In Central Asia: From Moscow to Bactria


Gabriel Bonvalot (1853‒1933) was a French explorer and author who led three major expeditions to Central Asia in the 1880s and 1890s. En Asie centrale: De Moscou en Bactriane (In Central Asia: From Moscow to Bactria) is Bonvalot’s account of the first of these expeditions, undertaken with the scientist Dr. Guillaume Capus (1857‒1931) in 1880‒82. After traveling by rail from Moscow to Semipalatinsk (in present-day Kazakhstan) where they entered Russian Turkestan, the two men journeyed southeast to Tashkent (in present-day Uzbekistan) and from there to Qarshi, in what is today southern Uzbekistan. They explored the headwaters of the Syr Darya and finally reached the Amu Darya River where it formed part of the border between the Russian Empire and Afghanistan. Their return journey was via Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. The “Bactria” of the title refers to the plain lying between the Amu Darya and the Hindu Kush, ruled at various times by the Persians, Seleucids, and various other peoples, and today making up parts of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. In the 1880s France was attempting to expand its empire and global influence, and Bonvalot’s expedition was financed by the French government. Capus was affiliated with the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, for which he brought back many scientific samples. The book contains descriptions of the places visited and the peoples encountered, which included Afghans, Gypsies (Roma), Kirghiz, Hindus, Jews, Tatars, Uzbeks, and others. The book is illustrated with engravings and concludes with a fold-out map of Russian Turkestan with an inset map showing the route taken by Bonvalot and Capus.

Last updated: September 30, 2016