Sven Hedin's Expeditions

1986 -1935

Google Map 6
To view his route click on Google Map 6

Dec 1895- Feb 1897

29 J
une 1896

Bazar in Khotan

On June 29th we were all up at sunrise. While the men were getting the caravan arranged for the start, I went to pay my farewell visit to Liu Darin, and presented him with a gold watch which I bought from a wealthy merchant from Ladak. To the military commandant of the town, who had presented me with a very good carpet for my tent, I gave a revolver.

It was ten o'clock before everything was ready, and the long caravan, consisting of twenty horses and thirty donkeys, led by a troop of men on foot and on horseback, got into motion for the east. Yes, we were at last bound for the Far East!

June 1896

Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Kopan app.2600m
30 Jul 1896

I also wanted some camels for the journey through Northern Tibet. I heard there were several grazing in charge of their drivers, on the upper yeylaus (summer pasture- grounds) of the river Molldya; and therefore sent Parpi Ba to bring some for me to look at. On July 28th he met us with thirteen good camels, and brought their owners with him too. I had previously despatched a courier to the beg of Kopa, Togda Mohammed Beg, and he now rode up and helped me in the bargaining by keeping down the price to a reasonable figure. For 1275 tengeh (£30) I bought six male camels of the variety which are accustomed to travel in mountainous districts, and which had had a thorough summer's rest.

Camp I
7 Aug 1896

We pitched our camp at the foot of a conglomerate terrace on the right bank of the stream, commanding a magnificent view to the south. This was the first camp in an entirely uninhabited region. Our faces were now set towards unknown, uninhabited Tibet, and two months were to elapse before we again came into contact with human beings.

Beyond that camp the Taghliks were not accustomed to go; and as they had no geographical names for the tracts in front of us, I was obliged to enter the various geographical features on my map under purely conventional signs, such as numerals and the letters of the alphabet.

I had eight attendants, each with his own appropriate duties to perform, namely: Islam Bai, caravan-bashi (leader); Fong Shi, Chinese interpreter; Parpi Bai from Osh, Islam Akhun from Keriya, Hamdan Bai from Cherchen, Ahmed Akhun, who was half a Chinaman, Roslakh from Kara-sai, and Kurban Akhun from Dalai-kurgan.
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Yappkaklik Pass 4750m
7 Aug 1896

As we advanced the valley gradually contracted, and its surface became more broken and encumbered with gravel. The ascent to the pass of Yappkaklik grew steeper and steeper; nevertheless all the animals, including the camels, acquitted themselves wonderfully well. We fully expected to have to carry their loads up the last and steepest portion of the ascent, but happily none of them needed help even there.

I myself, with my two followers, reached the summit of the pass an hour before the camels and donkeys. Looking back we saw them far down below like little black dots struggling up and up. Towards the west the eye ranged over an unlimited sea of mountain-peaks and crests; while to the east also the view of the complex mountain landscape was almost equally grand. The valley on the other side of the pass, which stretched towards the east, was so choked with mud and gravel that it looked like a piece of blue-gray ribbon flung down across the yellow-gray mountains. The pass itself formed a moderately sharp crest, thickly strewn with disintegrated rocks and fragments of black clay-slate. In this respect it resembled the pass of Chokkalik, but was incomparably the easier. For the slopes were less steep, and the altitude lower, not exceeding 15,680 feet. We had splendid weather; the thermometer showed 57.6° Fahr
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Camp II, app. 4550m
8 Aug 1896

The Arkha Tagh in the distance.

I settled with five of the Taghliks, including their lying aksa- kal (leader), and they returned home on foot, very glad at not being obliged to go farther. We still had eight mountaineers left with us. it was a barren and desolate region, and the men's spirits fell, so much so that in the evening there was a lively dispute among our Taghliks as to which of them should go with us all the way until we again came to inhabited districts. They all wanted to go back; those inhospitable regions had no attraction whatever for them.

Every evening just about sunset I had the pleasure of seeing the camels come forward to the tent, slowly, with rocking humps, solemn as judges, to get their daily measure of maize, which was poured out on a piece of sail-cloth spread on the ground. Then they knelt down round it and ate up the corn ravenously; but their meagre diet did not make them ill-tempered.
Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Camp V. app. 4570m
13-14 Aug 1896

At camp No. IV. three men had been ill, and begged that we would rest there a day. I agreed to their request all the more willingly in that the six days' continuous hard travelling had exhausted all the caravan animals ; and as we had plenty of both water and grass, it was a very suitable spot to stay in. I was getting on capitally, scarcely knew that I was at an altitude of 16,300 feet above the level of the sea.

At camp V. Islam Bai was reported to me as being seriously ill and we were compelled to spend August 13th and I4th there. He was in a high fever, with high pulse, palpitation of the heart, and headache; but he did not believe it was mountain sickness, for he coughed up blood, and was so weak that he could not lift his hand to his mouth. I gave him quinine and morphia, and applied a mustard plaster to draw the blood away from his head. After that he slept several hours.

Parpi Bai voted for making a move as soon as possible, for if we stayed there any longer the horses would fall ill. Two of them were looking queer already; they would not eat, but lay quiet in one place all day long.

In the evening I gave Islam Bai half a grain of morphia. He again got a good sleep, and next morning felt very much better. He succeeded in swallowing a little bread and tea, got up, and walked about a short time wrapped in furs. He hoped he should be able to follow us next day. The weather was disagreeable. Between twelve and four o'clock it hailed, and after that we had a smart shower of rain.

August 15th.. Happily Islam Bai was so much better that we were able to start at the usual time; though one of the sick horses died, and was left behind as a memorial of our visit. It was the first that perished, and alas ! was to be followed by too many of the others.

Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Camp VIII Traces of Littledale 5053 m
17-19 Aug 1896

Searching for a pass south. The camp site of Littledale. the Taghliks ran away.

Amid a scene of extraordinary beauty, we pitched our tents, a process which demanded every man we had, for there was a fierce nor'wester raging. The passable grass, coming after the enforced fast of the preceding day, rendered a rest imperative for the animals. When, late in the day, Hamdan Bai came in with the camels, he recognized the locality. Only the year before Littledale had encamped barely ten minutes to the north. He had travelled from East Turkestan, and halted there for a few days in order to search for a more westerly pass over the Arka-tagh. But his search had been as unsuccessful as ours. He then tried the valley which opened out on the east, and found there an easy pass, which led to a small lake on the south of the Arka-tagh.

That evening we made an arrangement with the Taghliks. Three of them, after being paid for the time they had served, were to return home by the same route we had come. Two of the others were to go with us over the Arka-tagh and were then to be dismissed, while the rest were to accompany us, like my other attendants from East and West Turkestan, until we again reached inhabited regions, wherever that might be.

The last section of the Taghliks—namely, those who were to go with us right through—begged me to advance them the half of their wages. I saw no reason why I should not grant their request, and I paid them. Some of the men from East Turkestan, whose families lived in Keriya and Khotan, sent some considerable portions of their wages by the three Taghliks who were going back.

Imagine, therefore, my men's surprise when they awoke at five o'clock on the morning of August 19th and found that every Taghlik had disappeared. When we examined our stores we discovered that ten donkeys, two horses, and a goodly supply of bread, flour, and maize were missing....

I therefore ordered that they should be instantly pursued, and at all costs, by fair means or by foul, should be brought back. About midnight they saw a fire burning in the distance. It had been made, as they expected, by our runaways. The two horses and the donkeys were grazing close by. Five of the Taghliks sat round the fire warming themselves. The others had already gone to bed. Parpi Bai bound them—every man—and took away all the money they had about them. It was ten o'clock at night when the runaways, guarded by Islam of Keriya, arrived in camp.

I condemned the thieves to atone for their treacherous conduct by work; to be bound every night until we felt we could trust them ; to pay Parpi, Hamdan, and Islam the three days' wages they had lost; to accompany us as far as I thought fit to take them.

Both animals and men that had taken part in the flight and pursuit were, of course, completely exhausted by their forced marches, so that we were compelled to sacrifice yet another day — the third in all—at camp No. VIII
Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Littledale's Pass 5545m
24 Aug 1896

Littledale's Pass

After I had taken the usual observations (18,300 feet), there was nothing for it but to follow in Hamdan's track, for the day was wearing on. Before I and Emin Mirza had advanced very far we met them coming back, and Hamdan Bai, our guide, marching along at their head, looking crestfallen at his inconceivable stupidity. He had kept forging on ahead without thinking, until he crossed his own track, which he made earlier in that same day, and thus actually described a complete circle, and, to crown all, even climbed a pass, all to no purpose.

We encamped, after a march of 13.1 miles, in the entrance to a side-glen, although there was not a mouthful of herbage to be found. Contrary to expectation, it was a beautiful evening. The atmosphere was absolutely pure, and the snow and the white clouds above it gleamed dazzlingly white under the full moon. It was dark when the camels came in, gliding up to the camp like silent though majestic shadows.

We had crossed the Kwen-lun Mountains, the Arka-tagh, and the basin which stretches between them, and were now treading the plateau of Northern Tibet, the vastest upswelling on the face of the earth.
Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Camp XVI app 4900 m
31 Aug 1896

After passing a low range of dark mountains on our left, we turned off towards the east-southeast across a rolling, grassy country. Then we entered another latitudinal valley,poorly supplied with water, but tolerably well grassed, and there we observed numbers of khulans, antelopes, and hares.

East-southeast of the camp we had a grand peak, covered with vast expanses of snow, among them some small glacier formations; we also caught glimpses of a number of peaks towering up in the west.
Thanks to the level ground we were travelling over, and to the grass, though this was somewhat scanty, it is true, the caravan animals still held out capitally, although we had already lost several of the donkeys.
Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Camp XXII app.4900m
8 Sep 1896

8 Sep 1896

On September 9th we made the splended record of twenty- four and three-quarter miles, our longest day's march in Tibet. We crossed the low ridge between lake No. 16 and a broad open valley on the other side, which led down to the next lake, beside which we pitched camp No. XXIII. But this forcing of the pace cost us a horse and a donkey. We were often obliged to make longer marches than we liked in order to reach such pasturage as was to be found; but this day we found none at all. We still had sufficient maize to last the animals ten days; but we husbanded the strength of our best horses as much as we possibly could.

We took stock of our provision-chests, with the result that we saw it would be necessary to exercise strict economy in the future. We had possibly sufficient bread, flour, and tea to last us a month; but there were eleven of us, and we did not know how far it was to the nearest inhabited district. We had only one sheep left; but if the worst came to the worst, we should have to live upon yak beef. It was six weeks since we left the last inhabited dwelling, and we were all longing to meet with human beings, no matter who or what they were.
Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Snowstorm, Camp XXVII 4780 m
16-17 Sep 1896

On September 16th we travelled no less than twenty miles without losing a single animal along a lake. The lake stretched to an extraordinary length. I began to fancy it would be a worthy rival to the Issyk-kul, which is several days' journey long.

Tibetan Snowstorm

Immediately after noon the clouds flocked closer together all round us, while a violent east wind arose, and in a very short time down came the usual snow-storm. It was the most violent storm of snow, and with the heaviest fall, I had experienced since I was on the Mus-tagh-ata. Clouds of powdery snow as fine as flour swept along close to the surface of the earth, succeeded every now and again by showers of hail — totally blotting out the landscape. The ground became instantly white; indeed we were actually snowed up sitting in our saddles. We seemed, however, to have left the region in which the west wind was prevalent; for during the last day or two the east wind had been the more general. The storm lasted almost two hours, and then the sun shone out again.
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia"

Islam Bai nearly killed by wild yak

21-25 Sep 1896

Islam Bai nearly killed by a wounded wild yak

We kept close to the lake shore, having the mountains only about two miles distant on our left. Occasionally our route led over very steep hills, on one of which I lost my riding-horse. Only five camels turned up at camp. The one with the stockings of khulan-skin had succumbed and been killed. The men brought the best pieces of the flesh with them, a welcome addition to our larder. Here again we were obliged to give the exhausted animals another day's rest. From this time I rode a little black horse which I bought in Korla, and which had been with me in my Lop- nor expedition.

An exceptionally large herd of yaks were grazing at the foot of the rocks on our right. Islam rode towards them and took a shot at them. They had not yet observed us; for no sooner did the leader become aware of us, which he did at about a hundred paces distance, than he swerved aside, and was instantly followed by the entire battalion. This gave Islam his opportunity....

The wounded yak bull, however, although running on only three legs, caught him up after two or three minutes' chase; but just as he was on the point of tossing horse and rider on his horns, Islam, who saw the danger he was in, turned in his saddle and took aim. But he was so excited he could not aim with the cool deliberation that so perilous a moment demanded. However, the yak was so close to him that it was scarcely possible to miss; luckily, the bullet penetrated in the region of the heart, and thus put an end to the contest.
Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Mani Stones

27-30 Sep 1896

An "Obo", a cairn of Mani Stones

Fitingly on September camp No. XXXV For dinner, therefore, I had soup made from yak beef; it was a dark-brown color, and very nourishing and tasty. For some time this soup formed a portion of my daily diet.

If my dinner was good, my dessert was better. I was just lighting my pipe when all the men, Islam at their head, came to me in a state of great excitement, crying, "Biss nishan tappdik /" (We have found a sign!) And down before me they laid four large slates inscribed all over with Tibetan letter-signs. Each of the slates was whole, and manifestly complete in itself; but two were old, for their inscriptions were partly obliterated.

My curiosity was keenly stirred. What could these dead stones not tell me ? Why had such great pains been taken to cut these inscriptions upon them ? Perhaps they contained the record of some remarkable occurrence, some historical event. Or perhaps they contained information of great value to pilgrims bound for Lhasa. For, according to my maps, the great pilgrim road from Mongolia to the holy capital of the Dalai Lama bent to the southwest somewhere hereabouts. But the thing which delighted the men most was the indisputable evidence which these inscribed stones afforded that some time or other human beings had visited the region where we then were.

SH does not realize that these were indeed "mani stones" on wich somepious Buddhist had inscribed "O Mani Padme Hum".

We descended from the pass into a spacious caldron-shaped valley, richly supplied with grass, and intersected by several small brooks flowing towards the southeast. It seemed to be a perfect El Dorado for khulans; for they swarmed all over it in such numbers that we counted troops of 80 to 200 individuals, moving like squadrons of cavalry along the mountain-slopes.

In about the middle of the valley we made another discovery—a very remarkable one, all things considered, for it consisted of the tracks of three camels and half a dozen horses, that is to say, an entire caravan, and it had travelled towards the northwest. According to the Taghliks the tracks were not more than five days old.

A short distance down the valley we caught sight of a black object standing on the left bank of the stream. I took it for a yak lying down and resting; but after we advanced a little nearer, the men (all Moslems) asserted that it was a nishan (sign, guide-post). We made our way towards it, and were not a little amazed to find in the midst of this wild region an obo (religious monument) of such an original and beautiful construction as this was. It had no doubt been built to propitiate the deities of the mountain, and consisted of large slates leaning one against another, covered all over with inscriptions. At last we were getting wind in our sails. The caravan was called in, and up went the tents immediately adjoining the obo, although we had travelled very little more than five miles. There was work here, however, to keep me busy for two whole days. The grass was better than usual; the brook would supply us with water. A horse and a donkey had, it is true, been left behind in the pass; but that only proved how needful it was to give the animals as much rest as we could possibly spare them.

SH finishes his discussion of the Obo with a telling 19th century discourse on Tibetan Buddists - of which, by that time, he knew nothing.

I now looked upon the obo, not as a great rarity, but as a ridiculous and idiotic piece of nonsense. It was our first acquaintance with the crass exaggerations of Lamaism. Instead of being an important historical document relating to the great Mongol pilgrim road to Lhasa, which (as I have just said) crossed the border-range of Tsaidam in that neighborhood, it was merely an empty formula. The most beautiful sentence would become stupid and inane if repeated four thousand times. To write the Lord's Prayer four thousand times would not be a stroke of genius; but to engrave a formula of prayer upon stone that number of times, when each letter demanded a special expenditure of strength, time, and labor—it was unquestionably an idiotic proceeding. But then, what else can you expect from fanatics who deliberately strangle the common-sense with which Mother Nature thought endow them ?
Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

First Human Beings

1 - 3 Oct 1896

Islam Bai, having caught sight of some yaks grazing at the foot of the mountains on the opposite side of the valley, crept cautiously within range,fired three shots without killing anything; then — imagine our surprise! an old woman came running forward, shouting and gesticulating, so that we at once understood the animals were tame yaks, and that we had at length reached the farthest outpost of an inhabited region, after travelling fifty-five days through the wilds of Northern Tibet.

Not long after that we observed the old woman's tent, standing on the right bank of the stream ; and beside it we pitched camp No. XXXVIII. Her yaks, goats, and sheep grazed in the vicinity. The last-named made our mouths water terribly.

Our conversation with the old dame may be regarded as a triumphant vindication of the value of the primitive gesture language. She did not of course know who or what we were, and there was none in our party who understood Mongolian. Parpi Bai remembered a single word, baneh = "there is "; and I knew the three common geographical terms, ula =" mountain," gol — " river," and nur — " lake." But this vocabulary was scarcely rich enough to make the old woman understand that first and foremost, above all things else, we wanted to buy a sheep. I began to bleat like a ram, at the same time showing her two Hang, or Chinese taels (twelve to thirteen shillings); and she understood me.

That evening we enjoyed the rare luxury of fresh mutton for supper.

A violent snow-storm from the west coming on just then, we went inside the tent and had a look at its furnishings. The most important object was a small cubiform box standing against the short side immediately opposite the entrance. As Parpi Bai justly remarked, it was a budkhanek, or shrine to Buddha. After some hesitancy the old woman opened the shrine; it contained Tibetan books, written on long, narrow, loose sheets, and each book, or bundle of such sheets, was wrapped in a piece of cloth. The old woman dusted the holy shrine with a yak's tail which lay on the box- lid, and beside the box were a few basins of brass and wood, evidently sacred vessels.

For a full fortnight Dorcheh (the husband of the "old"Woman) was our guide; and during that time my every spare moment was given to lessons in Mongolian. By closely studying his pronunciation and his conversation with other people, I picked up the language remarkably fast. After the first difficulties are overcome, and you have advanced so far that you can put together a few simple sentences, and so in some sort keep up a conversation, it becomes merely a question of extending your vocabulary and acquiring the necessary fluency of speech. I never afterwards needed an interpreter for Mongolian.
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia"

Camping with the Mongols 3515 m
5-11 Oct 1896

The Mongol Camp in the Tsaidam

In an expansion of the valley we met a party of mounted Mongols, all armed to the teeth. Great was the astonishment on both sides. But with Dorcheh's help I tried to engage them to accompany us. We speedily came to an agreement upon one point. We encamped where we were, in the district of Harato, although we had not covered more than nine and a quarter miles. It was, however, a splendid camping-ground, with plenteous vegetation. Its altitude was 11,060 feet.

The troop of Mongols consisted of five men and one woman. They were on their way to penetrate higher into the mountains to lay in a supply of yak beef for the winter.

October 6th. The Mongols sold us a couple of their horses. Early the next morning, about an hour after they had started for their hunting-grounds, we discovered that habit had been too strong for the animals—they had gone after their late owners. I sent two of the men on horseback up the valley to fetch them back. Hence it was two o'clock before we were able to make a start, although two of the Taghliks got off hours before that with the three camels.

Hour after hour we rode on towards the north, Dorcheh at length discovered a path. But,. saying he was afraid the other men. who followed behind, and were without a guide, would never be able to find it, he told me which way to go to reach the next camping-place, and then, before I could offer a word of protest, disappeared in the darkness.

Fortunately my horse was more familiar than I was with the locality, and after riding close upon an hour I caught a glimpse of fires shining through the bushes ahead. The Mongol dogs gave the alarm, and out rushed a horde of them, barking furiously at my horse and at Yolldash, whom I had caught up and placed on the saddle in front of me. I then saw the tents, and people about them. Riding quietly up to one of them, I fastened my horse outsideand went in. There were half a dozen Mongols in the tent. They looked up at me with a stare of amazement. I greeted them with the customary "Amir sdn?" and sat down beside the fire and lighted my pipe. I saw a pan with fermented mare's-milk standing in a corner. I got up and took a good drink. It tasted like small beer, and was very refreshing after my long ride of nearly twenty-seven miles. The Mongols still continued to stare at me without uttering a word, though they did not forget from time to time to push more fuel on the fire. Nor had they recovered from their amazement when Dorcheh arrived, two hours later, with the caravan.

This last forced march cost us two more horses and a donkey; so that now we had only three camels, three horses, and one donkey left out of the fifty-six animals with which two months previously we started from Dalai-kurgan.

We stayed over October 11th with the Mongol community at Yikeh-tsohan-gol, and the rest was not beneficial merely, it was indispensable. At their own request I there dismissed Hamdan Bai and all the Taghliks.

In their place I set about organizing an entirely fresh caravan. And no sooner did the Mongols realize that we wanted horses than every day, nay, every hour of the day, the entrance to my tent was besieged by one or more of them offering horses for sale ; nor were the prices they asked at all extravagant. When I resumed my journey towards the east, it was as lord and master over a caravan of twenty first-rate animals.
In CHAPTER LXXXVIII SH describes in great detail the Monguls in the camp: Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Dorcheh exchanged against Loppsen 2780 m
16-18 Oct 1896

A Tibetan Pilgrim on his way to Lhasa

At this point our old friend and guide, Dorcheh, took his leave, to return to his lonely mountain home and his wild yak hunting; he was afraid his wife would begin to be anxious at his prolonged absence. In his place I engaged a young Mongol named Loppsen, a big, clumsily built fellow, who had several times been to Lhasa and Si-ning-fu, and had an exceptional knowledge of the country we were travelling through. Loppsen was one of the best followers I ever had. He was always cheerful and pleasant, and freshened up my knowledge of Mongolian.

That evening we had a talk about my contemplated journey to Si-ning-fu (Xining), and Loppsen was of opinion that it would take me thirty days to get there. He said that the Tanguts in the Koko-nor neighborhood were arrant thieves and robbers, and that while passing through their country we should do well to maintain a constant watch. He wondered whether we were sufficiently well armed; but when I showed him our three rifles and five revolvers, he was plainly much easier in his mind
  Sven Hedin, "Through Asia"

Encounter with Tangut Robbers
1 Nov 1896

Tanguts attack the caravan

November 1st. The night passed peacefully. Nothing was heard of either Tanguts or bears, and, rifle on shoulder, we set off towards the east-southeast. The lake speedily vanished from sight as we entered a tolerably broad valley, which ascended as we advanced.

At the end of about an hour we were rather startled to see Islam and Loppsen come galloping back as hard as their horses could put hoofs to ground, waving their rifles over their heads and shouting," Tangut robbers ! Tangut robbers !" They raced up to us, and close behind them pursued a band of about a dozen mounted Tanguts, enveloped in a cloud of dust. I instantly commanded the caravan to halt. " The baggage animals behind those bushes in charge of one man! Out weapons! Cartridges ready!"

Islam, Parpi, and Loppsen, after dismounting and throwing off our furs and pelts, took our station on the top of two clay hills. The Mohammedans fairly shook with anxiety. When the band of robbers perceived that we were a pretty large company, and saw our weapons glancing in the sunshine, they pulled up at about a hundred and fifty paces' distance. We could see them distinctly as soon as the dust settled. They crowded together, gesticulating and shouting loudly.

We hurried on as fast as our horses were able to travel, having the right flank of the caravan covered by those of us who were armed. Then we again caught sight of the Tan- guts. They had halted, and did not appear to contemplate an attack. Thus we threaded the extremely narrow defile without misadventure. We rode, however, with our rifles ready cocked and our eyes searching the rocks on the right.
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Lake Koko Nor 3192 m
9 Nov 1896

At last, then, we had reached the Kokonor Lake, the Tsongombo of the Tanguts, the Koko-nor (Koko-nur) of the Mongols, the Tsing-hai of the Chinese. For three days more we skirted its shores, which were situated at an altitude of 9975 feet above the level of the sea.

At length we heard the waves beating against the shore, and immediately afterwards reached the lake itself, and steered our course beside it. Near the beach the water was not quite clear; this was no doubt owing to the action of the waves. It was also much less salt than the water of the North Tibetan lakes. But the delta of the Bukhain-gol was at no great distance, and no doubt that river tended to keep the water fresh.
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia"

Camping near the Tanguts
9 Nov 1896

Lake Kokonor

After a march of thirteen and a half miles we made our camp beside the brook of Yikeh-ulan, which contained a good deal of water. Immediately above our camp were ten Tangut tents, and we were told there were twenty more in a recess of the mountains on the north. Some of their inhabitants came to visit us, all wearing in their belts naked swords brought from Lhasa. They sold us some milk, a sheep, and a horse; but Loppsen was anxious they should not see too much money all at once, for he persisted in declaring they were all thieves and scoundrels, and that it was simply the fear of our weapons which prevented them from attacking us.

The Tanguts used to ask Loppsen, who was my interpreter, whether my packing-cases contained soldiers, and he always replied with stolid gravity, " Yes, the large boxes contain two soldiers and the small ones each one, as well as a number of guns." My tent- stove, with its strange funnel, they took for a cannon. When they inquired why we lighted a fire in it at night, Loppsen told them it was to keep it ready for action. If danger threatened, all we should have to do would be to fling in the powder and balls, and it would at once spit out a murderous rain of bullets.
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

The Tangut of Koko-Nor
9 Nov 1896

A Tangut boy

Tangut man

tos go to Sven Hedin, "Through Asia"

15 – 18 Nov 1886

November I5th. The wide but stony road ran along the left bank of the river. By this we had descended a long way. Shortly after mid-day the houses began to stand closer together, and the road assumed something of the appearance of a street. On we rode between the buildings, nor was it long before we saw ahead of us the stone gateway of Ten- kar.

We rode on into the town, along the main street, which was lined with houses having picturesque fa9ades. What a bustling, noisy throng! Unaccustomed as we were to such an animated spectacle, we were well-nigh deafened by the din. Earlier in the day I had sent Parpi Bai on in advance to take my pass to the governor of the town. That dignitary now met us at the gate, bringing a letter from the" Russian lady," with a hearty invitation to share her hospitality.

When I reached the house indicated—a good Chinese house with an oblong court-yard—I was met by a bareheaded young lady wearing spectacles and dressed after the Chinese manner. She asked me, in a very friendly tone, " Do you speak English ?" She introduced herself as Mrs. Reinhard, an American doctor of medicine. Her husband was the Dutch missionary. It was quite a pleasure to talk to somebody whose interests ranged beyond grass and pastures, dangerous passes, wild yaks, cattle, and sheep.

I stayed two days in Ten-kar so as to give the horses a thorough good rest and to replenish our provisions.

On November 18 th I Said adieu to Mrs. Reinhard, and made a short journey to To-ba. On the next day I divided my caravan, sending Parpi Bai in charge of the horses and baggage direct to Si-ning-fu (Xining), while, with Islam Bai, Loppsen, another Mongol, and four camels, I made a circuit to Lusar (Huangchun)). Parpi Bai therefore continued to follow the valley of the Tsunkuk-gol, while we turned to the south, along a broad valley that gradually sloped upward.
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia"

20-23 Nov 1896

My guesthouse at Lusar

The town of Lusar clustered on the side of a hill, the buildings rising tier above tier like the rows of benches in an amphitheatre. At length we reached a triangular marketplace, on one side of which was the rest-house, or inn. There I established myself in a small hut on the roof, to which my baggage was hoisted up by means of ropes. Underneath our feet lay the lanes and court-yards of the town, and on the hills to the southeast gleamed the white walls of the renowned temple complex of Kum-bum, or the temple of the Ten Thousand Images, so called from the number of idols it contains
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Kumbum Taersi
20-23 Nov 1896

Approach to the Monastery of Kumbum

A small gompa still in existance in 1983.

November 20th. In the morning I and Loppsen paid a visit to the temples. We went on foot; to have ridden along the sacred pathways would have been to expose ourselves to insult or even to stoning(?).

We climbed up several steep hills and stone steps to the house of the prior, the " Living Buddha."(The re-incarnation of Tsongkapa who was born here) ). He was a man of about thirty years of age, dressed in a costume of dark-brown cloth, made without sleeves, so as to leave his arms bare. The walls of the room in which he received us were adorned with innumerable idols, standing in carved and painted cabinets, and with temple flags and pennons representing various Tibetan deities. The holy man sat on a divan or bench against one of the walls, telling his beads and gabbling the eternal "On maneh padmeh hum" Loppsen took off his cap and flung himself prone on the ground at his feet. The holy being graciously extended his hands and blessed his worshipper. Then he had tea brought in for us, and inquired about my journey, and accorded me permission to look over the temple, but warned me that I should not be allowed to make any sketches.

Accordingly we left his holiness and went the round of the temple. The heart of the monastery— or rather monkish city — consisted of a labyrinth of sacred buildings, surrounding square or irregularly shaped courtyards. The principal edifice was the temple of Sirkang, with a steep sagging roof, projecting and upcurving corners, and walls cased with glittering plates of gold. The Buddhist architecture leaves a peculiar "mythical" impression upon the mind. the sometimes imposing interiors of the temples filled me with repulsion, a feeling I never experienced in any Mohammedan mosque I ever was in. And yet there was much in all this that is common to Roman Catholicism, with its monks, its images of the saints, soft, mystic lighting of its places of worship, its gilded and tinsel-decorated churches, its array of artificial lights, its choirs of singing boys.

On November 23d we packed up our baggage, a task which took a long time to do, so that it was mid-day before we got started for Si-ning-fu

Sining-fu, Xining
24 Nov-1 Dec 1896

The gate of Sining-fu

The old mosque in Sining-fu

Twilight came on; it grew dark—as dark as pitch. In fact, it was anything but pleasant to ride along a strange road without being able to see your hand before you. At last our guide stopped in front of a wall, pierced by a gigantic gate. It was Si-ning-fu. We thundered at the gate with our riding-whips and shouted to a watchman, who was perambulating the wall rattling a drum. The gates of the city were closed early for fear of the Dungans.

At the end of an hour and a half the messenger came back to say that the gate should be opened for us—in the morning ! There was no help for it. We were obliged to seek out the nearest village, and there after considerable difficulty we succeeded in obtaining shelter.

Next morning HS was rescued by group of European missionaries, who took him under their wing

It was there I proposed to dismiss my faithful attendants from East Turkestan, and send them back all the long way via Gan-chow, Su-chow, Khami, and Korla. Before they started I called them all into my room, and we calculated how much I was owing to each man ; then, to their unspeakable amazement, I doubled the amount that fell to each man's share. Further than that, I made them a present of the Mongolian horses that survived, with the exception of two, which I and Islam Bai wanted, and sufficient provisions and money to last them the whole journey home. Parpi Bai, who had made the journey before, was chosen leader of the caravan, and I gave him a good revolver, together with a supply of cartridges for it. All the men were satisfied and grateful, and we parted mutually pleased with one another.

On December 1st, accompanied by my faithful attendant, Islam Bai, I left Si-ning-fu and the hospitable English missionaries. My new caravan consisted of six mules and three men, whom I hired for as far as Pingfan
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

6 Dec 1896

The roofs of Pingfan.

From Pingfan to Liangchow SH hired a couple of arbas (two-wheel carts) drawn by horses to carry himself and the luggage

The road we were travelling on was the great highway to East Turkestan, Urumchi, and Kashgar, via Liang-chow. It was bordered the whole way by telegraph posts with their humming wires. On December 12th we emerged from the mountains into the level plains, which stretched away in every direction to the horizon, and two days later we drove through the fine entrance gateway of Liang-chow-fu. Here again it was my good fortune to be hospitably entertained by the English missionaries of the China Inland Mission
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

12-26 Dec 1896

A temple courtyard in Liangzhou

In Liang-chow-fu I was detained, against my will, for no less a period than twelve days, which severely tried my patience. The cause of this long wait was the almost absolute impossibility of hiring camels for the journey to Ning- sha. Camels there were indeed in plenty, but none of their owners was willing to hire fewer than forty at once. They refused to divide their caravans.

I spent my time sketching, talking to the English missionaries, who were able to give me much valuable information, visiting some of the mandarins, and making various purchases in the Tien-tsin bazaar, a sort of arcade lined with handsome shops. Among other things I bought two sha-los, or hand-stoves, shaped like teapots, but with grated lids. You fill them with ashes, and put two or three pieces of red-hot charcoal in the middle of the ashes. The sha-lo will then keep warm for a good twenty-four hours.

I also paid a visit to a magnificent temple outside the city walls, and took some sketches.

A Gate in Liangzhou

I spent my fourth Christmas in Asia in Liang-chow-fu, and found comfort in the hope of being able to spend the next Christmas by my own fireside, among the skerry isles of dear old Sweden.

At length, on December 26th, I succeeded in procuring eight camels, with three men, and once more had my baggage loaded up for another long stage, the 290 miles to Ning-sha.

We got started in earnest early the next morning, but had not advanced farther than the open space immediately outside the northern gate of the city when two ragged Chinese came to meet us, and at once began an animated conversation with our camel-drivers.

Then one of the men turned to Islam Bai, and in fluent Turki offered to guide us to Ning-sha for fifty taels (about £7 16s.}. He said he had lived several years in Kashgar and Ak-su, and had nine camels, every way better animals than those we were starting with. An excellent interpreter in addition to baggage animals—the opportunity was too good to be let slip. We therefore waited in the middle of the road while the two new-comers fetched their camels, and within an hour the loads were all transferred to the backs of their animals. This stroke of good luck made me forget the twelve days I had lost in Liang-chow-fu.
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Wangyeh-fu - Bayan Haote
12-14 Jan 1897

Camel caravans travelling between Liang- chow-fu and Ning-sha prefer this long route through the desert to the far shorter road on the south, principally to escape the toll-houses, the rest-house (inn) expenses, and other disbursements which are associated with a journey through inhabited regions. Along the more northerly route they are exempt from all these expenses, for they carry provisions with them for the whole of the journey, chiefly large bread - cakes, while the camels provide their own sustenance, browsing upon the hard dry desert plants.

We had a broad hard road, winding like a yellow ribbon across the steppe, all the way to Wang-yeh-fu, which we reached on January 12th. We gave the camels a day's rest.

Sven Hedin, "Through Asia"Another collision with the Chinese aman of Wangyefu :  

18-21 Jan 1897

The gate of Ninghsia

After spending the night in the Manchu town of Ning-sha, we went on, on January 18th, to the Chinese town of Ning-sha, where I steered my course straight for the house of the Swedish missionaries. It was a real pleasure to meet my own countrymen—Mr. and Mrs. Pilqvist, as well as to rest two whole days in their hospitable house. What a luxury to sleep in a well- warmed room, and actually in a bed !

The remaining portion of my long journey, namely, from Ning-sha to Peking, lay through a country that is tolerably well known. Hence I will merely touch upon one or two incidents, and hasten on to the close. I still had another desert to cross. The passage across the Ordos was one of the hardest pieces of work I did. I was weary of my loneliness, and of the hardships and fatigues of travel. The 267 miles to Batuo were done in eighteen days in forced marches. There are several routes from Ning-sha to Bao-to. In summer the most convenient way is to go down the Hwang- ho by boat. During the colder seasons the traveller has the choice between the "longer road," which follows the left bank of the river, and one of the several tracks which cross Ordos. I started on January 21st.

On January 31st it blew the hardest from the west of any hurricane we had yet experienced in conjunction with thirty-one degrees Fahr. of frost ( — 17° C.), may easily be dangerous. You have to be careful you do not get frostbitten. Had it not been for the Chinese hand-stove I have mentioned, I do not know in what condition my hands would have been

If you are interested in bound feet and infanticide among the Chinese read the reports of Mrs. Missionary:
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia"

8-12 Feb !897

On February 8th we arrived at Bao-to, where I met with a friendly welcome from the Swedish missionaries, Mr. and Mrs. Helleberg.

Leaving my caravan and Islam Bai in trusty hands, I started on February 12th alone, with one Chinese driver, in a little two-wheeled cart drawn by mules. In each of the stop-over places I had the great pleasure of meeting my own countrymen; indeed, all members of the American Christian Alliance.

At Kalgan I hired a to-jo (palanquin, or sedan-chair) and two mules to carry it. Then, accompanied by my servant, I travelled through Shwen-hwa-fu, Do-mo, and Nan-kho, halting for the night at each of these places. After that we descended from the Mongolian plateau to the plains which stretch right away to the walls of Peking (March 2nd)
Sven Hedin, "Through Asia" 

Beijing to St. Petersburg
2 Mar 1897

The mules had never moved so sluggishly. " We shall soon be there !" cried my Chinese servant again and again. But new villages, new temples, new gardens kept continually coming into view, and we were constantly losing our way in the long, crooked lanes. For more than a thousand days I had been travelling through Asia; but that last day seemed to me longer than all the preceding days put together. At last—at last I caught a glimpse of something between two groups of trees looking out gray in the distance. " Peking!" cried my servant. He was right. It was the great city wall of Peking—the goal and object of my long journey across Asia!

For over an hour my mules trotted along the stone-paved road which runs round the western and southern sides of Peking, or the Northern Capital, skirting the city walls. Gray and of imposing strength, they reached the height of over forty feet, and compassed the city about four-square. But at length we entered the Chinese town, and approached the "Gate of Heaven," with its massive square projecting tower and long tunnelled archway, through which a swarm of people, carriages, and animals were going backward and forward like ants in an ant-hill.

My palanquin had not advanced very far down the street of the ambassadors when my eye fell upon a large whitewashed gateway, outside which stood a couple of Cossack sentries. I called to them, asking whose house that was. They told me it was the Russian legation. These words had such an effect upon my ears that I instantly jumped out of the palanquin and went in. <BR><BR>At that moment I cared not one jot about my appearance, or that the Cossacks were incomparably better dressed than I was. I passed my hand hurriedly over my disordered beard, shook off the thickest of the dust, and passed between the astonished sentries. To reach the Russian ambassador's dwelling I had to cross a garden by a stone-paved path. I rang the bell. A Chinese servant came and opened the door, and asked in Russian : " Whom do you want ?" I inquired for Mr. Pavloff, the charge d'affaires.

Thanks to the kind courtesy of Mr. Pavloff, I had an escort of Cossacks all the way from Peking to Kiakhta. From Kiakhta (Buryatia, Baikal)) I travelled by tarantass, sledge, and telega through Baikal and Irkutsk as far as Kansk (Krasnoyarsk Krai),; and from Kansk a nine days' journey by rail took me to St. Petersburg.
 Sven Hedin, "Through Asia"