Nikolai Mikhailovich Prschewalsky

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Nikolai Michailowitsch Prschewalsky (1839–1888)

Nikolay Przhevalsky ( Russian Николай Михайлович Пржевальский ., Scientific transliteration Nikolaj Michajlovič Prževal'skij , often in the Polish case Przewalski found; born March 31 . Jul / 12. April  1839 greg. In Kimborowo (also Kimbory today Prschewalskoje ) at Smolensk , † October 20 . jul / 1. November  1888 greg. in Karakol ) one was an officer of the Imperial Russian army and explorer . His five trips, on the last of which he died, contributed significantly to the exploration of Central Asia . Among other things, he described the Przewalski horse named after him .

Origin and early life

Prschewalsky 1860 (at the age of 21)

On his father's side, Prschewalski came from a noble family of Polish origin; on his mother's side he belonged to a Russian noble family Karetnikow. Prschewalski attended the high school in Smolensk and also the military academy in Saint Petersburg . He then became a geography teacher at the Junk School in Warsaw . In 1866 he received a command to East Asia , where he explored the country on the Ussuri . In Khabarovsk he met Ivan Goncharov , who later wrote a literary copy of the encounter with Prschewalski in the posthumous edition of his "Frigate Pallas". This was followed by his research trips. In 1886 he was elected a member of the Leopoldina .

First research expedition 1870–1873

It led from Kjachta to Beijing to the upper Huang He , through the Gobi desert to Lake Kuku Nor, on to the Yangtze River and back to Kjachta.

On the old trade route from Siberia via Kjachta, Prschewalski traveled to his first stop in Beijing. Here he obtained the necessary passports from the Chinese government and added provisions and equipment. He was now marching to Kalgan to the northwest. Here he met with two Cossacks who completed the expedition team. The expedition now consisted of four heavily armed men, two horses and eight camels. Przhevalsky had 2500 rubles at his disposal.

From Kalgan they went to the middle reaches of the Huang He, which they followed upstream. The expedition was progressing more slowly than expected. On the one hand, the local population behaved very negatively; For example, it was largely impossible to recruit guides or exchange provisions. On the other hand, the Chinese maps were so imprecise that the caravan often got lost in the mountains and lost time.

To the northwest of the Big Loop of the Yellow River, the expedition entered the Alashan desert, which forms the southern part of the Gobi. The march went hundreds of kilometers through this inhospitable area and demanded everything from the participants of the expedition. Prschewalski noted in his diary: "The boundless desert fills those who get lost here with horror." In Dingyuanying (now Bayanhot ) the expedition recovered from this march for two weeks.

It was October now and the harsh continental winter was imminent. In addition, the passports had expired and the money had almost been used up. Prschewalski had to admit that the goal Kuku Nor could not be achieved this year. The march back towards Beijing was initially in a large swing parallel to the Yellow River, but through the desert. Therefore, the river was only reached again after a month. Frost as well as snow and sand storms made progress difficult. Fires could only be started with poorly burning camel dung, and provisions were rationed. When the Yellow River was finally reached and inhabited area was visited again, the supply situation hardly improved. The Chinese on the river hardly sold any food, fuel or feed for the animals, probably at the instigation of the government. The Mongols, on the other hand, took advantage of the emergency situation and had every bundle of wood paid dearly. Then one night the camels were stolen, so that the expedition was forced to exchange their rifles for new camels.

The rest of the winter was spent in Beijing. Two months passed in writing the reports and packing and shipping the collection. At the same time, the second march was prepared, new passports and funds (3,500 rubles) were obtained through the Russian embassy , and the equipment was optimized. It was still winter when Prschewalsky set out again. The frosts and blizzards did not stop until mid-April. The mainland climate does not have any mild transitions in these latitudes: the expedition had just suffered from the cold, then suddenly it was plagued by the heat of the midsummer.

Back in Dingyuanying, Prschewalski met a caravan of Tangut pilgrims who wanted to set off for the Buddha temple of Tscheibsen not far from Kuku Nor. The expedition was able to join this caravan. This was a happy coincidence, because on the one hand it eliminated the difficult recruiting of local leaders, on the other hand a larger society offered more security. The further route led through the area of ​​the Muslim Dungans (also called Hui ), who had been waging war against the Chinese occupiers for eleven years.

Przhevalsky Monument in Saint Petersburg

When the Alashan desert was overcome, they reached the as yet unexplored Nanshang Mountains with its green valleys and snow-capped mountains. The four travelers were warmly received by the landscape, but the people became a nuisance. According to Prschewalski's descriptions, even dealing with the pilgrims on a daily basis must have been a tough test of patience. The Tanguts appeared unbearably curious and intrusive to the researchers. Every move by the Russians was watched suspiciously and sparked a hail of questions. The caravan of pilgrims naturally took the route through the settlements. Although Prschewalski always knowingly set up camp outside the settlements, within a short time they were surrounded by a crowd of spectators. The Chinese officials did not give them any protection, on the contrary, they asked for gifts and wanted to see Prschewalski's weapons. When the Russian refused both, a violent escalation threatened, which could be averted at the last second.

The next morning, Prschewalski decided to part with the Tanguts and moved further into the Nanshang Mountains on swamp paths, avoiding the settlements. Along raging mountain rivers and crossing mountain ridges, the expedition reached the Tetung valley (also Tatung) in June 1872. Prschewalski decided to set up a camp here and to use the summer to explore the Nanshan, which consists of several chains and has peaks of over 6000 meters.

When the expedition visited Tscheibsen, Prschewalski discovered that the Dungans had recently attacked and devastated the temple city. Only one temple with a huge gilded Buddha statue could the monastery rulers save by paying a large sum of money. The residents of Tscheibsen feared another attack by the Dungans when the researchers continued their journey on the great Tibet road that leads past Kuku Nor to Lhasa . This road has been avoided by the Chinese since the beginning of the Dungan Uprising.

At Kuku Nor, which translates as blue lake, they recovered for a few weeks. Then it went further west, into the huge Tsaidam basin , into which numerous rivers flow, but which has no drainage. In the summer heat, the water evaporates, the salt it contains remains. Only the eastern part of the Tsaidam Basin was sparsely populated at that time. The largest salt marshes in Central Asia stretched for hundreds of kilometers to the west. The Tsaidam Basin is deeper than the Kuku Nor, but still 2500 meters high. In the south, steep walls rise to form a huge plateau - the highlands of Tibet .

As far as Lhasa, the forbidden city, was Prschewalsky's dream. Since the French Évariste Régis Huc and Joseph Gabet (1808-1853) were allowed to stay in it for six weeks in 1846 , no Europeans had entered it. The ascent to the highlands of Tibet was extremely difficult. Prschewalski wrote in his travel diary: “The country blocks itself off from intruders like an enormous fortress surrounded by Cyclopean walls. The landscape is of gloomy majesty: rugged, bare rock faces, ice peaks, wide, barren desert between the mountain ranges. ”Winter had come. The worn out clothes hardly protected against the grim frost, the provisions were almost exhausted and the air was getting thinner and thinner. On New Year's Eve 1872, Prschewalski and his companions wanted nothing more than a happy end to their trip.

At the end of January the almost deserted northern foothills of Tibet had been overcome. Prschewalski wondered whether he could be responsible for another advance. Provisions and money were almost used up, the riding and pack animals were completely exhausted. The way back was already several thousand kilometers long and Lhasa, 900 kilometers away, was inaccessible. The caravan began the march back over the mountains, through the Tsaidam basin to Kuku Nor. Here Prschewalski again raised money by selling his weapons, with which he was able to work at the lake and in Nanshan for another three months. Afterwards, the four men, emaciated and torn, arrived in Tingjüanjing, where a pleasant surprise awaited them. The Russian envoy in Beijing had sent them letters and money. Since Prschewalski no longer had to travel via Beijing, he immediately changed his plans and chose the direct route through the central Gobi to Kjachta. No European had ever wandered through these huge spaces.

Little did Przhevalsky know that he would experience hours there in which he lost all hope of getting away with his life. The disaster began in the Alashan Mountains with heavy rains and floods. Here Prschewalski almost lost the exhibits that he had laboriously collected on the expedition. Later in the Gobi desert, one of the driest and most hostile places on earth, he almost died of thirst several times. His loyal companion, his dog Jucha, died of lack of water. In September 1873 the travelers reached Urga (now Ulan Bator ). “I cannot describe how moved we were when we heard our language again, saw compatriots and were able to live in European conditions. The past seemed like a terrible dream ... "

In the course of three years Prschewalski had covered 11,800 kilometers with his companions, narrowed the white spots on the map of Central Asia considerably, carried out daily magnetic and weather observations , built up numerous zoological, botanical and mineralogical collections and made ethnographic studies. The success of this expedition brought him world fame. He was awarded the gold medal by the Russian Geographical Society . In the following three years he worked on the diverse yields of the trip, wrote his book " Mongolia and the Land of the Tanguts ", gave lectures and prepared the next expedition.

Second research expedition 1876–1877

It led from Gulja to Lake Lop Nor , to Altyntag and back to Kuldscha.

Third research expedition 1879–1880

This trip led from Lake Saissan to Chami, across the Nanshang Mountains to Tibet to 260 km before Lhasa , then back to Si-ning to the source area of ​​the Huang He via Urga (now Ulan Bator ) and Kjachta to Orenburg .

Fourth research expedition 1883–1885

It led from Kyakhta across the Gobi to Ala Shan and the eastern Tsaijdam the Yangtze River back to the Lop Nor, according to Khotan and Akfu until the Issyk Kul Lake.

The results of these extensive journeys opened a new era for the geography as well as the fauna and flora of this hitherto almost unknown area. Among other things, Prschewalski discovered the wild camel and the Przewalski horse named after him .

Fifth research trip

Prschewalski died during his fifth trip in the town of Karakol am Issykköl, which was renamed Prschewalsk in his honor in 1888 and carried this name until 1921 and from 1939 to 1991. Sven Hedin visited his grave in January 1891.


The plant genus Przewalskia Maxim is named after Prschewalski . from the nightshade family (Solanaceae). Prschewalski's grave and the Prschewalsky Museum , which is dedicated to Nikolai Prschewalski's research trips, are located near the place where he died, Karakol .


Critics accuse Prschewalski of arrogance towards the locals, presumptuous behavior and racism and also attribute some of his failures to this.

Name variants

Nikolaj M. Prževal'skij, NM Prschewalski, Nikolai Michailowitsch Prschewalski, Nikolaj Michajlovič Prževal'skij, NM Prschewalski, Nikolaj M. Przevalski, Nikolaj M. Przewalsky, Nikolaj von Przevalsky, Nikolaj von Prschewalski, Nikolaj M. Prejaijevalsky, Nikolaj M. Prejaijevalsky, Nikolaj M. Mikhail Przewalsky

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Carl Deditius: The ornithological results of the N. Przewalsky'schen journeys from Saisan via Chami to Tibet and on the upper course of the Yellow River in the years 1879 and 1880 . In: Journal of Ornithology . tape 34 , no. 3 , 1886, p. 524-543 , doi : 10.1007 / BF02006178 ( PDF ).
  2. Lotte Burkhardt: Directory of eponymous plant names - Extended Edition. Part I and II. Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin , Freie Universität Berlin , Berlin 2018, ISBN 978-3-946292-26-5 doi: 10.3372 / epolist2018 .
  3. z. B. Detlef Brenecke, foreword to N. Prschewalski: On secret paths to Tibet , Lenningen 2004, p. 23ff


  • Travels in Mongolia, the Tangut region and the deserts of northern Tibet from 1870 to 1873. Translated from the Russian and annotated by Albin Kohn. Library of geographic journeys and discoveries, both ancient and modern . Vol. 12. Hermann Costenoble, Jena 1877, 1881.
  • From Kulja, Across the Tian Shan, to Lob-Nor. 1879.
  • August Petermann (ed.): Journey of the Russian General Staff Colonel NM Przewalsky from Kuldscha over the Thian-Schan to the Lob-Nor and Altyn-Day 1876 and 1877. Translation of the to the K. Russ. Official report directed by Przewalsky, DD Kuldscha August 18, 1877 to the Geographical Society in Saint Petersburg. 53 on Petermann's Geographical Communications . Justus Perthes, Gotha 1878. (German translation. The detailed description of this trip was published in 1952 with the title Hanhai )
  • Travels in Tibet and along the upper reaches of the Yellow River from 1879 to 1880. Freely translated from Russian into German and annotated by Stein-Nordheim. Hermann Costenoble, Jena 1884.
  • Hanhai. From Kuldscha over the Tianschan and to Lob-nor. People and book. Edited by Herbert Butze, translated by Alexander Böltz. Bibliographical Institute, Leipzig 1952.
  • To the land of the wild camels. From Kjachta to the sources of the Yellow River, the exploration of the northern edge of Tibet and the way over the Lob-nor through the Tarim Basin. Translated by Helmut Sträubig. FA Brockhaus, Leipzig 1954. (Apart from the shortened translation by Hedin, this book is the only German edition of the report on Prschewalski's fourth expedition, which was first published in 1888 in Russian.)
  • On secret routes to Tibet. 1870-1873. Edition Erdmann, Lenningen 2004. ISBN 3-86503-004-1 (Follows the second edition of 1881 from Reisen in der Mongolia, ... )


  • Donald Rayfield: Lhasa was his dream. Nikolai Prschewalskij's voyages of discovery in Central Asia. FA Brockhaus, Wiesbaden 1977.
  • Sven Hedin : General Prschevalskij's forskningsresor i Centralasia. Efter de ryska, tyska och franska originalupplagorna. Bonniers, Stockholm 1891. (Swedish edition)
  • Sven Hedin: General Prschewalskij in Inner Asia. Travel and adventure . Vol. 19. Brockhaus, Leipzig 1925. (The Swedish and German editions contain a translation of Prschewalski's travelogues with a foreword by AE Nordenskiöld and an introduction by Sven Hedin.)
  • Herbert Wotte: Course towards unknown. FA Brockhaus, Leipzig 1967.

Web links

Commons : Nikolai Przevalski  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files