A travel and adventure classic. South central Asia, the focus of the world’s attention in 2003, received an earlier share of it in the 1870s. For centuries travelers’ tales and the mention of such exotic names as Samarcand, Tashkent and Bokhara had aroused interest and fired imaginations. To all this was added rumor in 1875 that British interests in India were threatened by Russian expansionism. In particular, it was believed that Russian forces were massing in the recently occupied city of Khiva, nowadays in Uzbekistan, in preparation for an invasion of India.
A situation like this fitted perfectly the kind of “investigative reporting” adventures that Frederick Burnaby craved. In 1876, this 33-year-old captain in the British army took leave of absence, and set out for Khiva. The journey involved a ride of over one thousand miles in well below freezing conditions across steppes and wastelands.
On his return, Burnaby wrote “A Ride to Khiva” and it instantly became a best seller. A well-educated man, proficient in many languages, and a keen observer of all he encountered, his account still ranks as one of the great adventure classics of literature.
I am grateful to the neighbor who lent me this book, and can report that reading it has provided many hours of fascination. Burnaby died ten years after writing this book, supposedly during a massacre in the Sudan. Keen Internet browsers might find reference to a recent revelation that throws doubt upon the truth of the official account of his death.