List of Foreign Travellers in Ancient and Medieval India

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Numerous travelers from Greece, the Arab world, Western Asia, and China explored India during ancient and medieval times. Wondering about their main reasons and what they documented? Dive into the article to learn more about the foreign visitors who explored India in the past.

During ancient and medieval periods, India attracted travelers from Greece, the Arab world, Western Asia, and China.

These adventurers left behind extensive accounts of their observations. Their lack of allegiance to local kings ensured impartial stories, offering firsthand insights into the topics they covered.

According to Herodotus, a Greek historian from the fifth century BC, the Indus River valley in central and eastern Pakistan marked the farthest eastern point known at that time.

The Greek geographer Herodotus, dating back to the 5th century BC, mentions India as “the Indus country.” He also uses the term Hindus, the Old Persian name for the Indus River and its residents, and refers to the associated satrapy of Sindh in the Achaemenid Empire.

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Foreign Travellers in Ancient and Medieval India List

Foreign TravellersTime PeriodNotable InformationVisited During
Megasthenes302 to 298 B.C.The Ambassador of Seleucus referred to Chandragupta Maurya as Sandrocottus, author of “Indica,”.Chandragupta Maurya
Abdur Razzak1443 A.D. – 1444 A.D.Combined history and scientific geography, visited Malacca, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, noted strong trade between Malacca and India’s east coast.Dev Raya II
Alberuni1024–1030 A.D.Wrote Kitab-ul-hind, studied Indian culture, language, and philosophy, and drew parallels between Sufi doctrine and Indian philosophy.Unknown
Al-Masudi957 A.D.Chinese Buddhist monk, who visited India during Vikramaditya’s rule, known for visiting Lumbini, wrote “Record of Buddhist Kingdoms.”Malacca, Sri Lanka, Indonesia
Fa-Hien405 to 411 A.D.Moroccan nomad visited India in Mohammad Bin Tughlaq’s court, explored Southern India, and wrote “Rihla.”Vikramaditya
Hiuen Tsang630 to 645 A.D.Venetian traders explored Southern India during Rudramma Devi’s rule.Harsha Vardhan
Ibn Battuta1333 to 1347Moroccan nomads visited India in Mohammad Bin Tughlaq’s court, explored Southern India, and wrote “Rihla.”Mohammad Bin Tughlaq
Marco Polo1292 and 1294English diplomat visited India during Jahangir’s rule, left a valuable contribution with his “Journal of the Mission to the Mughal Empire.”Rudramma Devi
Nicolo Conti1420 to 1421Arrived in India with monks, visited the Swat region, and created the Gandhara dynasty story.Deva Raya II
Sung Hyun518 CERussian businessman, who spent over two years in India, documented his experiences in a journal.Buddhist Empress Hu
Afanasy Nikitin1442-1443 ADRussian businessman, spent over two years in India, documented his experiences in a journal.Unknown
Thomas Roe1615 A.D. – 1619 A.D.English diplomat visited India during Jahangir’s rule, and left a valuable contribution with his “Journal of the Mission to the Mughal Empire.”Jahangir
Domingo Paes1520-1522 A.D.Portuguese visitors wrote detailed reports of Vijayanagara’s beauty during Krishnadeva’s reign.Krishnadeva
Fernao Nunes1535-1537 A.D.Portuguese horse dealer, interested in Vijayanagara’s history, observations on Mahanavami celebration.Achyutaraya
Francois Bernier1656 A.D. – 1668 A.D.Representative of King James I of England arrived in India during Jahangir’s rule along with William Finch.Shah Jahan
Jean Baptiste Tavernier1638-1663 A.D.French traveller, visited India six times during Shahjahan and Aurangzeb’s reigns.Shahjahan, Aurangzeb
William Hawkins1608-1611 A.D.Portuguese visitors wrote detailed reports of Vijayanagara’s beauty during Krishnadeva’s reign.Jahangir

Foreign Travellers in Ancient and Medieval India Key Points

Megasthenes, 302 to 298 B.C.

  • Ambassador of Seleucus.
  • Traveled to India during Chandragupta Maurya’s rule.
  • Chandragupta is known as Sandrocottus among the Greeks.
  • Author of the novel “Indica.”
  • Referred to as the “Father of Indian History” for being the first to depict ancient India.

Abdur Razzak – 1443 A.D. – 1444 A.D.

  • Islamic scholar and philosopher.
  • Visited India during Dev Raya II’s rule in the Sangama dynasty.
  • Calicut people, described with bad hygiene and polyandry practices, didn’t leave a positive impression.
  • A brief visit in Calicut as the Vijayanagar King summoned him.
  • Passed through Mangalore before reaching Vijayanagara.

Alberuni – 1024–1030 A.D.

  • Traveled to India and wrote a book about Indian culture.
  • Authored “Kitab-ul-hind” or “Tahqiq-i-Hind” after studying the widely practiced Hindu religion.
  • Gained comprehensive knowledge about India.
  • He studied Sanskrit, Indian philosophy, and the socio-economic situation, and I am fascinated by Indian culture.
  • Drew occasional parallels between Sufi doctrine and Indian philosophy, as well as with Socrates, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, Galen, and others.
  • His book provides an account of Indian history based on investigations and observations between 1017 and 1030.

Al-Masudi – 957 A.D.

  • The first Arab author to combine history and scientific geography, known as the “Herodotus of the Arabs.”
  • A prolific author with around 34 works.
  • Visited Malacca, the contemporary capital of Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.
  • Mentioned strong trade between Malacca and India’s east coast.
  • Believed in the connection between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, referred to the Atlantic Ocean as the Dark-Green Sea.

Fa-Hien – 405 to 411 A.D.

  • Chinese Buddhist monk.
  • Traveled to India during the rule of Vikramaditya (Chandragupta II).
  • Notable for visiting Lumbini.
  • His travel journal, “Record of Buddhist Kingdoms,” details his adventure.

Hiuen Tsang (630 to 645 AD)

  • Chinese Buddhist monk, known as Xuanzang.
  • Traveled from China to India during the rule of King Harsha Vardhan.
  • He studied in Nalanda, a prestigious institution in Bihar, for almost five years.
  • Studied logic, grammar, Sanskrit, and the Yogacara style of Buddhism in Nalanda.
  • Wrote “The Records of the Western World,” or Si-yu-ki.

Ibn Battuta (1333 to 1347)

  • Moroccan nomad, world traveler in the 13th century.
  • Left home at 21.
  • Arrived in Mohammad Bin Tughlaq’s royal court.
  • Set sail from Khambhat to Calicut, guests of the ruling Zamorin.
  • One ship perished in a storm near Calicut, but the second continued, later seized by a Sumatran ruler.
  • Explored Southern India under Jamal-ud protection.
  • Wrote the poem “Rihla.”

Marco Polo (1292 and 1294)

  • Venetian trader and explorer.
  • Traveled from Europe to Asia.
  • Joined the Tanjore-area Tamil Pandya kingdom.
  • Explored Southern India during Rudramma Devi’s rule (1261 to 1295 CE).

Nicolo Conti (1420 to 1421)

  • Italian explorer and merchant.
  • Traveled to India, possibly during Deva Raya II’s rule in Vijayanagara.
  • Visited Sonargaon, Chittagong, and Arakan.
  • Explored Malabar Coast, making stops in Cochin and Calicut.
  • Ventured to Ceylon, then returned to Cambay before traveling to the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula.

Sung Hyun (518 CE)

  • Arrived in India in 518 CE with monks Hui Zheng, Fa Li, and Zheng Fouze during the rule of Buddhist Empress Hu.
  • Sung Yun, a native of Dunhuang, China.
  • Departed from Wei capital Luoyang in 518, returned in winter 522 with 117 Mahayana Buddhist scriptures.
  • Important details of their journey are recorded in Yang Xianzhi’s Loyang Jielanji.
  • Visited the Swat region of northern India and created the Gandhara dynasty story.

Afanasy Russian Nikitin (1442-1443 AD)

  • Russian businessman spent over two years in India.
  • Explored various locations, interacted with people, and documented his experiences.
  • Notes assembled into a “Journey” document resembling a trip journal.
  • Accurately reflected India’s nature, political structure, traditions, way of life, and customs.

Thomas Roe (1615 A.D. – 1619 A.D)

  • English diplomat Sir Thomas Roe.
  • Visited India in 1615 during Jahangir’s rule.
  • Went to Surat seeking security for an English company.
  • Left a valuable contribution to Indian history with his “Journal of the Mission to the Mughal Empire.”

Domingo Paes (1520-1522 A.D)

  • Portuguese traders and tourists visited Vijayanagara after Goa became the Portuguese Estado da India seat in 1510.
  • Published in-depth reports on Bisnaga’s beauty.
  • Domingos Paes’ noteworthy account, was written between 1520 and 1522.
  • Description during Krishnadeva’s reign explains the yearly royal Durga festival and the feudal Malankara system of Vijayanagara’s military organization based on close observation.

Fernao Nunes (1535-1537 A.D)

  • Portuguese horse dealer, Fernao Nuniz.
  • Wrote his account of India between 1536 and 1537.
  • At Vijayanagara’s capital under Achyutaraya’s rule, potentially present for Krishnadevaraya’s earlier battles.
  • Interested in Vijayanagara’s history, city building, three dynasties’ rule, and battles against Deccan sultans and Orissan Rayas.
  • Observations include insights into the Mahanavami celebration, admiring the gems worn by courtly women and the women serving the monarch.

Francois Bernier (1656 A.D. – 1668A.D)

  • French traveler and doctor.
  • Spent the years 1656 to 1668 in India.
  • Visited during Shah Jahan’s rule.
  • Served as a doctor to Prince Dara Shikoh before joining Aurangzeb’s court.
  • His book discusses the rules of Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh.

Jean Baptiste Tavernier (1638-1663 A.D)

  • French traveler who visited India six times during the reign of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb.

William Hawkins (1608-1611 A.D)

  • Representative of King James I of England.
  • Arrived in India during the rule of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, accompanied by William Finch.

Contributions of Foreign Travellers

Diverse Topics Covered

  • Accounts of foreign travelers spanned a variety of subjects.
  • Stories that have endured encompass a wide range of topics.

Varied Interests

  • Some travelers focused on religious matters, architectural intricacies, and monuments.
  • Others delved into legal complexities.

Accurate Portrayal of Indian Culture

  • Foreign visitors portrayed Indian culture accurately in their writings.
  • Their accounts serve as a valuable resource for understanding medieval and ancient India.

Crucial to Understanding Indian History

  • Foreign travel reports, especially from medieval and ancient India, are crucial for comprehending the nation’s history.
  • Narratives of their journeys shed light on government structures and regional customs.

Insights into Public Perception

  • Understanding external perspectives on our country is beneficial.
  • It helps in identifying areas where our nation may need improvement.

Knowledge of Daily Life

  • Gaining insights into how people live in our country is valuable.
  • Foreign travelers’ writings offer valuable details on daily life in India.

Economic and Trade Information

Foreign travelers’ accounts provide comprehensive details on:

  • Ports along the coast of India.
  • Trade centers within India.
  • Trade routes connecting these centers and ports.
  • Distances between the trade centers.
  • A list of tradable commodities.
  • Annual trade volumes.
  • Rates, ship types, and other relevant economic information.

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