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Like his predecessor William of Rubruck, Odoric was a one-named Franciscan who inexplicably ended up in Kublai Khan’s China. These friars were not the brave, determined travellers that we usually imagine pioneers to be, but zealous men sent by their superiors into faraway lands – God help them. Odoric, from a small town in Northern Italy, returned from the lion’s ...

Ella Christie (1861-1949) was a Scottish heiress who travelled through Central Asia on two occasions, in 1910 and 1912, publishing her accounts of the journey thirteen years later. An heiress to the industrial fortune of her grandfather, Alexander Christie, the Lady Ella, or “Miss Christie of Cowden” as she preferred to be called, had an estate in Muckhart, Scotland, but ...

Count Konstantin Konstantinovich Pahlen (1861-1923) was a Russian Imperial official who travelled through Central Asia in 1908-1909 for an investigation of the local administration. Born into an protestant aristocratic family from present-day Latvia, Pahlen was to become a provincial governor just like his father. In June of 1908, Emperor Nicholas II ordered the Governing Senate to organize an investigation of ...

Carl Mannerheim is that strange anomaly, a future head of state who happened to also mention the tradition of Kyrgyz eagle hunting in his memoirs. Mannerheim is now considered the father of modern Finland, but he was born into the Russian empire and rose in the ranks of the Imperial Russian Army. At the age of forty, in 1906, he ...

Seven Journeys Eastward, 1898-1912, Among the Cheremis, Kalmyks, Mongols and in Turkestan and to Afghanistan Gustav John Ramstedt was a Finnish linguist and ethnographer described as “one of the great linguistic investigators of Altaic peoples.” Concerned with the question of whether the Finns were descended from Mongols, Ramstedt travelled extensively in the regions of Central Asia. His memoirs, dictated to ...