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The Conquest of Tibet

To get to Tibet - a sacred land for all followers of Buddhism and people seeking spiritual perfection - today almost anyone can. But it was not always so

The Conquest of Tibet

Since the end of the XNUMXth century, the authorities of Tibet have jealously guarded the borders of the hermit country from foreigners - "pilins". At the same time, the glory of the discoverers and first photographers of Lhasa belongs to Russian scientist-travelers.

Prize in the "Great Game"

In the late XIX - early XX century, Tibet became the object of the "Big Game". The two great empires, the Russian and the British, leading fierce rivalries for influence over Asia among themselves, at this time make the first attempts to get at least some information about Tibet so that it will cease to be for the whole world a blank spot on the map. Both England and Russia sought the least protected western outskirts of China. The most desirable piece for the colonialists was precisely Tibet, a highland in the center of Asia at an altitude of 4800 m, from where five great Asian rivers begin: the Indus, the Brahmaputra, the Mekong, the Yangtze, the Yellow River. But most important for them was the status of Tibet as the spiritual center of all Buddhists. Anyone who would have achieved control over the capital of Tibet would receive the strongest weapon: the subordination of Lhasa could be compared in importance with the control of Rome or Mecca. But to achieve this was very difficult.

In 1860– 1880, the British authorities began to send specially trained “pandit” scouts to Tibet from the territory of India. Their mission was quite dangerous: at any moment local authorities could declassify and execute them. Practically no information has been preserved on the campaigns of the "pandits". But Russian researchers in Tibet managed to collect a lot of interesting data.

Hike Przewalski

Russia made several attempts to unravel and conquer Tibet. The first to penetrate into the inaccessible region was tried by the great Russian traveler Nikolai Przhevalsky (1839-1888). Nikolai Mikhailovich, who associates with us, above all, with the wild horse he discovered, made four trips through the deserts of Central Asia. 11 of the 50 years of his life he spent on the road. But Przewalski was moved not only by curiosity and the thirst for discovery. All this time he was in military service, having served in the end to the rank of Major-General of the General Staff of the Russian Army. The purpose of his expeditions, whose participants were mostly military, was to find the most convenient ways for the transfer of troops to China. During the third tour of Asia (1871-1873), Przewalski decided to enter for this to Tibet. Despite the objections of the Tibetan government, the expedition managed to get to the territory of the country. But the closer the travelers came to the capital, the more heated the situation was. Local population to this attempt of strangers and gentiles to enter the sacred places reacted extremely hostile, the clergy were indignant. Therefore, after passing the Tan-La Pass and being only 300 km from Lhasa, Przhevalsky was forced to turn back.

"Protected by God"

The first Russian researcher, who still managed to reach the heart of Tibet, was the Buryat scientist and Orientalist Gombozhab Tsebikovich Tsybikov (1873-1930).

Tsybikov was born in Transbaikalia in the Buryat village of Urda-Aga. His father was considered a very literate person among the villagers because he owned the Old Mongol and Tibetan scripts. Parents gave Tsibikov a Tibetan name - Gombozhab - "Protected by God." Father Gombozhaba, when the boy was five years old, taught him to read and write Mongolian, and two years later he gave to the parish school in Agin. After school, Tsybikov studied at the Chita Gymnasium, and then entered the University of Tomsk at a very prestigious medical faculty. But a couple of years later he dropped medicine for the sake of the East Faculty of St. Petersburg University. Despite the fact that due to refusal to accept Orthodoxy he was deprived of scholarships, he graduated from the university brilliantly - with a gold medal and a first degree diploma. Almost immediately after the university Tsybikov went to Tibet. This risky expedition was overseen by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In Lhasa, Tsybikov went under the guise of a pilgrim, joining a group of believers - the Buryats and Mongols, not devoting any of them to his research plans. The trip lasted from 1899 to 1902 year. In Tibet, he spent exactly 888 days, most of the time in Lhasa and surrounding monasteries.

The beginning of a difficult journey

The route of the trip was carefully planned, and all the details were thought out, which was the key to the success of the expedition. On a campaign Tsybikov saw off countrymen. It was in his native village of Urda-Aga that a group of pilgrims gathered and prepared a caravan for a trip to distant Lhasa. The fires burned, stupas rattled, multicolored pieces of cloth flashed. Elderly fellow villagers sewed clothes for the participants of the Tsybikov campaign, drank dried meat, cooked salamat-flour and butter, and saddled the horses. The gatherings in Lhasa turned into a big holiday. The youth sang songs and danced around the fires. At dawn the caravan set off.

After many days of travel, Tsybikov will write in his diary: "22 January, camels were loaded around midnight and at dawn they were already passing by the city of Xining Fu, called the Mongols of Salin. Then they turned onto the river Gui, rose about seventy versts and, taking the road to the right, crossed a small hill. From the top of this pass we have a view of the Gumbum Monastery, which is about twenty versts from Zinin-Fu. Not having friends in the monastery, I was perplexed, where to stay, but immediately at the entrance to the monastery we met a young Buryat lama who advised us to stay at the house of the soothsayer Lon-bo-chojozhon. Here I was given a good reception and took a small room where I lived from 22 January to 6 February and from 28 February to the very day of 25 1900 departure to Tibet. " Preserved memories that one Tibetan soothsayer, perhaps it was Lon-bo-choychzhon, predicted Tsybikov that he would pass the path of life, full of labor, greatness and honor. And his death will be just as honorable: from his skull they will make a sacred vessel - Gabala. Later, after the death of the professor, many will remember this prophecy.

"Oh curse, hide!"

While the expedition continued, Tsybikov had to carefully conceal the true purpose of his journey to Lhasa. Together with all he sorted the rosary, bathed in the sacred lakes, read prayers. Gained his book "Lam-rim-than-by" ("Steps to the path to bliss"), between the lines of which, in the guise of pious notations, he inscribed travel notes. The scientist also never for a moment parted with a large prayer mill, into which the Russian Geographical Society specially mounted a camera for him. Through the system of holes, Tsybikov imperceptibly photographs streets and shrines. The camera had to be hidden, "so as not to excite different meanings," not only from Tibetans, but also from fellow pilgrims. Indeed, the risk to which Tsybikov voluntarily subjected himself was great. He could easily pay with his life for his "sorcerous" activities - "catching people in a black box."

"O curse, hide! - I wrote down somehow in a difficult moment in the diary of Tsybikov. - Today I spent about one hour outside the city, in order to remove the monastery of Zhang-zzai (Gyanjie). To the ditch where I was sitting, they would come for water, and some would wash their wool. In addition, on the way there and there were people. I sat down by the high bank of the ditch, from where I took just one picture».

Still, Tsybikov managed to photograph Tibet, mark accurate route data in his diaries, remove plans and drawings of buildings, copy inscriptions on ancient monuments, measure the air temperature in Lhasa. In his diary Tsybikov reflected everything that could help in the future other travelers to Tibet. Records indicate the difficulties that the researcher had to endure in the name of science. Travelers suffered from thirst and could hardly endure mountain sickness "sur" - oxygen starvation, which began at high passes. They were tortured by sandy winds, muddy mud and mosquitoes. To fill the lack of food, often had to hunt. Servants and "hookers" hired by the traveler, repeatedly threw it with cargo. The road was fraught with other dangers: pilgrims were often attacked by robbers. To protect themselves, believers preferred to travel along the roads of Tibet in numerous groups. Some had weapons with them. Tsybikova and his associates had to spend almost three months in the monasteries of Gumbum and Labran, waiting for an opportunity to get to Lhasa. Finally, having joined the mass march of pilgrims from Mongolia, who hurried to a festive prayer service to the capital of Tibet, the researcher managed to set off on a journey.

Secular person at the "spiritual checkpoint"

After many days, the caravan, having crossed the ridge of Bum-tsei (One hundred thousand peaks), arrived in Nakchu-tonra. Despite its modest appearance, in fact, this small nondescript monastery served as a kind of "spiritual checkpoint" Lhasa. Here they carefully surveyed the pilgrims, identified among them the Gentiles and atheists and sent them back - in effect, to the mercy of the robbers.

During a long journey among the pilgrims, a rumor arose that Gombozhab Tsybikov is not a real pilgrim at all, and goes to Lhasa not for a prayer service, but for some other purpose. "Secular man with Russian manners" - so spoke of Tsybikov his companions. Therefore, when the scientist arrived in Nakchu-tsonra, he was offered to personally come to his "holiness" hambo-lama - for a kind of interview. The scourging whips that hung at the door of the house of the ruler of Nakchu-tsonra did not have any openness. Fortunately, along with Tsybikov, the Buryat lama Chonjor Ayushnev went to the hambo-lama, and it did not come to the lashes. Knowing all the subtleties of Tibetan etiquette, Choinjor produced the best impression on the hambo-lama, and he decided to release Tsybikov and his intercessor in peace and even allowed them to visit the holy of holies of Tibet, the city of Lhasa.

Lhasa, in the translation of the “Land of the Celestials”, made a strong impression on Tsybikov. The style of his diary entries, quite restrained throughout the entire journey, from this moment on becomes bright and imaginative. "It seems that the walls of the palace of the Dalai Lama grow straight from the mountains", - he writes. The traveler inspects the city and its temples, gets acquainted with the life of the Lhas and the customs accepted in the monasteries. In the "Land of the Celestials", it turns out, there are many beggars. The streets are crooked and narrow, and the houses of ordinary people are made of raw bricks. Having reached the main shrine of Lhasa, - the Temple of the Great Zhu - Tsybikov carefully studies the process of worship and the rites that accompany the prayers. It turns out that the prayers of Big Zhu must necessarily be supported by the offering of coins, butter or gold bullion. The underprivileged and those who condemn such avarice of the saints pray "knucklebelt": they crawl to the statues of Zhu, from afar battling off their obeisances. Such obeisances, if there is nothing in your pocket, one must make one hundred thousand.


A very fascinating travel diary of Tsybikov described a visit to the Dalai Lama at his residence Potala. "On 4 February 1901, I was worshiped by the Dalai Lama as" ordinary mantis ". The face of "his Holiness" is not cheap: eight thousand silver lanas are to be contributed to the treasury of Potala. Golden stupas with ashes of the Dalai Lamas, centuries-old smell of incense and lamp-oil in the Potala labyrinths. A long and tedious wait in the waiting room. At last a heavy forged door opens, leading to a half-dark room. Directly opposite the door was a high throne facing the door, on which the Dalai Lama sat in the eastern, wrapped in a yellow mantle ... On either side of the throne stood a retinue of four or five people, among whom were two bodyguards selected from The tallest and most representative lamas ... Just before we entered the door, a hurry began, the lamas standing here forced us to move forward as soon as possible, and if someone looked away or otherwise hesitated, they were mercilessly pushed ".

The ceremony of worship was somewhat crumpled. Tsybikov was at the sight of many attentive eyes. Most likely, the Dalai Lama managed to report that "a secular man with Russian manners" is circling around Potala, drawing something, writing down, looking at Potala through the prayer mill. But everything ended quite unexpectedly, both for Tsybikov himself and for all those present. “Pilgrims beat bows in front of the Dalai Lama’s throne, handing khadaki - gift handkerchiefs. - writes Tsybikov. “After all the offerings, the Dalai Lama accepted the Hadak and blessed me with the application of his right hand to my crown. At this time he was given a string of silk fabric ribbon, he tied a knot and, blowing on it, laid it on my neck. Such a string with a knot is called in Mongolian zangja, and in Tibetan sun-dud. This guard knot, consecrated by the whiff after reading a special spell, is considered a talisman guarding against unhappiness. I stepped aside; he only blessed my comrades in the above-mentioned way. ”

After visiting Potala, Tsybikov became even more zealous in photographing and recording. The spies somewhat subsided; It must have been the impression of the Dalai Lama's security talisman. In monasteries, the scientist bought ancient Buddhist books, which had accumulated several bales. To protect ancient manuscripts from rain, wind and other road accidents, the researcher sewed them into damp cowhide. For particularly valuable books, he bought travel trunks, upholstered in silver and iron. Now the chests are in the home of Tsybikov, in the Aginsk Museum of Local History. There are his clothes and personal belongings. Books taken from Tibet became the property of scientific libraries, and the whole world saw unique images of Lhasa.

Portraits of Tibet

Photographing at the turn of the 20th century was a long and laborious process. The cumbersome camera, the long exposure and the imperfection of the lens - all this left its imprint on the pictures of Gombozhab Tsybikov. Almost all of his photos are static, on rare of them you can see people. Especially valuable exceptions are cards that recorded the procession on one of the Lhasa streets during the "Tsog Chod" holiday, a group of people in front of the main city gate "Bar Choden" and Tibetan women in festive outfits. Mostly the scientist photographed the architecture. He managed to capture the winter and summer palaces of the Dalai Lama (Potala and Norbulingku), the palace of Tibetan kings Gadan-Kansar, the famous tiled "Turquoise bridge" Yutog-sampa, as well as the main Tibetan monasteries - in Lhasa and other places in Central Tibet. In these pictures, you can see Tibet as it was in the early twentieth century, during the period of independent existence of the state. Particularly interesting photos are because many buildings have not survived to this day. Some of the shrines and monuments were destroyed or rebuilt during the Tibetan-Chinese war of 1912, others were destroyed by the "cultural revolution" of 1960-1970-x and the subsequent period of the socialist reconstruction of Tibet.

A unique photo session Tsybikova first published in 1905 the National Geographic magazine. The publication, which was on the verge of bankruptcy, risked devoting a whole series of "turns" to "pictures". This was done due to lack of text materials, but for the first time it brought success to the magazine and turned it into a popular brand. The publication also glorified Tsybikova and showed the whole world a mysterious "Land of the Celestials".

Expedition results

In May 1903, Tsybikov read a lecture "On Central Tibet" in the premises of the Russian Geographical Society with a demonstration of 32 transparencies. The lecture and display of the "species" of Tibet and Lhasa produced a real sensation in the scientific world. But due to the aggravated Anglo-Russian rivalry in Asia, Tibet at that time attracted the close attention not only of scientists but also of politicians. It took just over a month, and the vice-king of India, Lord Curzon, ordered the dispatch of an English trade and diplomatic mission to Tibet under Francis Yanghazbend, which later became a full-scale military expedition.

Tsybikov, before all, did what he could not do for many - he opened Lhasa, for which he was awarded the highest award of the Russian Geographical Society - the Przewalski Prize and the gold medal "For the brilliant results of the trip to Lhasa". The result of his trip was the fundamental works on the history and culture of Tibet, as well as on the grammar of the Mongolian and Tibetan languages. Tsybikov's main work "Buddhist pilgrim at the shrines of Tibet", an amazing collection of knowledge about the life of Tibet, was published in Petrograd in 1918 year.

The prophecy is coming true

Gombozhab Tsybikov, thanks to his expeditions and scientific works, became famous all over the world. His death also made a lot of noise. The scientist died in the village of Aginskoye in the fall of 1930 in a Buryat felt yurt, which he ordered to be erected shortly before his death. Tsybikov was buried according to the old custom, on the surface of the earth. His body was swaddled with pieces of cloth and laid on wooden stands. Sorrow and grief bound the village. On the day after the funeral, the relatives saw that the body was beheaded ... The blame for the abduction was, according to the spirit of the times, placed on the Buddhist clergy. Then I remembered the prophecy of a Tibetan monk, which Tsybikov recorded during his trip to Lhasa. It was rumored that the Agin lamas actually made a ritual bowl of gabala from the professor's skull and transported it to Lhasa, thereby trying to gain the favor of the Dalai Lama. Perhaps, somewhere in Tibet, a particle of his remains is now stored, in this "Land of Celestials", to which the researcher was so eager.

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