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Find your inner Sven

  • Posted by howies
  • 1 December 2009


Find your inner Sven

Find your inner Sven
The Swedes make great explorers. Their long dark winters might well be the reason. Växjö in the south got just 22 minutes of sunlight a couple of Decembers back. Phew.

Enough to make even die-hards pack their bags.

One of Sweden’s finest explorers was Sven Hedin. Back in the early 1900s he discovered the Trans Himalayan mountain range (crossing it eight times, once disguised as a Buddhist pilgrim), unearthed parts of the Great Wall of China and located the sources of Asia’s biggest rivers.

He was also an accomplished photographer, geographer and illustrator – meticulously recording everything from mountain heights to native plant strains and animal species. On one expedition he even measured the dimensions of all his camels.

Even today his notes (there are, appropriately, mountains of them) help interpret satellite images of central Asia. But his motivation wasn’t cash or fame (although in 1977 Volkswagen did name a camper van after him). 

It was that nobody had ever set eyes on these places before. The vast blank spaces on the map marked ‘unexplored’ were just waiting to be filled-in. 

So what’s left for the Sven Hedins of tomorrow? Well, and this is oddly comforting, there’s actually quite a bit. Vast African deserts, Congolese jungles and swamps, polar islands and plenty of unclimbed mountains – Tibet’s Gangkhar Puensum possibly being the highest. 

So if this winter starts getting you down, maybe you should go and do a bit of exploring yourself.

Chris Boddy

Illustration: Alex Robbins