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Stars that died 2010

Friday, May 3, 2013

Michel Peissel, French explorer and author, died from a heart attack he was 74.

Michel Georges Francois Peissel was a French ethnologist, explorer and author.[1] He wrote twenty books mostly on his Himalayan and Tibetan expeditions. Michel Peissel was an emeritus member of the Explorers Club and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

(February 11, 1937 – October 7, 2011) 


Raised in England Peissel later studied a year at Oxford University and the Harvard Business School and obtained a Doctorate in Tibetan Ethnology from the Sorbonne, Paris.

First journey

In 1958, at the age of 21 — stranded on the coast of Quintana Roo, Mexico,— he walked 200 miles down the coast to Belize discovering, on the way, 14 yet unrecorded Mayan archeological sites. This journey changed his life, leaving the Harvard Business School after a year, he decided to study ethnology and explore the last unknown regions of Tibet and the Himalayas.

Himalayan expeditions

Himalayan territories crossed by Michel Peissel
To study the Sherpas of Everest: In 1959, Peissel organised his first Himalayan expedition out of Harvard to study the Sherpas of the Everest district.
To Mustang: In 1964 he set out across the Himalayas to explore Mustang, a minute Tibetan speaking kingdom whose identity had escaped the attention of both scholars and the general public. His written account of the expedition, Mustang: A Lost Tibetan Kingdom, an international best seller, was published in 1967.
To Bhutan, Zanskar, and many other destinations: The Mustang expedition was followed by 28 others to the remotest regions of the Tibetan speaking world. In 1968 he became one of the first foreigners to cross Bhutan and study its little known Eastern districts. He then performed the first detailed study of the Kingdom of Zanskar in Kashmir, later studying the Minaro (Dards) of Baltistan and Ladakh while attempting to locate precisely the "land of the gold digging ants" of Herodotus.
By Hovercraft: In 1973, he crossed the Himalayas by hovercraft, between Mt. Annapurna and Mt. Dhaulaghiri. Later he travelled by hovercraft up the Ganges, in India, and also down the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, in Mexico, after having invented and patented the first single fan hovercraft. (patent). He enjoyed saying he had "pioneered the sport of shooting up rapids".
To Tsari: In 1986 he became one of the very first foreigners to penetrate Tsari and the gorges of the Brahmaputra in tropical Tibet.
To the source of the Mekong: In 1994 he led an expedition to locate the elusive source of the Mekong River following the Dza Nak (the black Mekong, the historical main branch of the river) thus believing to discover the historical source of Asia's third longest river. Ten years later a Sinojapanese expedition Chinese proved that the geographical source (the farthest from the sea) lies at the headwaters of the white Mekong, Dza Kar, which satellite photos show to be 4500 meters longer than what Peissel called the historical branch. Thus like the Mississippi, the Yellow river and countless other rivers the Mekong is considered to have a geographical source and a historical source.
To find archaic breeds of horse: In 1995 subsequent to previous investigations and research on Tibetan breeds of horses he organised an expedition with the veterinary scholar Dr Ignasi Casas which led to the identification of a yet unknown archaic breed of horses; the Riwoche horse. (See note below.)

From Yucatan to Belize

In 1987 in relation with Mexican archeologists Peissel built a giant sea going Mayan dugout canoe and paddled and sailed 500 miles down the Yucatan coast and that of Belize to demonstrate the role of maritime commerce by the Chontal Itzas in the 10th century collapse of the Mayan lowland cities.

In the wake of the Varangians

In 1988, having built a replica of a Viking long boat, Peissel and a crew of six rowed and sailed up the river Dvina and down the Dnieper 2400 km across the Soviet Union, from the Baltic to the Black Sea; an expedition meant to recreate that of the Varangians, the founding fathers of the Russian monarchy in the 8th century.

Marriages and children

Michel Peissel was married three times and has five children, Olivier Peissel and Jocelyn Peissel, from his marriage to Marie-Claire de Montaignac, Octavia Peissel and Morgan Peissel, from his marriage to Mildred (Missy) Allen and Valentin Peissel from his Marriage to Roselyne LeBris


  • "The Lost World of Quintana Roo". New York E.P. Dutton,1962 and Hodder and Stoughton,1964
  • "Tiger for Breakfast:the story of Boris of Katmandu": E.P. Dutton, 1966 and Hodder and Stoughton 1967
  • "Mustang a Lost Tibetan Kingdom".New York: E.P. Dutton 1967 and London Collins-Harvill,1968
  • "The Cavaliers of Kham, the secret war in Tibet" London: Heinemann 1972, and Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1973
  • "The Great Himalayan Passage" Collins 1974, and Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1975
  • "Himalaya, continent Secret" Paris, Flammarion 1975
  • "Les Portes de l'Or" Paris, Robert Laffont 1978
  • "Zanskar the Hidden Kingdom". New York E.P. Dutton 1979 and London: Collins-Harvill 1980
  • "The Ant's Gold, discovering the Greek Eldorado" London: Collins-Harvill 1984
  • "Royaumes de l'Himalaya". Paris: Bordas & Fils 1986
  • "Itza, le mystere du Naufrage Maya". Paris: Robert Laffont 1989
  • "La Route de l'Ambre". Paris: Robert Laffont 1992
  • "The Last Barbarians, the discovery of the source of the Mekong". New York: Henry Holt & Company 1997, and London Souvenir Press 1998
  • "Le Dernier Horizon". Paris: Robert Laffont 2001
  • "Tibet, the Secret Continent". London Cassell Illustrated, 2002, and New York: St Martin's Press 2003
  • "Tibetan Pilgrimage" New York: Abrams 2005


Peissel has produced, directed or initiated 22 documentary films on his expeditions. 4 part series in 1980 by the BBC on "Zanskar, the Last Place on Earth" Smithsonian exploration special for the Arts and Entertainment Channel on the source of the Mekong Other films and videos are visible on the French National Archives website, (INA)

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