or India. So, he went on to spend years on scrounging through administrative records, old maps and a month long trip for three consecutive years to India.

An amazing travelogue is interspersed with h
...more
William Irvine
Jan 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
This may not be everyone's bag, but being interested in India - and British Indian history in particular - The Great Hedge ticked all the boxes as far as I was concerned. I'd often wondered why, of all the options, it was salt that the East India company chose to tax. Roy Moxham explores this question thoroughly and satisfactorily - also explaining why, as a tax that impacted absolutely everyone rather than just rich landowners for example, doing so was so iniquitous. He also helps the reader un ...more
Chitra
Mar 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my best reads in the recent past. Some chapters were so revealing of things that I had no clue about that the read wasnt easy at all. However, Roy Moxham, doesnt use the entire book just to give out facts, he mixes it with his travelogue on trying to unearth some remains of the old hedge. What comes across clearly is his commitment and perseverance.

Even though the book is wonderful and you will have complete admiration for the writer and for his efforts, if you are an Indian, you are lik
...more
Bookendsused Pefferly
A guy finds an old book on the history of India in a used bookstore (a common theme in the books I read - hmmm). He finds mention of a 1,000 mile long hedge grown as a Customs wall in the 1800s (British Occupancy). Intrigued, he tries to find out more (and to find if any of the hedge is still around).

I love offbeat books like this. The author mentions taking photographs of his adventures. I wish that some of those and a copy of the Hedge Map had been included. They were sorely missed.
Sankarshan
May 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting if quirky read. The one plus that goes for the book that it is fast paced. Starting right from the time the author figures out the mention of a 'hedge' being used as outpost it takes the reader right on to the spot with the author trying to piece it together. The edition I have could do with a bit of editorial control, there are a couple of spelling errors which could have been avoided but it is a nice read. Recommended for a lazy afternoon.
Stephen
I found this book second-hand on a physical shelf at Powell's. Fascinating account of a vegetal version of the Great Wall of China or the Berlin Wall or Hadrian's Wall; or the U.S. border fence with Mexico a structure, in this case a living structure, to keep the wrong sort on the other side. Another sad chapter in the history of colonialism but so crazy an idea that you can't believe it ever took shape.
"Procul, O procul este profani" Aeneid VI, 257
Chris
Jan 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: non-fiction
This book depicts so many levels of human nature. Mr. Moxam's journey and obsession to find this living barrier; the historical significance of this hedge; and the death and inhumanity imposed on the people of India. The greed of return on investment and profit margins millions of Indians were sacrificed just to improve the bottom line, how shameful is that?
Penelope Green
Dec 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an impulse purchase when I realised I didn't have much non-fiction on the To Read shelf and it was a good impulse. The official subject is a search for the 2,300 mile customs barrier that separated British Bengal from the rest of British India in a quest to tax salt amongst other things. The title reflects that in 1877, 411 miles of this was a live 14ft hedge and another 768 miles was dry hedge or still-developing live hedge.

But the book ranges over the related subjects in an informativ
...more
Sumit
Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Almost by chance India travel writer Roy Moxham came across a stray reference of customs barrier that ran from Multan in the north to Burhanpur in the south, effectively separating Eastern and Western India. Erected during the days of the East India company, the purpose of this barrier was to control the salt trade, one of the profitable sources of tax revenue. The length of this barrier was such, that if erected in Europe it would join London and Istanbul.

This book is a fascinating story of Roy
...more
5greenway
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Compelling story, both the historical narrative and the author's present-day quest; engaging and direct style.
Martin Chambers
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
I remember when Google announced they were going to photograph everything and put it on the internet and call it 'street view'. I was astonished at the audacity. Such thinking was surely the result of the modern age where we have the technology and understanding to think big. Well, no. The Chinese built a wall. The British built a hedge. Now we could joke about long term planning of these two cultures, but think about it. Rocks fall and crumble. A hedge, thorny and self perpetuating.
What sets t
...more
Owain
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A small but interesting book that examines a little-known piece of British Imperialism in India. The British government needed a way of controlling the taxation of salt-a vital foodstuff without which many people would perish. Do exert control the British Empire built a 3,000 mile hedge running from north-west to mid-south India. They had it patrolled and maintained by an army of colonial police. This allowed them to extort money from this essential resource as well as increase the price of salt ...more
Colleen
Dec 21, 2015 rated it liked it
Surprisingly interesting subject - I never realized salt was so heavily taxed in India, first by the British East India Company and later by the British Empire. They assumed it was a condiment like sugar and there had been debate about taxing sugar as heavily, but the wealthier classes didn't want that. The author tries to find the hedge by going to India and using maps combined with a GPS system, but the thorny hedge plants have died and the ground has been reused for farmland and roads. Chlori ...more
Colleen
An interesting book I picked up in a bookstore dedicated to travel books in London. This book is about a shocking all but forgotten piece of history in British Imperial India. A very interesting book.
Did you know the British painstakingly planted and maintained a prickly impenatrable hedge across all of India just to cut back on illegal salt running?! Imagine British soliders patrolling a hedge!
Wierd but true! Did you know the terrible and deadly consequences people suffer when they don't have
...more
Diana
Oct 12, 2012 rated it liked it
This book is about a quirky Englishman who searches India for the remains of an enormous hedge that the British built in India to prevent salt smuggling by the native population, They were forcing the Indians to pay them a salt tax. The book is not as much of a cultural history as I had hoped but still it was intriguing to follow this obsessive British guy in his search on the ground in India and to various government offices in London and India. It is a travelogue with accounts of where he had ...more
Krishna
Jul 05, 2015 rated it liked it
An incredible and little known historical fact, that there was a 1500-mile long hedge running down the breadth of India, built by British colonial administrators as a means of controlling smuggling, principally of salt. Part travelog, part detective work, and part historical commentary, this is an interesting read. But it seems surprising that, if indeed the Great Hedge of India had been a historical reality, the memory of it has been so thoroughly erased in the popular memory as well as in the ...more
Pamela
Apr 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is well written and engaging. It is both a journey of discovery and and an expose on an astounding historical mystery.

I read this book in a week! Amazing how such a big piece of history can disappear. Even in villages where the hedge ran thru, they don't remember it. And I never realized what the East Indian Company did to the Indians with their salt tax among many other things. During the peak of their power they were taking 1/6 of a peasant's yearly income with their salt tax. Let me
...more
Julian Walker
Dec 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a spectacular find – the concept of building a hedge across a country (especially one as large as India) to act as a barrier to smuggling and contraband would have been a non-starter to anyone outside the Victorian era.

Not only did they do it, but they then had thousands of people look after it and police it – and, even more astoundingly, parts of it still exist today. The Great Wall of China – eat your heart out.

This is a tremendously well written book offering an insight into the Vi
...more
Roy
Nov 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
I don't recall whether this book was actually any good, but it has a lot of sentimental value to me. I'd been limiting myself to science fictions and fantasy novels for years, and enjoying my rut. One day I got a notion to buy a book I expected not to like, just in case I was wrong. This was the book, and I was happy to find myself wrong and enjoyed it. That started a move toward more varied reading and I appreciate this book very much.
Adam
Apr 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: india
I attended this book's launch in Bangalore, India.

Having heard the excerpts, which Roy read out to us in Sankaran's bookshop (now derelict) on State Bank Road, I couldn't wait to read more.

I was not at all disappointed by Roy's intriguing account of his search for a long lost hedge grown like a long spine down the length of India. Its purpose was to prevent the avoidance of paying a tax for salt.

This account of an investigation of an obscure aspect of Indian history is a gem of a book.
Bimal Patel
Dec 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
The Great Hedge of India is about one man's obsessive search for a Hedge, a Custom's Line that divided India to prevent Salt smuggling from west to east. British Raj erected this live hedge made of variety of trees bearing thorns and manned it with few hundreds of guards to prevent the smuggling. It ran for a length of about ~2000 miles from north to south. Interesting enough none of the history books in India talk about it.
Heep
Aug 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a charming book. Who would have dreamt of building a hedge across India to prevent salt smuggling. It seems wacky. Other events in India during the 20th century cast a wide shadow. This explains why memory of this policy is now largely forgotten there. In England, it was probably forgotten once (with 20-20 hindsight) it became evident that this was a crazy idea. Still, it is quaintly endearing and the book is a fun and engaging read.
P.D.R. Lindsay
Oct 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-ficiton

Fascinating read. Who knew there was a great wall, actually a hedge, built by the British across India to stop salt smuggling?

Well written personal account of searching for the hedge along with the history. Lively writing and an excellent resource for Indian history. Well worth a read even if you are not a history buff!
Carolien
Aug 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: geography, history, 2012
This is an extremely interesting book about the Great Customs Hedge in India. The book partly describes the process of developing the hedge and the effects of the Salt Tax (the main purpose of the hedge was to collect this tax) on the people of India.

It also describes the author's search for any remains of the hedge in mdoern day India. I enjoyed the short history of colonial India.
Jack
Dec 15, 2011 rated it liked it
A very interesting period in the history of the Raj. This book could definitely benefit from more pictures and maps. The writing style made it not pleasant to read. It never really flowed. It was quite stilted. Only one or two components to a sentence. A bit like this review. A revision of Roy's writing style would render this book a very good read as this is a fascinating story.
Petra
Mar 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
A quite fascinating story of one man's search for the remnants of a living hedge planted across India by the British. It's the story of the British Salt Tax in India, how the British implemented it and collected the taxes, how the people and their health were affected and how this hedge played a role in all this. Very interesting.
James Shasteen
Aug 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Poorly written and only marginally interesting. Its redeeming quality is that it provides an excellent ground-level history of how the British managed their interests in India through the East India Company. Plus, now I know why you should tax sugar but not salt.
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Roy Moxham is author of The Great Hedge of India (2001). After thirteen years in Africa, he became first a dealer in African Art, then a book conservator, now in charge of preservation and conservation at the University of London Library.
More about Roy Moxham

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