Wednesday, August 06, 2008

A Ride to Khiva by Captain Federick Burnaby

Recently I finished reading Captain Frederick Burnaby, A Ride to Khiva (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). First published in 1876 this book details a rather extraordinary journey through Russia and Kazakhstan to what is now Uzbekistan. Travel to Central Asia even today consumes a lot of time and effort. When I came to Kyrgyzstan a little over a year ago it took me almost two days by plane to get here from Los Angeles. In the 19th Century things were considerably more difficult. In the middle of winter 1875, Frederick Burnaby, a captain in the British army, travelled from St. Peterburg to Khiva. He persevered despite a ban on European travellers to the city imposed by the Russian government. His main goal was to ascertain Russian military intentions in Central Asia with regards to British India. He like many other British officers feared that the Russian Empire's recent expansion in the region was ultimately aimed at the British Empire's possessions in South Asia. At this time the rail line from St. Petersburg only reached as far as Sizeran, a town west of Samara. The rest of the trip had to be made using horses. The result of Burnaby's overland trip to Khiva is a highly entertaining travelogue.

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