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Thread: Along the Ancient Silk Road: The Explorations of Sven Hedin

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    Along the Ancient Silk Road: The Explorations of Sven Hedin

    Along the Ancient Silk Road.


    The Remarkable Explorations of Sven Hedin

    The three shepherds tending their sheep on the bank of the Khotan River in the Takla Makan Desert of western Chinese Turkestan did not expect any visitors. It was early May in 1895, and the riverbed was dry, except for a few pools here and there, where troughs, which had been scooped out of the sand when the river flowed, still held water. Those random pools and the vegetation they supported enabled herds and flocks to live along the river during the time of year when its flow stopped. Sometimes a caravan of mules or camels passed, following the riverbed from Khotan in the south to Aksu in the north. But hardly anyone else would venture into the dreaded Takla Makan with the hot weather already well along. So when the youngest shepherd, while rounding up some stray sheep, was suddenly confronted by a haggard-looking stranger, he was petrified by surprise.

    "Salaam Aleikum [peace be with you]," said the traveler in a weak voice. The startled young shepherd disappeared and returned with an older man. They took the obviously exhausted foreigner to a hut, gave him some bread and milk, and invited him to lie down and rest.

    [Graphic omitted] The stranger was Sven Anders Hedin, and he was in the midst of the first of many explorations he made across Central Asia and Tibet. Almost a month earlier he had entered the desert with a small caravan. But because of erroneous information supplied by a guide, he misjudged the distance to the Khotan River, and the group ran out of water well short of its goal. Hedin left his companions and animals in the last stages of exhaustion at their final campsite and struck out alone to find the river. He walked across the towering sand dunes at night and rested during the searing daylight hours, covering himself completely with sand. He was at the point of total collapse when he encountered the shepherds. He subsequently learned that two of his men and all of his camels had died. Most of his equipment was smashed or rendered useless, and he had to return to Kashgar, his base of operations.

    But Hedin was a man of remarkable courage, endurance, and resolution, and despite this brush with death on his first expedition into the Takla Makan, he again assembled a caravan and began anew. His journey of exploration revealed to the West an astonishing amount of information about the vast, unknown region of Central Asia. He traveled more than 6,500 miles, 2,000 of which, he claimed, had never before been visited by a European. In a few places he was told by local inhabitants that he was venturing into areas never before visited by any human being.

    Between 1893 and 1909 Hedin made three long journeys of discovery through the westernmost Chinese province of Xinjiang-- known in the West as Chinese or Eastern Turkestan -- as well as Tibet and Mongolia. His expeditions and resulting books and scientific treatises gained him a wide following and supplied a wealth of information about a huge part of the earth's surface that was mostly a blank on European maps at the turn of the twentieth century. Though his unpopular political views and his support of German nationalists eventually overshadowed his geographical contributions, Hedin's journeys sparked a generation of scientific discovery in Central Asia.

    Born in Stockholm in 1865, Hedin received his higher education in Germany, where he studied geography and geology. One of his professors was Baron Frederick von Richtofen, the geographer who coined the term "Silk Road" to describe the famous ancient trade route across Central Asia.

    As a schoolboy in Sweden, young Sven had dreamed of becoming an explorer. "At the early age of twelve, my goal was fairly clear," he wrote in middle age. He wanted to become the first man to reach the North Pole. But his attention shifted to Central Asia right after college when he went to Baku, near the Caspian Sea, to serve as a tutor to the son of a Swedish engineer working in the Russian oil fields.

    [Graphic omitted] Before embarking on his first expedition, Hedin wrote to the king of Sweden that his object was

    to disperse the clouds which still rest over a great part of Central Asia.
    An expedition to that part of the world which was the cradle of the Aryan
    race, and from whose dim interior the Mongols streamed out over the whole
    of Asia and part of Europe, and where there is such a host of geographical
    questions still awaiting solution, is one of the most important
    undertakings within the domain of geographical discovery.

    On his first journey (1893-1897) Hedin explored and mapped large areas in the Pamir and Kun Lun Mountains. He tried four times to climb 25,600-foot Muztagh Ata in the Pamirs, despite having no mountaineering equipment. He was able to reach 20,000 feet, but blizzards prevented him from reaching the summit.

    After spending a year in the mountains, he ventured into the Takla Makan in the Tarim Basin, where he had his brush with death, and discovered two ancient cities buried under the desert sands. His popular two-volume account of the journey, Through Asia, was published in 1898.

    On the first portion of his second journey (1899-1902), he returned to the Tarim Basin and found another ancient city. Then he turned south into Tibet, the "Forbidden Land" closed to foreigners by the Tibetans on pain of death. He wanted to become the first European to visit Lhasa since the 1840s and disguised himself as a Tibetan. His companions shaved his head and rubbed a mixture of fat, soot, and brown pigment into his skin. "I became almost frightened at the sight of myself in my polished watch case, my only mirror," Hedin wrote in Central Asia and Tibet, his account of the expedition, published in 1903. "We were in high spirits, laughing and chatting like schoolboys."

    Accompanied by a Tibetan lama, he set out on a "wild ride" to Lhasa, but was twice turned back short of his goal by the Tibetans. Disappointed, he eventually turned south into India.

    On his third great journey (1905-1909), Hedin entered Tibet from India, despite being forbidden by the British government to do so. He departed Leh in Ladakh with fifty-eight horses and thirty-six mules, and arrived in Shigatse six months later with six horses and one mule -- the rest had died of exhaustion and exposure.

    [Graphic omitted] In Shigatse he met the Panchen Lama, second only to the Dalai Lama in power and prestige, and mapped much of the mountainous area north of the Himalayas, which he called the "Trans-Himalaya." He surveyed the sources of the Indus, Sutlej, and Tsangpo-Brahmaputra Rivers, chronicled in a three-volume account, Trans-Himalaya, published in 1909.

    Hedin always traveled without European companions on his explorations, because he preferred to be in complete control. He wished to decide for himself where he would go and how long he would linger at any stops he made. He was accompanied only by small groups of locally hired guides, porters, and animal herders. On his third great journey, when he spent three years crisscrossing Tibet, he reported that he did not see another Westerner for two years.

    [Graphic omitted] One reason he could travel so independently was his extraordinary ability to learn languages. He was fluent in Swedish, English, German, French, and Russian. Early in his career he mastered Persian and Turkish, and later he added Mongolian and Tibetan to his linguistic arsenal.

    Along with books intended for general readers, Hedin also published exhaustive scientific reports of his discoveries. Results of a Journey in Central Asia, 1899-1902 appeared between 1904 and 1908 in eight volumes. Southern Tibet, published in twelve volumes between 1917 and 1922, reported on his Tibetan explorations.

    Hedin was an explorer by avocation but a geographer by profession. His lifelong obsession was to fill in the white spaces on maps, to record data about remote areas of which little or nothing was known to Western cartographers. During thousands of miles of grueling travel, he recorded careful readings that produced invaluable geographical data about Central Asia.

    His methods and scientific equipment were often simple by necessity, but they produced surprisingly reliable results. For example, riding a camel, he would measure a base line of 400 meters. Then, still atop his camel, he would use a compass and watch to compute the distance and direction he traveled in the course of a day. In the evening, he would record the data. Periodically, he would use his notes to draw a map in his sketch book of the territory he had traversed. During his first journey alone, he drew 552 maps.

    On both his first and second expeditions, Hedin spent a lot of time in the Tarim Basin, where the Takla Makan Desert lies, and described two of its significant geographical features, the Tarim River and Lop Nor Lake. He traveled by boat for two and a half months down the Tarim, the greatest river of Central Asia, and took numerous readings of its breadth, depth, and velocity, as well as noting its relationship to the surrounding desert and its tributaries. He recorded and published a mass of geographic and hydrographic information that no one else ever had gathered, supplemented by drawings and photographs.

    [Graphic omitted] Hedin visited Lop Nor Lake, into which the Tarim River empties, on several occasions during his years of wandering. He had done research about the lake by reading accounts in ancient Chinese annals, reports by Russian explorers and early European Jesuit travelers, and treatises by European geographers. He learned that information about the lake's location, size, and configuration varied enormously. He concluded that it was a "wandering lake" that moves around in the huge Lop Nor depression, constantly changing its location and size -- sometimes becoming a series of lakes, sometimes a single large body of water. In Lop Nor (1931) Hedin explained, "There are two constant factors effecting such changes, namely, the eastern sandstorms which are especially violent in the spring, filling the basin and pressing the lake westward, and the sediment carried down by the river."

    Thomas Holdich, a respected English geographer of the early twentieth century who criticized some of Hedin's mapping methods, nevertheless described his mapping of Lop Nor as "one of the most valuable of modern additions to the geography of Central Asia." Aurel Stein, the Hungarian-born archaeologist, also held Hedin's maps and the other data he gathered in high regard for their accuracy.

    Stein, whose first explorations began in 1900, described Hedin as "the distinguished explorer." Through Asia became one of Stein's principal sources of information for his first exploration. Relying on Hedin's data and maps, Stein had no trouble relocating sites Hedin had found in the flat, featureless desert.

    The most dramatic of Hedin's revelations about Central Asia as his discovery of buried cities. Acting on information supplied by nomads and animal herders, he located two abandoned cities during his first expedition. He found the ruins of numerous wooden structures, some of them large and beautifully decorated. He was able to carry out limited preliminary excavations, but Hedin was not an archaeologist and was not equipped to undertake extensive investigations of what he had found. He took careful sightings to fix and record locations, but it remained for archaeologists who followed in Hedin's footsteps, notably Stein, to analyze the sites and eventually to discover others.

    The cities had been oases along the ancient Silk Road that linked China with India, Persia, and the Mediterranean Basin. They were located on rivers fed by melting snows in the Kun Lun Mountains. When the rivers shifted their courses or dried up, the cities were abandoned to the desert sands. Archaeological excavations at these sites uncovered a wealth of information about interactions between Eastern and Western civilizations, when the Roman Empire and China's Han Dynasty were at the pinnacles of their power and influence. Stein's subsequent work at the sites revealed that a unique civilization -- an amalgam of East and West -- flourished in ancient Central Asia.

    [Graphic omitted] The most spectacular of the buried cities, which Hedin discovered on his second expedition, was Lou-lan, a legendary kingdom that had served as a major way-station along the Silk Road during the centuries just before and after the birth of Christ. The city stood on the shore of Lop Nor Lake amid lush forests and fields. As the Han Dynasty declined and fell, its Chinese garrison withdrew, and it was occupied by fierce Hun nomads from the desert. Subsequently, when the Tarim River shifted its course, the wandering lake moved to the south, and the city was abandoned for good in the fourth century A.D.

    Lou-lan's existence had been known from the ancient Chinese annals, but its location had become lost in the mists of time, until 1901, when Hedin stumbled upon its half-buried remains in the desolate Lop Nor Desert. He found the ruins of wooden houses and clay watch towers thrusting upward from the flat, lifeless earth. The dry desert had perfectly preserved delicate wooden implements, textiles, and other perishable items for more than two thousand years. Hedin uncovered Chinese records written on wood and paper that mentioned "seed-corn banks," "armies," and "numerous farms," suggesting that Lou-lan in its heyday was a large, prosperous city. Among the buried artifacts he found were strips of paper, dating from the third century A.D., that proved to be the oldest paper ever discovered.

    Hedin took particular pride in his discovery of Lou-lan. Writing in the 1920s, he summed up his feelings:

    To this day I like to dream of its past greatness and its glamour ... not a
    single one of our ancient Swedish rune-stones is older than the fragile
    wooden staffs and paper fragments I found in Lou-lan. When Marco Polo made
    his famous journey through Asia in 1274, the sleeping city had already lain
    a thousand years unknown and forgotten in the desert. And after the great
    Venetian's journey, it was to slumber 650 years more before the ghosts of
    its past were roused to life, and their ancient documents and letters made
    to shed new light on bygone days and mysterious human fates.

    After Hedin's third expedition, World War I prevented further exploration in Asia, although he was able to spend seven months in the Middle East in 1916. In 1926 he returned to Central Asia to lead an expedition organized by Germany's state airline, Deutche Lufthansa, to establish an airline route to China. Financial support was also supplied by the Swedish government, as well as by Hedin himself. The expedition spent several years exploring and surveying possible air routes and sites for weather stations. In the 1930s the Swede revisited the Lop Nor depression and further investigated the "wandering lake" and the shifting rivers that fed it.

    [Graphic omitted] Three of his books, The Flight of Big Horse (1936), The Silk Road (1938), and The Wandering Lake (1940), form a trilogy about these last explorations of Lop Nor. Hedin departed Asia for the last time in 1935.

    Along with being a tough and rugged explorer, Hedin also showed talent as a writer and artist. His books for general readers contain passages of marvelous description. One describes meeting a desert caravan at night:

    Of a sudden one hears the muted sound of bells far away. It is a strange
    music, it creates an impression that is magical. It makes one sleepy. The
    sound gets more and more precise, finally it is very close. Like huge black
    ghosts, the camels appear out of the darkness; slowly, majestically, with
    dignity they move across the desert sands.

    The enormous volume of his published works -- more than 30,000 pages -- suggests that Hedin was a rapid, facile writer. In 1974 his grandnephew told a biographer, "He never rewrote anything. He never went over his manuscripts. That was the finished work."

    Hedin was reputedly a spellbinding lecturer in half a dozen languages. When he described his harrowing experiences in the burning sands of the Takla Makan, audiences reportedly hurried to the water fountains when he finished. Hedin illustrated his books with delicate drawings rendered of the people and places he had seen. An exhibition of his drawings opened in Stockholm in 1964, the year that saw the publication of the book Sven Hedin as an Artist.

    Hedin's early journeys took place when the age of European exploration was reaching its climax. The public lionized explorers as heroes. When Hedin returned from his first journey the Royal Geographical Society in London awarded him its Founder's Medal and a fellowship. In 1902 he became the last person to receive a Swedish knighthood. A few years later he received a second gold medal from the Royal Geographical Society. His books were bestsellers.

    [Graphic omitted] Nevertheless, some disputed Hedin's claims of geographical discovery. When he returned from his third journey, a few members of the Royal Geographical Society acknowledged some of his accomplishments but questioned others. Tom Longstaff, a mountain climber and explorer familiar with the Himalayas and southern Tibet, questioned whether Hedin had been the first European to reach the sources of the Sutlej and Tsangpo-Brahmaputra Rivers, as Hedin claimed, though he accepted Hedin's claim to have discovered the source of the Indus. The dispute became an argument about what constitutes a river's source. Longstaff and others also questioned whether a distinct mountain chain, which Hedin called the "Trans-Himalaya," exists north of the Himalayas. Rather, they saw it as a mountainous area, not an identifiable chain with a distinct crest, such as the Himalayas or Karakorums. Such differences of opinion were never completely resolved, and Hedin's term has never been accepted in general usage.

    Hedin's later years were marked by political controversy. An admirer of Germany and strong autocratic leaders, he supported the German empire during World War I. Sweden remained neutral during the war, but early in 1915 Hedin wrote a speech for the king urging Sweden's entry on the German side. His 1915 book, With the German Armies in the West, reportedly based upon personal observations, was published in Germany.

    Before and during World War II, Hedin was sympathetic to the Nazi regime. Germany and World Peace (1937) presented a positive analysis of Nazi policies. He met Adolf Hitler on more than one occasion and as late as 1943 visited Berlin, where he attended a dinner in honor of Hermann Goring, head of the German air force. Hedin also wrote a sympathetic biography of Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese nationalist leader. His reputation became tarnished by these unpopular political views and associations. When he died in Stockholm on 26 November 1952, at the age of eighty-seven, he was almost totally forgotten, except among a handful of scientific specialists.

    For most of the twentieth century, Central Asia was closed to the West by the Communist regimes of the Soviet Union and China, so interest among Westerners was stifled. But the breakup of the Soviet Union and changes in the policies of China have opened the area to outsiders. Groups of tourists now visit some of Hedin's buried cities, although Lou-lan, in the Lop Nor region that the Chinese have used for nuclear testing, remains closed to visitors. The American Museum of Natural History has resumed paleontological exploration in Mongolia, which had been suspended in the early 1930s. Exploratory oil drilling is being carried on in the Takla Makan, and some geologists speculate that beneath the desert lies an enormous pool of oil to rival those of the Middle East.

    This opening up of Central Asia, along with the region's growing political and economic importance, may signal a resurgence of interest in Hedin. His summary account of his first three great expeditions, My Life as an Explorer (1925), was recently reprinted by Kodansha International. His excellent panoramic drawings have reportedly proven useful in interpreting satellite photographs of Central Asia.

    Sven Hedin was a complex personality whose remarkable accomplishments have been overshadowed by his espousal of extreme political views. He was, nevertheless, one of the great explorers of modern times and, perhaps, the greatest explorer of Central Asia. His detailed scientific writings and maps served as key sources for the study of the historical and cultural geography of Central Asia and Tibet.

    Further Reading

    Meyer, Karl E., and Shareen Blair Brysac. Tournament of Shadows: The Race for Empire in Central Asia and the Great Game. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1999.

    Hedin, Sven. A Conquest of Tibet. London: Macmillan, 1935.

    Hedin, Sven. Central Asia and Tibet. Two volumes. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1903.

    Hedin, Sven. My Life as an Explorer. Garden City, N.J.: Garden City Publishing Co., 1925.

    Hedin, Sven. Through Asia. Two volumes. London: Methuen, 1898.

    Hedin, Sven. Trans-Himalaya. Three volumes. London: Macmillan, 1909.

    Hopkirk, Peter. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road. London: John Murray, 1980.

    Kenneth Wimmel spent twenty-five years in the U.S. Foreign Service, working mostly in Asia. He currently is completing a book about the Survey of India. This article is adapted from his book The Alluring Target: In Search of the Secrets of Central Asia (Trackless Sands Press, 1996).

    Mercator's World, March 2000 v5 i2 p36

  2. #2

    Re: Along the Ancient Silk Road

    Blessed water: journey to the source of Tibet's Brahmaputra river. (Field Notes). (Excerpt)

    Sven Hedin
    At the beginning of the twentieth century, the northern districts of Tibet surrounding the upper reaches of the holy river Brahmaputra remained blank on the map. Rather than rely on conjecture or incomplete information, the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin endeavored to penetrate the unexplored region himself. In this extract from Tram-Himalaya: Discoveries and Adventures in Tibet, the account of his expedition of 1906-08, Hedin chronicles the attempt to discover what others had only guessed at: the source of the Brahmaputra.

    July 1907

    At Shamsang, Ryder's Lahtsang, we were at the place where the actual source streams of the Brahmaputra converged from various directions. I had long determined to push on to the unknown source, unless the Tibetans placed unsurmountable obstacles in my way.

    The political expedition which, under the command of Rawling in the close of the year 1904, had Gartok for its destination, and the chief result of which was the admirable map of the upper Brahmaputra valley surveyed by Ryder and his assistants, travelled from Shamsang over the Marium-la and north of the Gunchu-tso to Manasarowar. It was therefore of the greatest importance to me to travel to the south of their route through country they had not touched on. They travelled by the same road as Nain Sing, and left the source of the river at a distance of forty miles to the south. No other traveller had ever been in this region, and I would on no account miss the opportunity of penetrating to the actual source of the Brahmaputra and fixing its position indefinitely.

    [Graphic omitted] How was this to be done? At Shamsang the source streams meet, and below this point the united river bears the name Martsang-tsangpo. First of all, I must, of course, gauge the quantities of water in the source streams, and, if they were nearly equal, we must be content to say that the Brahmaputra has several sources.

    July 8

    With ten men, the boat, and the necessary measuring apparatus, I betook myself first to the point on the southern side of the valley where two streams run together, the Kubi-tsangpo from the south-west and the Chema-yundung from the west. A short day's march farther west the Chema-yundung receives the Marium-chu. First the united stream was gauged, and found to discharge 1,554 cubic feet of water per second, and immediately after the Chema-yundung, which discharged almost 353 cubic feet. Subtracting this from the volume of the united river, we get 1,201 cubic feet as the discharge of the Kubi-tsangpo. This river is then three and a half times as large as the Chema, and it should be remembered that the Chema also receives water of the Marium-chu, so that its 353 cubic feet represent the united volumes of two tributaries.

    When we encamped in the evening with the main caravan in the Umbo district (15,427 feet), where the Chema-yundung and the Marium-chu unite, the rivers were very considerably swollen, and the water, which had been clear in the morning, had become turbid. Therefore only the two measurements taken at the same time were directly comparable, and I will pass over all the subsequent measurements. To arrive at the source we had only to know that the Kubi-tsangpo is far larger than the two others, so we had to follow its course up into the mountains, which none of my predecessors had done. The Tibetans also said the Kubi was the upper course of the Martsang-tsangpo.

    July 9

    We parted from Guffaru and the main caravan, which was to keep to the great high-road and cross the Marium-la at Tokchen, while Robert and I with three Ladakis and three armed Tibetans followed the Kubi-tsangpo up to its source. Our way ran west-south-west. Where we crossed the Chema-yundung, a good distance above the last delta arms of the Marium-chu, the river carried little more than 140 cubic feet of water, and therefore the Kubi-tsangpo, flowing to the south-east of it, is here fully eight times as large. At the ford our Tibetans drove a peg with a white rag into the edge of the bank, and when I asked why, they answered: "That the river may not become tired of carrying its water down the valleys."

    July 11

    [Graphic omitted] We ride on to the south-west in a strong wind, passing already porous, melting snowdrifts. Solid rock is not to be seen, but all the detritus consists of granite and green schist. We follow a clearly marked nomad path, leading up to the small pass Tsoniti-kargang on the ridge which forms a watershed between the Chema-yundung and Kubi-tsangpo. The large valley of the latter is below us to the south. The water of the Kubi-tsangpo is very muddy, but on the right bank is a perfectly clear moraine lake.

    We go down among moraines, granite detritus, and boulders. Here three small clear moraine pools, called Tso-niti, lie at different heights. The ground becomes more level, and we pass a mani, a rivulet trickling among the rubbish, and a small pond, before we reach camp 200 in Lhayak, on the bank of the Kubi-tsangpo, where the pasturage is excellent and we find numerous traces of nomad camps. In several places we come across large sheets of fine thin birch bark, which have been detached by storms and carried by the wind over the mountains from the south.

    July 12

    Even in camp No. 200 I perceived fairly clearly how the land lay, but we were not yet at the actual source, and therefore we continued our march south-westwards. The foot of the snowy mountains seemed quite near. The river is broad, and divided by islands of mud into several arms. On the left side of the valley, where we march, are a couple of walls of green and black schist, but elsewhere old moraines extend on all sides.

    As we came to camp No. 201, at a height of 15,883 feet, the peaks disappeared into clouds, but just before sunset the sky cleared and the last clouds floated away like light white steam over the glaciers of Ngomo-dingding, which clearly displayed their grand structure, with high lateral moraines and concentric signs of grey lumpy terminal moraines. The surface, except where here and there blue crevasses yawned in the ice, was white with snow and the porous melting crust.

    [Graphic omitted] When the sun had set, nine peaks in a line from south-east to south-west stood out with remarkable sharpness. Raven-black pinnacles, cliffs and ridges rise out of the white snowfields, and the glaciers emerge from colossal portals. A whole village of tents rising to heaven! The source of the Brahmaputra could not be embellished with a grander and more magnificent background. Holy and thrice holy are these mountains, which from their cold lap give birth and sustenance to the river celebrated from time immemorial in legend and song, the river of Tibet and Assam, the river par excellence, the son of Brahma. One generation after another of black Tibetans has in the course of thousands of years listened to its roar between the two loftiest mountain systems in the world, the Himalaya and the Trans-Himalaya, and one generation after another of the various tribes of Assam has watered its fields with its life-giving floods and drunk of its blessed water. But where the source lay no one knew. Three expeditions had determined its position approximately, but none had been there. No geography had been able to tell us anything of the country round the source of the Brahmaputra. Only a small number of nomads repair thither yearly to spend a couple of short summer months. Here it is, here in the front of three glacier tongues, that the river so revered by the Hindu tribes begins its course of some 1,800 miles through the grandest elevations of the world, from which its turbid volumes of water roll first to the east, then southwards, cutting a wild valley through the Himalayas, and finally flowing south-westwards over the plains of Assam. The upper Brahmaputra, the Tsangpo, is truly the chief artery of Tibet, for within its drainage basin is concentrated the great mass of its population, while its lower course is surrounded by the most fruitful and populous provinces of Assam. The Brahmaputra is therefore one of the noblest rivers of the world, and few waterways have a more illustrious descent and a more varied and more glorious career, for nations have grown up on its banks and have lived there, and their history and culture have been intimately connected with it since the earliest times of human records.

    We had still some way to go before we came to the actual source, and I could not conscientiously leave Kubi-gangri without determining the absolute height of the source by the boiling-point thermometer. I was really thankful for, and overjoyed at, this unexpected favourable opportunity of fixing the position of the source, though I knew that my excursion to Kubi-gangri could only be a very cursory and defective reconnaissance. A thorough exploration of this neighborhood would require years, for the summer up here is short and the time for work is over in two months. But though I succeeded in learning only the chief outlines of the physical geography, I can count this excursion as one of the most important events of my last journey in Tibet. Accordingly, we decided to ride up to the source the next day.

    July 13

    We started off in beautiful weather, not a cloud hanging over the summits of Kubi-gangri. We followed the left bank of the Kubi-tsangpo, and rode along the foot of the huge moraines, which here rise fully 470 feet above the valley bottom, and which were formerly thrown up on the left or western side of a gigantic glacier, whence proceeded all the glacier tongues now remaining only in short lengths. The morainic character is plainly recognizable, sometimes in curved ridges and walls falling steeply on both sides, sometimes in rounded hillocks rising one above another.

    [Graphic omitted] Then we ride up, zigzagging among boulders and pebble beds, over ridges, banks and erosion furrows, over brooks and treacherous bog, over grass and clumps of brushwood, to a commanding point of view on the top of the old moraine (16,452 feet). Before us is a chaos of huge, precipitous, fissured, black, bare rocks, summits, pyramids, columns, domes, and ridges, moraines, tongues of ice, snow and firn fields--a scene hard to beat for wild grandeur.

    Here we made a halt, and I drew the panorama while the horses grazed on the slopes. The mass of the Kubi-gangri, which from our point of view lies farthest to the right, to the west-north-west, is called Gave-ting; from it descends the great side glacier.

    The front of the main glacier, where the largest of all the glacier streams of the Kubi-gangri rises, is the actual source of the Brahmaputra. The other streams which enter it south-east of camp 201 are smaller and shorter. We could not get to them, for the horses sank too deep in the sand and mud of the main stream.

    On our return we made a halt at the place where the principal branch of the Kubi-tsangpo comes out from under the ice, and I found that the source of the Brahmaputra lies at an altitude of 15,958 feet above sea-level. I must leave details for the scientific report of this journey, which will be published in due time.

    From Trans-Himalaya: Discoveries and Adventures in Tibet, by Sven Hedin

    (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1909).
    Named Works: Tram-Himalaya: Discoveries and Adventures in Tibet (Book) - Excerpts

    Mercator's World, Nov-Dec 2002 v7 i6 p12(4)

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    Between 1893 and 1897, Sven Hedin investigated the Pamir Mountains, travelling through the Tarim Basin in Xinjiang region, across the Taklamakan Desert, Lake Kara-Koshun and Lake Bosten, proceeding to study northern Tibet. He covered 26,000 kilometres (16,000 mi) on this journey and mapped 10,498 kilometres (6,523 mi) of them on 552 sheets. Approximately 3,600 kilometres (2,200 mi) led through previously uncharted areas.

    Another expedition in Central Asia followed in 1899-1902 through the Tarim Basin, Tibet and Kashmir to Calcutta. Hedin navigated the Yarkand, Tarim and Kaidu rivers and found the dry riverbed of the Kum-darja as well as the dried out lake bed of the Lop Nur. Near Lop Nur, he discovered the ruins of the 340 by 310 metres (1,100 ft × 1,000 ft) former walled royal city and later Chinese garrison town of Lulan, containing the brick building of the Chinese military commander, a stupa, and 19 dwellings built of poplar wood. He also found a wooden wheel from a horse-drawn cart (called an arabas) as well as several hundred documents written on wood, paper and silk in the Kharosthi script. These provided information about the history of the city of Loulan, which had once been located on the shores of Lop Nur but had been abandoned around the year 330 CE because the lake had dried out, depriving the inhabitants of drinking water.

    A 3,800-year-old female mummy (circa 1600 BCE), the first of a series of Europoid mummies now known as the Tarim mummies, was discovered in Loulan in 1980, indicating very early settlement of the region.

    Between 1905 and 1908 he investigated the Central Persian desert basins, the western highlands of Tibet and the Transhimalaya, which for a time was afterward called the Hedin Range. He visited the 9th Panchen Lama in the cloister city of Tashilhunpo in Shigatse. Sven Hedin was the first European to reach the Kailash region, the sacred Lake Manasarovar and the sacred Mount Kailash, the midpoint of the earth according to Buddhist and Hindu mythology. The most important goal of the expedition was the search for the sources of the Indus and Brahmaputra Rivers, both of which Hedin found.

    Between 1927 and 1935 Sven Hedin led the international Sino-Swedish Expedition, which investigated the meteorological, topographic and prehistoric situation in Mongolia, the Gobi desert and Xinjiang. He gave archaeologists, astronomers, botanists, geographers, geologists, meteorologists and zoologists from Sweden, Germany and China an opportunity to participate in the expedition and carry out research in their areas of specialty. The expedition had a wealth of scientific results which are being published up to the present time. For example, the discovery of specific deposits of iron, manganese, oil, coal and gold reserves was of great economic relevance for China.

    From the end of 1933 to 1934, Hedin led — on behalf of the Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-shek in Nanjing — a Chinese expedition to investigate irrigation measures and draw up plans and maps for the construction of two roads suitable for automobiles along the Silk Road from Beijing to Xinjiang. Following his plans, major irrigation facilities were constructed, settlements erected, and roads built on the Silk Road from Beijing to Kashgar, which made it possible to completely bypass the rough terrain of Tarim Basin.

    Hedin was a monarchist. From 1905 onwards he took a stand against the move toward democracy in his Swedish homeland. He warned of the danger coming from Russia and called for military armament. In 1912 he publicly supported the Swedish Battleship Society. With the help of public donations the battleship Sverige could be built as a result.

    He developed a lasting affinity for the German Reich, with which he became acquainted during his studies. This is also shown in his admiration for Kaiser Wilhelm II, whom he visited in exile in the Netherlands. Influenced by Imperial Russian and later the Soviet union's attempts to dominate and control territories in Europe and Central Asia, Hedin felt that Russia posed a great threat, which may be part of the reason why he supported Germany during both World Wars.

    He viewed World War I as a struggle of the German people and took their side in books like "Ein Volk in Waffen. Den deutschen Soldaten gewidmet" (= A People in Arms. Dedicated to the German Soldier). As a consequence, he lost friends in France and England and was expelled from the British Royal Geographical Society. Germany's defeat in World War I and the associated loss of her standing affected him deeply.

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    Sven Hedin is one of my favorite authors and one of the first books I read as a young boy. Also my friend the late explorer Heinrich Harrer professed to "Hedin being one of the greatest inspirations in my life as an explorer." Hedin was one of the first Europeans to travel into Tibet.If you have a young man or girl in the house I highly recommend his writings.(Not to mention for your own benefit ! )

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    Some very rich history there!

    Along the Silk Road
    Connecting West and East in Prehistory
    By K. Kris Hirst,

    The Silk Road (or Silk Route) is surely one of the oldest routes of international trade in the world. First called the Silk Road in the 19th century, the 4500 kilometer (2800 miles) route is actually a web of caravan tracks connecting Chang'an (now the present day city of Xi'an), China in the East and Rome, Italy in the West beginning in the Han Dynasty in the 2nd century BC up through the 15th century AD.

    Routes of the Silk Road

    The Silk Road contained three major routes leading westward from Chang'an, with perhaps hundreds of smaller ways and by ways. The northern route ran westward from China to the Black Sea; the central to Persia and the Mediterranean Sea; and the southern to the regions which now include Afghanistan, Iran, and India. Its fabled travelers included Marco Polo, Genghis Khan, and Kublai Khan. The Great Wall of China was built (in part) to protect its route from bandits.

    Historical tradition is that the trade routes began in the 2nd century BC, the result of the efforts of Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty, who commissioned Chinese military commander Zhang Qian to seek a military alliance with his Persian neighbors to the west. He found his way to Rome (called Li-Jian in documents to the time). One extremely important trade item was silk, manufactured in China and treasured in Rome. The process by which silk is made, involving silk worm caterpillars fed on mulberry leaves, was kept secret from the west until the 6th century AD, when a Christian monk smuggled caterpillar eggs out of China.

    Trade Goods of the Silk Road
    While important to keeping the trade connection open, silk was only one of many items passing across the Silk Road's network. Precious ivory and gold, food items such as pomegranates, safflowers, and carrots went east out of Rome to the west; from the east came jade, furs, ceramics, and manufactured objects of bronze, iron and lacquer. Animals such as horses, sheep, elephants, peacocks, and camels made the trip, and most importantly perhaps, agricultural and metallurgical technologies, information, and religion were brought with the travelers.
    Full Article:

    Sven Hedin was quite an impressive explorer!

    Sven Anders Hedin (1865-1952) was a Swedish explorer and geographer whose investigations in Tibet and western China make him one of the most eminent explorers of Asia.

    Sven Hedin was born on Feb. 19, 1865, in Stockholm to professional, middle-class parents. He received his undergraduate education at Uppsala and in 1881-1883 studied at Berlin and Halle. In Germany he became a staunch admirer of Prussian ways and culture and continued so throughout his life. Also, he came under the influence of the distinguished explorer of China, F. P. W. von Richthofen, and decided to devote his career to opening up unexplored areas of the map of Asia.

    Hedin's first chance came in 1885, when he became a private tutor in Baku, a post that allowed him to travel in Mesopotamia and Persia. In 1890 he was appointed Sweden's ambassador to Persia and received support from King Oscar II for a trip to the Chinese border. Starting in 1891 from Teheran, he crossed the Khurasan region and Bukhara to Samarkand, reaching Kashgar in Sinkiang.

    Early Explorations

    Between 1893 and 1932 Hedin led five major expeditions and several lesser ones. The first (1893-1897) started from Orenburg, crossed the Ural and Pamir mountains, went over the Takla Maklan Desert twice, the second trip nearly proving fatal, and reached Lop Nor, the great salt lake of the ancient Chinese geographers. From kashgar he visited the Pamirs again and then made his first entry into Tibet. After returning to Khotan, he followed the Tarim River to Lop Nor, crossed Inner Mongolia, and arrived at Peking. He had covered 6,300 miles in 1,300 days.

    On the second journey (1899-1902) Hedin followed the Tarim River, crossed the desert, visited Lop Nor, and discovered the ruins of the archeologically important ancient city Loulan. The Lama turned the expedition back before they reach Lhasa, and they had to cross the Karakoram Range to kashgar in order to return to Europe. The main achievement was to study the mystery of the "wandering" lake, Lop Nor. It had been visited first by Nikolai Przhevalsky and later by four other expeditions before Hedin offered his solution, now accepted, that the ancient lake had not changed its location but had dried up and been replaced by new, small lakes.

    On Hedin's greatest journey (1906-1908) he crossed Persia and Afghanistan, entered Tibet, and identified the true sources of the Indus, Sutlej, and Brahmaputra rivers. He discovered and mapped the Transhimalayan Mountains, crossing the range eight times and overcoming formidable obstacles of winter weather, mountain passes never crossed before, and hostile local tribesmen, who kept Hedin prisoner for a time.

    Travel was not easy during World War I, but Hedin did make short trips in the Middle East. His vigorous support of the German cause lost him the confidence of the governments of India, Russia, and China and hampered his exploration for some years.

    Last Travels

    Hedin's fourth journey (1923-1924) was a trip around the world, through the United States, Mongolia, and the Soviet Union.

    Hedin's last big expedition (1928-1932) was a joint Swedish-Chinese-German effort. It made surveys in Mongolia, western kansu, Sinkiang, and the Gobi Desert, making extensive use of motor vehicles. His last trip (1934, aged 69) was to retrace some of the old silk-caravan routes in China.

    After 1934 Hedin ceased traveling in order to write. He also became involved politically in support of Germany and in 1944 traveled to Munich to receive an honorary doctorate. During his lifetime Hedin was recognized as a great explorer. He was given their highest awards by leading geographical societies; made a Swedish noble (1902); elected one of the 18 members of the Swedish Academy; and knighted by India (1909).

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