Nikolay Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky. March 31 (April 12), 1839 – October 20 (November 1), 1888. Russian scientist and traveler. Honorary Member of Saint Petersburg Academy of Sciences. Famous for a horse named after him.
Life and Work:
1. A camel equipped for a long journey lays at the foot of the monument to Przhevalsky in Saint Petersburg. However, many people believe that it would be much more appropriate to depict a subspecies of the wild horse on the pedestal, as it was named after the explorer of Central Asia who discovered not only the Przewalski’s horse but also the wild camel, the Tibetan bear and other rare mammals.
2. “Actually, it is necessary to be born as a traveler,” wrote Przhevalsky born as a traveler. And he also concluded from what he had lived and experienced: “Besides, the world is wonderful as you can travel.”
3. The Przhevalskys are a Polish noble family with a surname derived from a verb that means, in particular, “to cross the mountains.” In his case, the surname turned out to be very self-descriptive.
4. In the 19th century, the Przhevalsky family settled in Vitebsk and Smolensk provinces. Retired lieutenant Mikhail Kuzmich Przhevalsky lived in his village of Kimborovo. Here his son Nikolay was born.
5. “I was growing up as a savage in a village, my upbringing was Spartan: I could leave my home in any weather and became addicted to hunting early. At first, I used to fire acorns from a toy gun, then from a bow, and later, from the age of 12, I received my father’s gun.” Hunting remained one of the Przhevalsky’s most favorite hobbies.
6. “In general, I got a lot of rods in my early youth, as I was a great tomboy,” recalled Przhevalsky, “so our village neighbors visiting us used to recommend my mother to send me, with time, to Caucasus, to do military service.” The neighbors were wrong with the geography, but not with the service: after graduating from his Smolensk gymnasium, Nikolay set off to pursue a military career.
7. The graduate of the Nikolaev General Staff Academy was infatuated with wanderlust from his early age. He wrote “The experience of statistical description and military review of Amur Territory” in 1863 although he had not visited this region yet. For this work, he was elected full member of the Imperial Russian Geographical Society in 1864.
8. After graduating from the military academy, Przhevalsky went – some people say he did that voluntarily – to suppress an uprising in Poland. When the rebellion was suppressed, he began teaching history and geography at a military school in Warsaw. His experience resulted in a geography textbook approved by experts.
9. The scientific merits of Nikolay Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky are great and abundant: he explored the Kunlun Mountain system in Northern China and the basins of Lakes Lop Nor and Koko Nor, the sources of the Huang He and Lake Issyk Kul, described the ridges of the Tibetan Plateau and gave them names: Columbus Ridge, Russky, Moskovsky...
10. Przhevalsky called the main peak of Moskovsky Ridge the Kremlin. There is also a ridge that Nikolay Mikhaylovich named Zagadochny. The Russian Geographical Society has corrected the scientist: now this ridge bears the name of Przhevalsky.
11. In his winter travel notes, Nikolay Przhevalsky described his expedition halt. First, he used to warm up tea over a campfire, cook dinner, and then, after eating and having a rest, the author began to warm up... ink over the fire. How else could he record his observations and impressions? “The traveler has no memory,” the scientist bitingly explained the need to keep a diary.
12. Nikolay Przhevalsky was a very lucky card player – mainly thanks to his phenomenal memory. Once he won a huge sum: 12 thousand rubles. On the same day, he threw a deck of cards into the Amur and would never sit down at the card table again. As for the money he had won, he added it to the meager funds allocated for his expedition to Central Asia.
13. When Przhevalsky was returning from his second expedition to Central Asia in 1878 and was at the Zaysan post on the Russian-Chinese border, merchant Tikhonov gave him the skin and skull of a wild horse taken by local Kyrgyz hunters. The inquisitive researcher sent them to Saint Petersburg to the Zoology Museum where it was found out that the skin and the skull had belonged to a species of animals being unknown to science at that time – the subspecies of the wild horse that we now know as the Przewalski’s horse.
14. During his last, fifth expedition, Przhevalsky headed through Samarkand to the Russian-Chinese border, but on his way, he drank river water to contract typhoid fever having the most fatal consequences.
15. “I only ask you to bury me on the shore of Issyk Kul, in a marching expedition dress...”, the scientist asked his companions in arms. And they did it: now, one of the main attractions of the Issyk Kul coast is the grave of Nikolay Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky demonstrated to tourists.
16. The monument over Przhevalsky’s grave depicts an eagle sitting on a nine-meter rock with an unfolded map of Asia in its claws. The sculptor determined the number of steps leading to the foot of the monument after a thorough study of archives – this is the number of Przhevalsky’s expeditions.
17. Apart from the famous horse, several other animals were also named after Przhevalsky. The Przewalski’s wonder gecko, a species of lizards, the Przewalski’s pestle, an animal from the family of hamsters, the Przewalski’s nuthatch, a bird from the family of nuthatches.
18. Przhevalsky created huge botanical collections during his expeditions. And these Nikolay Mikhaylovich’s merits are immortalized: the Przewalski’s golden ray, the Przewalski’s zhuzgun, the Przewalski’s cattail, the Przewalski’s sage, and the Przewalski’s skullcap bear his name.
19. From 1889 and almost for the entire Soviet period, the city of Karakol in Kyrgyzstan where Nikolay Mikhaylovich died was called Przhevalsk. Today its name is Karakol again, but the village at 12 kilometers from it near which the museum and the grave of Przhevalsky are located is called Pristan-Przhevalsk.