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Nikolay Przhevalsky (April 12, 1839 - November 1, 1888)

Explorer Nikolai Przhevalsky was one of the most well-known Russian celebrities of the 1870s and ’80s. Whenever he packed his bags for a jaunt across central and far eastern Asia, the Russian explorer invariably brought along a few handsome youths to assist him on his lengthy journeys. The Russian government accommodated him by commissioning his lovers as lieutenants in the army, which provided them with a salary.

Though Przhevalsky usually returned with collections of exotic plants and animals, it was eighteen-year-old Pyotr Kozlov who brought out the beast in the mustachioed voyager. When Przhevalsky died, Kozlov carried on his explorations. Other young men who enjoyed Przhevalsky’s favor were Robert Koecher (b. 1849) and Fyodor Eklon (1857-1883). (Picture: Pyotr Kozlov)

Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky (April 12, 1839 - November 1, 1888), was a Russian geographer of Polish background and explorer of Central and Eastern Asia. Although he never reached his final goal, Lhasa in Tibet, he travelled through regions unknown to the west, such as northern Tibet, modern Qinghai and Dzungaria. He significantly contributed to European knowledge on Central Asia and was the first known European to describe the only extant species of wild horse, which is named after him.

Przhevalsky was born in Smolensk into a noble Polish family (the original, Polish name is Przewalski), and studied there and at the military academy in St. Petersburg. In 1864, he became a geography teacher at the military school in Warsaw.

In 1867, Przhevalsky petitioned the Russian Geographical Society to be dispatched to Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia. His intention was to explore the basin of the Ussuri River, a tributary of the Amur. This was his first expedition of importance; it lasted two years. Przhevalsky published the diary of the expedition as Travels in the Ussuri Region, 1867-69.

In the following years he made four journeys to Central Asia:
1870–1873 from Kyakhta he crossed the Gobi desert to Peking (now Beijing), then exploring the upper Yangtze (Chang Jiang), and in 1872 crossed into Tibet. He surveyed over 7,000 sq mi (18,000 km2), collected and brought back with him 5,000 plants, 1000 birds, and 3,000 insect species, as well as 70 reptiles and the skins of 130 different mammals. Przehevalsky was awarded the Constatine Medal by the Imperial Geographical Society, promoted to lieutenant-general, appointed to the Tsar's General Staff, and received the Order of St Vladimir, fourth Class. During his expedition, the Dungan revolt (1862–1877) was raging in China. The journey provided the General Staff with important intelligence on a Muslim uprising in the kingdom of Yakub Beg in western China, and his lecture to the Imperial Geographical Society was received with "thunderous applause" from an overflow audience. The Russian newspaper Golos called the journey "one of the most daring of our time".
1876–1877 travelling through Eastern Turkestan through the Tian Shan range, he visited what he believed to be Lake Lop Nor, which had reportedly not been visited by any European since Marco Polo. The expedition consisted of ten men, twenty-four camels, four horses, three tonnes of baggage and a budget of 25000 roubles, the expedition was beset by disease and poor quality camels. In September 1877 the caravan was refurbished with better camels and horses, 72000 rounds of ammunition and large quantities of brandy, tea and Turkish Delight, and set out for Lhasa but did not reach its goal.
1879–1880 via Hami and through the Qaidam basin to Lake Koko Nor. Then over the Tian Shan mountains into Tibet to within 260 km (160 mi) of Lhasa before being turned back by Tibetan officials;
1883–1885 from Kyakhta across the Gobi to Alashan and the eastern Tian Shan mountains, turning back at the Yangtze. Then back to Koko Nor, and westwards to Khotan and Lake Issyk Kul.

The results of these expanded journeys opened a new era for the study of geography of Central Asia as well as the studies of the fauna and flora of this area that was relatively unknown to his Western contemporaries. Among other things, he reported on the wild population of Bactrian Camels as well as the Przewalski's Horse and Przewalski's Gazelle named after him in many European languages. Przhevalsky's writings include five major books written in Russian and two English translations: Mongolia, the Tangut Country (1875) and From Kulja, Across the Tian Shan to Lob-Nor (1879).

Przhevalsky died of typhus not long before the beginning of his fifth journey, at Karakol on the lakeshore of Issyk-Kul in present day Kyrgyzstan. He contracted typhoid from a river that was acknowledged already as being infected with the disease, the Chu river The Tsar immediately changed the name of the town to Przhevalsk. There are monuments to him, and a museum about his life and work, there and another monument in St. Petersburg.

Less than a year after his premature death, Mikhail Pevtsov succeeded Przhevalsky at the head of his expedition into the depths of Central Asia. Przhevalsky's work was continued by his young disciple Pyotr Kuzmich Kozlov.

There is another place named after him. Przhevalsky had been living in a small village called Sloboda, Smolensk Oblast, Russia since 1881 till 1887 (except the time of his travels). He really loved the place. The village was renamed after him in 1964, and now it is called Przhevalskoye. There is a memorial complex here that includes the old and new houses of Nikolai Przhevalsky, his bust, pond, garden, birch alleys, and khatka (a lodge, watchbox). This is the only museum of the famous traveller in Russia.

He is commemorated by the plant genus Przewalskia (Solanaceae) Maxim. His name is eponymic to more than eighty plant species as well.

Przhevalsky is known to have had a relationship with Tasya Nuromskaya, whom he met in Smolensk. According to a legend, during their last meeting Tasya cut off her braid and gave it to him, saying that the braid will travel with him up until their marriage. Unfortunately, Tasya died of a sunstroke while Przhevalsky was in an expedition.

Another woman in his life was a mysterious young lady, whose portrait, along with a piece of poetry, has been found in Nikolai's album. In the poem, she asked him to stay with her and not to go to Tibet, to which he responded in his diary: "I will never betray the ideal, to which is dedicated all of my life. As soon as I write everything nesessary, I will return to desert...where I will be much happier than in gilded salons that can be acquired by marriage".

Some researchers claimed that Przhevalsky was a homosexual, who "despised women", and that his young male assistants that accompanied him on each of his journeys (including Nikolay Yagunov, aged 16, Mikhail Pyltsov, Fyodor Eklon, 18, and Yevgraf), could have been his lovers.

There is an urban legend that Joseph Stalin was an illegitimate son of Nikolai Przhevalski. The legend is supported by the similar appearance of both men. However, Przhevalsky's visits to Georgia are not recorded. The humoristically developed version of this legend appears in book three of Vladimir Voinovich — The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolay_Przhevalsky

Further Readings:

Dream of Lhasa: The Life of Nikolay Przhevalsky (1839-88 Explorer of Central Asia) by Donald Rayfield
Hardcover: 221 pages
Publisher: Ohio Univ Pr (June 1976)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0821403699
ISBN-13: 978-0821403693
Amazon: Dream of Lhasa: The Life of Nikolay Przhevalsky (1839-88 Explorer of Central Asia)

Colonialism and Homosexuality by Robert Aldrich
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Routledge (December 25, 2002)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0415196167
ISBN-13: 978-0415196161
Amazon: Colonialism and Homosexuality

Colonialism and Homosexuality is a thorough investigation of the connections of homosexuality and imperialism from the late 1800s - the era of 'new imperialism' - until the era of decolonization. Robert Aldrich reconstructs the context of a number of liaisons, including those of famous men such as Cecil Rhodes, E.M. Forster or André Gide, and the historical situations which produced both the Europeans and their non-Western lovers.

Colonial lands, which in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century included most of Africa, South and Southeast Asia and the islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Caribbean, provided a haven for many Europeans whose sexual inclinations did not fit neatly into the constraints of European society.

Each of the case-studies is a micro-history of a particular colonial situation, a sexual encounter, and its wider implications for cultural and political life. Students both of colonial history, and of gender and queer studies, will find this an informative read.

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Tags: eccentric: nikolay przhevalsky, gay classics, queers in history
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