Afanasy Nikitin was a Russian merchant from Tver and the first European who travelled to India between 1466 and 1475 and left a journal of his notes known as The Journey beyond the Three Seas. His notes were found by N.M. Karamzin, an outstanding Russian historian of the beginning of the 19th century.
Afanasy Nikitin lived in the 15th century; however, the precise dates of his birth and death are unknown. On the grounds of the data containing in the journal and a short note which was usually placed in chronicles before Afanasy Nikitin`s writings experts concluded that in 1466 Afanasy started his trip to Shemakha with the Russian ambassador Vasily Papin and a trade expedition. They took the direction down the Volga River and reached the city of Astrakhan, where one of their ships was captured by robbers, and the other one wrecked in a storm near the Caspian Sea. Notwithstanding the loss of the ships and goods, Afanasy Nikitin continued the journey. He travelled by land to Derbent, got to Persia, and later reached India by sea. In India the traveller spent three years and in 1472 went back to Russia through the Turkish lands and the Black Sea, and died on his way to Smolensk. Some merchants delivered his notes to Moscow and later the writings were included to chronicles.
The Persian lands were described rather briefly, which might mean that Russian merchants were well-aware of that country and it was of no interest to the traveller. The first impressions about India Afanasy Nikitin got in Chaul: half-naked people, women with their heads uncovered, odd hairstyles – many seemed unusual to the Russian traveller. He was incredibly shocked at the local tradition to commit dead people’s bodies to fire instead of committing them to earth. Nikitin had travelled across the whole India, including the sacred city of Parvat, and documented the local religious customs and traditions, peculiarities of the Indian market and trade. Although his narrations are simple and cannot boast the literary style that was appreciated in ancient Russia, the simplicity of his writings makes them enchanting.
It is important to mention that Afanasy Nikitin committed his journey 25 years before Vasco da Gama explored a way to India. Unlike many explorers who travelled overseas, Nikitin never gave picturesque and emotive descriptions of exotic nature, local myths and rumours. He always described only what he witnessed and saw personally, and narrated in a simple reserved language. Without planning his trip, Nikitin turned to be the first European who gave a valuable description of the medieval India and proved that in the second half of the 15 century, before the Portuguese exploration of India, a non-wealthy but goal-seeking person could commit a journey there.
The fate of the earliest copies of the chronicles makes it evident that Nikitin`s contemporaries expressed considerable interest in the traveller’s diaries. It could be also concluded that the amazing adventures of the Russian merchant were quite famous in his epoch.