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The Dervish of the Hindu Kush: Journals of Grombchevsky’s Travels in High Asia

The Dervish of the Hindu Kush: Journals of Grombchevsky’s Travels in High Asia
Product Code: 01457
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Басханов М. К., Колесников А. А., Матвеева М. Ф. Дервиш Гиндукуша. Путевые дневники центральноазиатских экспедиций генерала Б. Л. Громбчевского. [Baskhanov, M. K., Kolesnikov A. A., and Matveeva M. F. The Dervish of the Hindu Kush: Journals of Grombchevsky’s Travels in High Asia]. St. Petersburg, Nestor-Istoria Publishers, 2015, 1st ed., 4to (30 x 21 cm), 375 pp., b/w illus., boards, dust-wrapper. Print run limited to 100 copies only. Main text in Russian, Summary in English.

   The name of eminent Russian explorer Bronislaw Ludwig Grombchevsky (1855-1926) is associated with the history of geographical discoveries of Central Asia. His name has left an imprint in the history of the Anglo-Russian rivalry in Central Asia, which nowadays is more known as the “Great Game”. A Lieutenant-General of the Russian service, a Pole by birth, Grombchevsky was in 1920 forced to leave Russia onto Poland, where he spent the rest of his years, teaching geography in the Polish military academy. At the end of his life, almost forgotten and dying from cancer, he wrote a letter to Francis Younghusband, the then President of the Royal Geographical Society, complaining about his bitter fate, and recalling their meetings in the Pamirs and Kashgaria. Grombchevsky’s travels to the Pamirs and Hindu Kush led to a worsening of Anglo-Russian relations in Central Asia, his activities in the area largely provoked not only the so-called Pamir crisis but the British military expedition to Kanjut (Hunza) in 1892 too.

   In total Grombchevsky undertook three expeditions into the Central Asia highlands. The first expedition took place in 1885 when he visited South Kashgaria (part of Chinese Turkestan). What had been gained from this expedition were the valuable materials on the geography and ethnology of Kashgaria, he had also managed to survey almost uncharted territory. In 1888 he travelled to Kanjut, where he led the geographic and ethnological research, crossing the world’s highest mountain ranges. During the expedition he took photographs, measured the exact geographical positions of 14 geographical sites, as well as mapping out the route of the expedition (1235 miles). As a result of his work in the expedition IRGO awarded him this time Gold Medal of the Society. In 1889 – 1890 he undertook his third expedition to Central Asia – to Raskam, Karakoram and Northwest Tibet. During this expedition he yet again had collected a large natural scientific collection, produced a route survey and measured the exact geographical position of 73 locations. For his achievements in the expedition he was awarded by the Russian Emperor a lifetime annual pension of 400 Roubles. 

   During Grombchevsky’s lifetime none of his travel journals have ever been published by the IRGO, in comparison to other no less famous Russian explorers of Central Asia – N. M. Przhevalsky, M. V. Pevtsov, V. I. Roborovsky and P. K. Kozlov. The explorer himself was partly to blame, as he for various reasons delayed the editing of manuscripts and the sorting of field materials. Having realised that due to his active military service involvement he would not able to publish the results of his travels, Grombchevsky presented all his journals, photographs, route surveys and natural collections to IRGO, who had the intention to print the official report of Grombchevsky’s travels. However with the outbreak of the Russian-Japanese War followed by the revolutionary uprising in Russia (1905-1907) the publications had to be postponed and for an indefinite period of time. Grombchevsky was widely known in pre-revolutionary Russia, but after the Bolsheviks came to power his name was undeservedly forgotten. The new leaders of Russia could not forgive him for his service in high administrative positions in Imperial Russia, his general’s rank, as well as his anti-Bolshevik sentiments. For this reason, the unique scientific legacy of Grombchevsky was for many years forgotten.

   Expedition journals of Grombchevsky’s travels have never yet been published. However, they contain exceptionally interesting materials on the history, geography and ethnology of the Pamirs, Hindu Kush, the North-Western Tibet, and areas which, because of their strategic importance even today largely remain inaccessible to researchers. The area continues to remain within territories of latent border conflicts – Indo-Pakistani and Indo-Chinese. This area borders with Afghanistan, home to the international peacekeeping operation, and the Xinjiang-Uighur Autonomous Region of China, where there is political instability associated with Uyghur separatism. This region of Central Asia for many years has attracted the attention of politicians, strategists, academics and journalists as a place where events of the “new Great Game” in Asia have unfolded. For these reasons, the publication of Grombchevsky’s unique travel diaries will produce a wide interest in among the academic circles and the general reading public alike.

   Now these important documents from Grombchevsky’s archive are available for publication. These documents include the following, “The Journal of an Expedition to Kanjut and Raskam in 1888” (consisting of 260 pages of typewritten text) and “The Journal of an Expedition to Darvaz, the Pamirs, in Raskam and the North-Western Tibet in 1889-1890” (consisting of 925 pages of handwritten text). The scientific editing of the travel journals of  Bronislaw L. Grombchevsky have been performed by a team of researches – Dr. Mikhail Baskhanov, Professor Alexander Kolesnikov and Maria Matveeva, head of the scientific archive of the Russian Geographical Society. Dr. Mikhail Baskhanov has also written a foreword to the publication.