Have you ever seen a milestone telling you how far you were from the city and wondered where in the city it was measured from?
This is Pune’s Zero Stone. It sits outside the GPO. The spot on the pavement is occupied by a watermelon vendor who says he’s been there 20 years, and his father before him. He’s well aware of the significance of the stone he sits by—his picture was in the guidebook that directed us to this place, and he says he’s been in the newspaper too.
The system of measurements we have today was established by the British in the 1800s in an experiment that initially attempted to measure the curvature of the Earth and extended to building a topographical survey of India. Surveyor Generals William Lambton and George Everest and their teams literally dragged a multi-tonne chain across the length and breadth of the country between 1802 and 1843. Lambton died on the job in Nagpur, 1823, and Everest saw it through to completion. At that time, it was the greatest map ever built. Everest had the mountain named after him for his efforts. I don’t remember correctly, but I think it was named posthumously. Years of harsh travel had nearly killed him too and he was forced to retire to England.
Further reading: a review of John Keay’s The Great Arc, and an interview. Keay also covers this briefly in India Discovered (at Amazon), which I’ve read and highly recommend.