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Sven Hedin's Expeditions


Swedish Map of Sven Hedin's Expeditions in Central Asia

When I was fourteen I devoured Sven Hedin's expedition travelogues - volume after volume. He is one of the very few heroes who survived from my German youth. Ever since I have been trying to travel in his footsteps: Leh in Ladakh, Xining, Dunhuang, Kokonor, and Kumbum in China, and the Tsangpo Valley in Western Tibet. Now that I am too old to ever visit the Taklamakan Desert, I travel on the GE map. The Tibetan Buddhists claim that the merits gained from such a virtual journey are as large as a real pilgrimage....

Sven Hedin is not well known in the Anglo-Saxon countries. He was ostracised because he had a number of run-ins with the British Raj and the Royal Geographic Society, and in the second half of his life was a naïve admirer of Adolf Hitler.

As the map shows, Hedin criss-crossed Chinese Turkestan and Tibet seven times (1891-1935) in many years-long, perilous expeditons. Notwithstanding a doctorate (Berlin) in geography, he was primarily an adventurer-explorer, who a couple of times narrowly escaped death. Hedin is a 19th-century raconteur par excellence. His books still read today like well-written adventure stories. I tried it, his descriptions (eg. his night journey by boat on Mansarovar) brougth back all the detailes of my memories of my first reading 60 years earlier.

This essay follows his first Turkestan-Tibet expedition "Through Asia", a journey of nearly five-years duration. Hedin was a superior draftsman. His sketches and photos - he carried 2000 glass photo-plates on this expedition - provide the illustrations to my post. His text has been copied from an online version of his two-volume,700-pages expedition diary. Panoramio and a few photos of my own provide an updated account of this remote scenery.

Sven Hedin's "Through Asia" became the incentive for the highly-educated British-Hungarian archeologist Sir Mark Aurel Stein (1862-1943) to follow Hedin's tracks and to excavate the cities and retrieve the treasures Hedin had discovered in the sands of the vast Taklamakan desert.

Through Asia 1893-1897
Hedin's First Expedition to Central Asia

Google Map Overview
Overview Map of his expeditions 1893-97

From Orenburg across the Pamirs to Kashgar
3 Nov 1893 - 1 May 1894
Google Map 1

Death March through the Taklamakan
Mar-June 1894
Google Map 2

Attempts at Scaling Mustang Ata
21 Jun - Sep 1894
Google Map 3

10 Jul - 3 Oct 1895
Google Map 4

15 Jan - 27 May 1896
Google Map 5

Khotan-Tibet-Koko Nor-Beijing
Dec 1895-Mar1897
Google Map 6