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In the footsteps of a great Kazakh traveler

23 july 2014, 19:42
0
Kashgar ©AFP
Kashgar ©AFP

Shoqan Walikhanov, known as the father of the modern Kazakh ethnography and historiography, was a son of a Sultan and a staunch proponent of Westernization who rose to prominence in the academic circles of the Russian Empire and was admired by Dostoyevsky himself.

Like too many other brilliant individuals he succumbed to early illness and died before reaching 30. However, his legacy lives, including the famous expedition to ancient Kashgaria that was a region in Central Asia vied for by Chinese, Russian and British imperial powers from olden times.

Walikhanov ventured onto traveling there at the age of 22, when the Great Game between the Russian and British Empires for domination in Central Asia was unfolding. Yet, political motivation was not the sole reason for Shoqan’s intention on traveling there. He was a keen learner and enlightener, which may be an explanation to why he refused to continue another expedition ordered by the Russian Tzar, when he saw violence of Russian forces against civilian population in captured fortresses of Pishpek and Aulie-Ata in 1864.


Portrait of Shoqan Walikhanov made in St. Petersburg by Kardovsky

His steps in Kashgaria will be repeated by a team of modern Kazakh geographers, historians, biologists, ethnographers and linguists, who are going for an expedition called Following Shoqan Walikhanov’s Caravan Route. The project is dedicated to the 180th anniversary of the birth of the great scholar and traveler and will begin tomorrow on 24 July 2014 under the aegis of the Kazakhstan National Geographic Society.

Expedition leader Ordenbek Mazbayev, a geographer, spoke to Tengrinews about the venture. He said that the expedition would take 12 days and cover six thousand kilometres across the territory in China and Kyrgyzstan. Starting in Kazakhstan, Astana (Almaty – was the starting point for Walikhanov), they would travel to China's Urumqi and then go through several other towns in that country on their way to Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek would be their last city in Kyrgyzstan. After that the travelers would return to the Kazakh city of Almaty.


Walikhanov and Dostoyevsky ©Wikipedia 

Members of the expedition plan to collect materials on the history, geography, ethnography and linguistics of Kashgaria. In addition to Walikhanov’s route, they plan to explore several sites that were visited by great travelers like Marco Polo, Nikolay Przhevalsky Carl Mannerheim, Pyotr Kozlov, Aurel Stein, Sven Hedin, Gunnar Jarring and George de Roerich.

Iminov Smaylzhian, scientific advisor of the expedition, said that the region was poorly studied and hide many secrets, even 155 years after Walikhanov’s expedition. "Kashgaria has always been a mysterious, uncharted land. Many famous travelers were interested in this region. Walikhanov lived in Kashgaria for more than five months. And despite the fact that he wrote a book about it, many of the secrets of this expedition have not yet been uncovered,” he said.

According to the director of the Institute of Geography of Kazakhstan Akhmetkala Medeu, the expedition will shed light on the changes in the local population of the region, the natural conditions, and the way of life in Kashgaria. “We need to know our own land and the land of our neighbors, so as to understand them,” he said.


Iminov, Medeu and Mazbayev ©Vladimir Prokopenko

One of the goals of the journey is to assess the tourist potential of the Silk Road and develop international tours across the territories of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang (China).

A book-album and a film will be made after the expedition. They would focus primarily on Walikhanov’s route. These materials will also be used in the tourist project “Golden Ring of Central Asia” that would connect the tourist routes of Central Asian countries and China.


Kashgaria, China ©Reuters

Repeating the steps is probably the only way to try and grasp the feelings and thoughts of great travelers. Undoubtedly, conditions cannot possibly be the same. Shokan Walikhanov was risking his life, when travelling to Kashgaria. He disguised himself as a merchant named Alimbai and wore oriental clothes. He shaved his head according to local customs. Before him, a German traveler from Munich Adolf Schlagintweit was beheaded on the order of Kashgar ruler on suspicion of being a spy. His two brothers returned from the expedition shortly before the incident and this probably saved them from death by the sword.

Many researchers put their lives in danger for knowledge. Our duty today is to preserve it.

By Dinara Urazova (Vladimir Prokopenko contributed to the story)


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