After the close of the Turko-Russian War (1877-1878) I undertook a series of extended journeys through the Orient.  Having visited all points of interest in the Balkan Peninsula, I crossed the Caucasian Mountains into Central Asia and Persia, and finally, in 1887, made an excursion into India, the most admired country of the dreams of my childhood.

            The first object of this journey was to study the customs and habits of the inhabitants of India amid their own surroundings, as well as the grand, mysterious archaeology and the colossal, majestic nature of the country.  Wandering without any settled course from one locality to another, I at last came to mountainous Afghanistan, whence I reached India through the picturesque passes of Bolan and Guernai.  I then followed the Indus to Rawal-Pindi, traveled through the Punjab – the country of five rivers – visited the Golden Temple of Amritsir, the tomb of Randjid Singh, King of the Punjab, near Lahore, and proceeded toward Kashmir, the “vale of eternal happiness.”  There I began my peregrinations as fancy or curiosity guided or dictated until I reached Ladak, where I intended to make a somewhat lengthy stay before returning to Russia through Eastern Turkestan and Karakorum.

            In the course of one of my visits to a Buddhist convent, I learned from the chief Lama that there existed very ancient memoirs, treating the life of Christ and of the nations of the Occident, in the archives of Lassa, and that a few of the larger monasteries possessed copies and translations of these precious chronicles.

            There being little probability of my early return to this country, I resolved to delay my departure for Europe, and verify these assertions by seeing some of these copies, even though I were obliged to invade every convent as far as Lassa – a journey far less perilous and difficult to accomplish than we are usually led to believe.  Besides this, I was so well accustomed to the dangers encountered by the traveler in those regions that they no longer possessed any terrors for me.

            During my sojourn in Leh, the capital of Ladak, I visited Himis, a large convent in the outskirts of the city, where I was informed by the Lama that the monastic libraries contained a few copies of the manuscript in question.

            That I might not arouse the suspicions of the authorities in regard to the object of my visit to the convent, and raise no obstacles to a subsequent journey into Thibet – as a Russian – on my return to Leh I announced my immediate departure for India, and again left the capital of Ladak.

            An unfortunate accident, whereby my leg was fractured, furnished me with a totally unexpected pretext to enter the monastery, where I received excellent care and nursing; and took advantage of my short stay among these monks to obtain the privilege of seeing the manuscripts relating to Christ.  With the aid of my interpreter, who translated from the Thibetan tongue, I carefully transcribed the verses as they were read by the Lama.

            Entertaining no doubt of the authenticity of this narrative, written with the utmost precision by Brahmin historians and Buddhists of India and Nepal, my intention was to publish the translation on my return to Europe.  With this object in view, I addressed myself to several well-known ecclesiastics, requesting them to revise my notes and tell me what they thought of the matter.

            Monsignor Platon, the celebrated archbishop of Kiev, believed my discovery to be of great importance, but he earnestly tried to dissuade me from giving the memoirs publicity, declaring it would be against my own interests to do so.

            Why?  This the venerable prelate refused to explain.  Our conversation, however, having taken place in Russia where censorship would have placed its veto on a work of this kind, I determined to wait.

            A year later I chanced to be in Rome.  Here I submitted the manuscript to a cardinal standing high in the estimation of the Holy Father.

            “Why should you print this?” he said, didactically; “nobody will attach much importance to it, and you will create numberless enemies thereby.  You are still young, however.  If you need money, I can obtain some compensation for these notes, enough to remunerate you for your loss of time and expenditure.”  Naturally enough, I refused the offer.

            In Paris I laid my project before Cardinal Rotelli, whom I had met in Constantinople.  He also opposed the publication of my work, under the pretext it would be premature.  “The church,” he added, “suffers too deeply from this new current of atheistic ideas, and you would only furnish new food to the calumniators and detractors of the evangelical doctrine.  I tell you this in the interest of all the Christian churches.”

            I then called on M. Jules Simon, who found my communication most interesting and advised me to consult M. Renan in regard to the best means of publishing these memoirs.

            The very next day I found myself seated in the study of the great philosopher.  At the end of the interview M. Renan proposed that I should entrust him with the memoirs in question, that he might make a report on them to the Academy.  This proposition, as the reader will understand, was most seductive and flattering.  Yet I took away the work with me, saying I wished to revise it once more – the fact being that I feared if I accepted this association I would only receive the bare honor of discovering the chronicles, while the illustrious author of “The Life of Jesus” would reap the glory of the publication and of the commentaries.  Believing myself sufficiently prepared to publish the narrative by adding my own notes, I finally declined the courteous offer made to me.  That I might not, however, wound the feelings of the great master, whom I deeply respected, I resolved to await his death, which could not be far off, judging from his feebleness.  Soon after the death of M. Renan, I wrote to M. Jules Simon, and again sought his advice.  His reply was that I should judge for myself of the expediency of giving publicity to the memoirs.

            I therefore prepared my notes and now publish them, reserving the right to attest the authenticity of these chronicles.  In my commentaries I carefully develop the arguments which prove the good faith and sincerity of the Buddhist compilers.  It only remains for me to add that before criticizing my work scientific societies can, without much expense, organize an expedition whose mission it will be to study these manuscripts in the locality in which they are to be found, and thus verify their historical value.

Nicolai Notovitch

Note:  In the course of my travels I took many curious photographs, but when I came to examine the negatives on my return from India I was dismayed to find that they were absolutely destroyed.


Map of Ladak


The Monastery at Himis

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Chapter One