Fakes, Delusions, or the Real Thing? Albert Grünwedel’s Maps of Shambhala

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Sam van Schaik



The explorer Albert Grünwedel’s Tibetan maps of Shambhala are a controversial and contested part of the history of the exploration of the Silk Routes. In the early 1900s Albert Grünwedel collected material related to archaeological sites at Kucha and Turfan including several Tibetan maps of the region, which he published in 1920 in the book Alt-Kutscha. Soon after publication, doubts were raised about the authenticity of the maps, which presented Kucha and Qocho in terms of the mythical realm of Shambhala, and they are still widely considered to be either fabrications or delusions. Judging from internal references to historical figures of the late twelfth century, the maps may derive from sources as early as the thirteenth century, and can be linked to an increasing interest in the Kālacakra tantra and the realm of Shambhala described therein. I conclude that the Alt-Kutscha maps should not be regarded as fakes, nor as historically descriptive maps, but as guides for pilgrims that reimagined these sites in terms of the sacred geography of tantric Buddhism, with particular reference to the mythology of Shambhala.

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