Author: Sven Hedin
Title: In the heart of Asia
Destination: Northwestern China
Length: 4 years
Type: mostly by caravan
The guy with the boot
[Please note: I have been reading a German translation of this Swedish work.]
The story: At the height of the Great Game between the Russian Empire and the British Empire, Swedish explorer SH decides to follow in the footsteps of Ferdinand von Richthofen (who coined the term “Silk Road”) and Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky. He thus embarks on an epic journey through those parts of Northwestern China that were unknown or scarcely explored until then. He crosses the Taklamakan Desert, makes important archeological findings and even gets very close to Lhasa (a place of almost mythical dimensions for Europeans at the time).
Sven Hedin – one of the great explorers
The resulting books (2 volumes) are interesting and fun to read. SH is a typical European explorer of his time, so it is not very surprising that we can often see him travel with a huge caravan (books, newspapers, pelts, pillows, extensive cooking equipment and even porcelain tableware) and maybe a tiny bit of educated ignorance. But his writing is good anyway.
Unlike Przhevalsky, SH sounds like a man who is gentle and genuinely interested in his surroundings, at least most of the time. And his depiction of the epic “story of the boot” (where he meets disaster in the desert and saves his servant by carrying water in his footwear) is nothing short of legendary.
great adventure story
If you are interested in Western China and/or the history of exploration in the 19th century, then this book is perfect for you. If you like a good adventure story, then it is good, too.