My introduction to Sven Hedin and Trans Himalaya

· Books, Exploration, Travel

Sven Hedin was a Swedish explorer and geographer whose investigations in Tibet and western China made him one of the most eminent explorers of Asia.My introduction to  Hedin was through his book Trans Himalaya which was in my father’s Library.  The most outstanding and attractive  part of the book was one large panoramic view in vivid colour illustrating Tibetan nomads, wild fauna and natural wonders, this is a captivating record of intense and memorable pioneering adventure into forbidden lands. This  work embodies, in most intricate first-hand detail, his expansive and most significant Tibetan explorations. Hedin circled round the emptiest quarter of the Himalayas, the Chang-tang Plateau, in an attempt to enter forbidden Tibet from the north, eventually finding himself to be a guest of the Panchen Lama in Shigatse, and surveying ancient gold-bearing regions of the western Himalayas.

Highly respected by his contemporaries, and revered today, this important work in original condition is scarcely seen complete as volume III was printed three years after volumes I and II and contributes to the knowledge of Tibet and Central Asia. Hedin devoted his third journey of 1906-8 to the region lying between Shigatse and Leh and to the north of the Brahmaputra. He produced maps of the area, which had not been previously visited and revealed the existence of a large range of mountains lying parallel to the Himalaya on the Tibetan side. He elucidated many points about the country of the Manasarowar Lakes and filled in a very large blank on the map. He was the last great explorer of Tibet on a large scale.

During his second major expedition to Asia 1899-1902 he continued his studies of the Lop Nor area, explored and mapped in Tibet, but was prevented from reaching Lhasa. On return he was ennobled by King Oscar II, the last Swede to be so honored. He published results of his travels in the two-volume book “Central Asia and Tibet” and in several volumes of scientific results. In 1906-1908 he crossed Persia, continued to India, and from there entered Tibet despite British opposition. He made detailed observations in Southwest Tibet and made disputed claims to have discovered a previously unknown Transhimalaya range and the sources of the major Indian rivers.

Sven Hedin was born in 1865, in Stockholm to middle-class parents. He received his undergraduate education at Uppsala and studied at Berlin and Halle. He came under the influence of the distinguished explorer of China, Von Richthofen, and decided to devote his career to opening up unexplored areas 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.

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 .

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. Hedin offered his solution, that the ancient lake had not changed its location but had dried up and replaced by new lakes. He had covered 6,300 miles in 1,300 days.

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.

Hedin’s fourth journey (1923-1924) was a trip around the world, through the United States, Mongolia, and the Soviet Union. His last big expedition (1928-1932) was a joint Swedish-Chinese-German effort. It made surveys in Mongolia, western kansu, Sinkiang, and the Gobi Desert. His last trip (1934) was to retrace some of the old silk-caravan routes in China.

After 1934 Hedin ceased traveling in order to write. During his lifetime 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).He died in Stockholm on in 1952.

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