Mongolia, the Tangut country, and the solitudes of northern Tibet. Volume 1/Author's Preface

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

AUTHOR'S PREFACE.

Four years ago, thanks to the suggestion of the Imperial Geographical Society, warmly seconded by the Minister of War, whose intelligent co-operation in all scientific matters is so well known, I was ap- pointed commander of an expedition to Northern China, with the view of exploring those remote regions of the Celestial Empire, about which our knowledge is of the most limited and fragmentary kind, derived for the most part from Chinese litera- ture, from the descriptions of the great thirteenth- century traveller — Marco Polo, and from the nar- ratives of the few missionaries who have from time to time gained access to these countries. But such facts as are supplied by all these sources of information are so vague and inaccurate that the whole of Eastern High Asia, from the mountains of Siberia on the north to the Himalyas on the sou h, and from the Pamir to China Proper, is as little explored as Central Africa or the interior of New Holland. Even the orography of this vast plateau is most imperfectly known, and as to its physical nature — i.e. its geology, climate, flora, and fauna — we are almost entirely ignorant.

Nevertheless this terra incognita, exceeding in extent the whole of Eastern Europe, situated in the centre of the greatest of all the continents, at a higher elevation above the level of the sea than any other country on the face of the globe, with its gigantic mountain ranges and boundless deserts, presents from a scientific point of view grand and varied fields of research. Here the naturalist and the geographer may pursue their respective studies over a wide area. But great as are the attractions of this unknown region to the traveller, its difficulties may well appal him. On the one hand, the deserts, with all their accompanying terrors—hurricanes, lack of water, burning heat and piercing cold, must be encountered; on the other, a suspicious and barbarous people, either covertly or openly hostile to Europeans.

For three consecutive years we faced the difficulties of travel in the wild countries of Asia, and only owing to unusual good fortune attained our object of penetrating to Lake Koko-nor and to the upper course of the Blue River (Yang-tse-Kiang) in Northern Tibet.

Good fortune, I repeat, never forsook me throughout my journey, from beginning to end. In my young companion, Michail Alexandrovitch Pyltseff, I had an active and zealous assistant, whose energy never failed in the most adverse circumstances; whilst the two Trans-Baikal Cossacks, Pamphile Chebayeff and Dondok Irinchinoff, who accompanied us in the second and third years of our travels, were brave and indefatigable men, who served the expedition faithfully and loyally. I should also mention with equal gratitude the name of our late envoy at Peking — Major-General Alexander Gregorievitch Vlangali; for he was chiefly instrumental in organising the expedition, and he was its warmest supporter from first to last.

But although fortunate in the moral support I received, on the other hand the material resources of our expedition were extremely inadequate, and this circumstance impaired its efficiency. To say nothing of the privations which we experienced on the journey, entirely owing to the want of money, we were unable to provide ourselves even with the requisite good instruments for taking observations. For instance, we had only one mountain barometer, which soon broke, and I was obliged to have recourse to the ordinary Réaumur thermometer to determine heights by boiling water,[1] obtaining less accurate results; for magnetic observations луе had nothing but a common compass adapted for this purpose at the observatory of Peking. In fact, our outfit, even of the most necessary instruments for scientific observations, was of the most meagre description.

In the course of nearly three years,[2] in traversing Mongolia, Kan-su, Koko-nor, and Northern Tibet, we travelled i i,ioo versts (7,400 miles), 5,300 (3,530 miles) of which, i.e. the whole distance out, were sketched by means of the compass. This map, which is appended on the reduced scale of 40 versts (or about 2б| miles) to the inch,^ has been based on 18 astronomical observations for latitude, which I determined by means of a small universal in- strument.^

The magnetic declination was ascertained at nine places, and at seven the horizontal influence of the earth's maofnetism. Four times a week we took meteorological observations, frequently noting the temperature of the earth and water, and the mois- ture of the atmosphere with the psychrometer. We determined the altitudes with the aneroid and boil- ing water. Our researches were chiefly directed to physical geography and the special study of mam- malia and birds ; Ave made ethnological observations whenever circumstances would permit. We also collected and brought home 1,000 specimens of birds belonging to 238 different genera, 130 skins of mammalia, large and small, comprising 42 kinds ; about 70 specimens of reptiles ; 1 1 descriptions of fish ; and more than 3,000 specimens of insects.

Our botanical collection includes the flora of all

^ Reduced again, in the English version accompanying this trans- lation, to a scale of slightly more than one-half that amount per inch.

^ The longitude of these points, vhich unfortunately could not be determined, was found approximately by projecting my route survey between the latitudes fixed, and by taking into account the declination of the needle. the places we visited — 500 to 600 kinds of plants represented by 4,000 specimens. Our small minera- logical collection contains samples of the minerals of all the mountain ranges we visited.

Such are the scientific results of our journey ; and these met with warm approbation, not only from the Geographical Society, but from the different men of science who volunteered their services to classify them.

The academician K. T. Maximovitch kindly undertook the description of the flora, which will form the third volume of the present edition of our travels. The second volume will comprise our spe- cial studies on the climate of those parts of Inner Asia that we visited, and notes on the zoology and mineralogy will be contributed by A. A. Inostrant- seff and K. T. Kessler, professors at the St. Petersburg University; A. T. Moravitz, the ento- mologist ; N. A. Severtsoff, W. K. Tachanoffsky, the zoologists ; and A. A. Strauch, academician. All these savants have generously assisted me in clas- sifying the different kinds of animals, plants, and minerals mentioned in the pages of this book.

Lastly, I must express my earnest gratitude to Colonel Stubendorff of the Staff Corps, and Colonel Bolsheff of the Topographical Department, who have taken a keen interest in compiling the map from my route survey ; and also to Fritsche, director of the Peking Observatory, who gave me hints as to the astronomical and magnetic observations, and kindly undertook to work these out. This first volume of our travels comprises descriptions of the physical geography and ethnography of the country we visited, and also a narrative of the progress of the expedition. The two following volumes will treat of special subjects, and will appear — the second in December of the present year, and the third a year later, i.e. at the end of 1876. N. PREJEVALSKY. St. Petersburg : January i, 1875.

 
  1. Parrot's thermometer, which I took with me from St. Petersburg for measuring altitudes, broke during the journey through Siberia; however, in such a journey as ours, this instrument would have been too troublesome, and almost impossible to protect from breakage.
  2. From November 29, 1870, to October 1, 1873, i.e. from the day of our departure from Kiakhta to the day of our return to that place.