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Though born in Denmark, Henning Haslund had the soul of a Mongol nomad. The
foot-loose young man originally journeyed to Outer Mongolia in 1923, ostensibly
to help run an experimental agricultural project. Yet it didn’t take long for
the call of adventure to out-sing the tune of the peasant’s plow. Henning, who
was an excellent horseman, had already explored far afield by the time the farm
failed. He was quickly offered more suitable employment by the Swedish
ex-patriot, Hertog Larsen, who was known as the “Duke of Mongolia.” Larsen
introduced young Henning to Sweden’s most celebrated Central Asian explorer,
Sven Hedin. In the company of these two living legends, Henning spent several
years exploring the Gobi desert and learning the basics of scientific research.
By 1930 Henning had decided to branch out on his own. These plans were delayed
when he was badly wounded in an avalanche and had to return to Europe for
surgery. Following his recovery, Henning lectured in Denmark and Sweden, then
announced that he was returning to Mongolia with state of the art recording
equipment to record the music and oral legends of Inner Asia. The lacquer discs
which Henning ultimately produced now form the crown jewels of a prized ethnic
collection housed at the National Museum in Copenhagen.
Despite a life full of adventure, war and danger, Henning found himself in
Afghanistan in 1947, bound as always for another adventure. Yet the camel bells
of the ultimate caravan were calling the Danish rover. He died as he lived, far
afield. Henning Haslund lies buried in Kabul, close to the grave of that other
Central Asian wanderer, Sir Auriel Stein.
It was the kind of country
that sheltered nomads and harboured renegades. It was wild. It free. It was
Mongolia in the early 1920s, that legendary magnet for foot-loose sons of
the horizon like Henning Haslund.
Descended from a 19th Century Danish explorer, when young Haslund reached
Mongolia in 1923 he discovered a lost equestrian world left largely
untouched since the Middle Ages. Cruel Buriat warlords ruled a vast grass
covered kingdom inhabited by freedom-loving Mongols, tight-lipped Russian
mercenaries and the human riff-raff of a dozen countries. It was a world
where traditions of poetry and hospitality ran side by side with extreme
Into this realm of horsemen rode Henning Haslund. He originally planned to
journey to Mongolia to help other Danes set up an agricultural
cooperative. Yet the dust of the steppes got into his blood. There was
always some reason not to return to the boring safety of Europe, some
horse to ride, some legend to explore. “Mongolian Adventure” is Haslund’s story of these early adventures. It is an epic tale inhabited
by a cast of characters no longer present in this lacklustre world,
shamans who set themselves on fire, rebel leaders who sacked towns, and
wild horsemen whose ancestors conquered the world.
Amply illustrated, it remains a travel classic.
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