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From a medieval European perspective, India was best known as a land conquered by Alexander the Great, and as a source for gemstones and spices via the Silk Road.

As Arab traders had a virtual monopoly on trade between India and Western Europe, the European powers sought to circumvent this by finding a sea-route. The most notable failed attempt was by Christopher Columbus, who tried to get to India by travelling west.

The first succesful contact was made by Vasco da Gama in 1498, travelling on behalf of the King of Portugal. He landed in Calicut (Kozhikode), saying he had journeyed in order to find Christians and spices. The discovery that surprised him most however, was the presence of Moorish traders who spoke Castillian, a language he never thought to hear that far away from home.

The Portuguese established a trading port in 1510, with the conquest of Goa by General Alfonso de Albuquerque. The port went on to become a lucrative trade centre for them.

The legendary Prester John was supposedly a religious ruler from India in the 12th century.

In the novels of Dorothy Dunnett (who is usually a reliable researcher/historian) there are references to 15th/16th century trade links between Cathay and the Russian Tsars