Ella Maillart

Ella Maillart, one of the great travelers of the 20th century

Ella Maillart (or Ella K. Maillart; February 20, 1903, Geneva – March 27, 1997, Chandolin) was a French-speaking Swiss adventurer, travel writer and photographer, as well as a sportswoman.

Early life

Ella Maillart had been captain of the Swiss Women's land hockey team and was an international skier. She also competed in the 1924 Summer Olympics as a sailor in the Olympic monotype competition.


From the 1930s onwards she spent years exploring oriental republics of the USSR, as well as other parts of Asia, and published a rich series of books which, just as her photographs, are today considered valuable historical testimonies. Her early books were written in French but later she began to write in English. Turkestan Solo describes a journey in 1932 in Soviet Turkestan. In 1934, the French daily Le Petit Parisien sent her to Manchuria to report on the situation under the Japanese occupation. It was there that she met Peter Fleming, a well-known writer and correspondent of The Times, with whom she would team up to cross China from Peking to Srinagar (3,500 miles), much of the route being through hostile desert regions and steep Himalayan passes. The journey started in February 1935 and took seven months to complete, involving travel by train, on lorries, on foot, horse and camelback. Their objective was to ascertain what was happening in Sinkiang (then also known as Chinese Turkestan) where the Kumul Rebellion had been going on. Maillart and Fleming met the Hui Muslim forces of General Ma Hushan. Ella Maillart later recorded this trek in her book Forbidden Journey, while Peter Fleming's parallel account is found in his News from Tartary. In 1937 Maillart returned to Asia for Le Petit Parisien to report on Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, while in 1939 she undertook a trip from Geneva to Kabul by car, in the company of the Swiss writer, Annemarie Schwarzenbach. The Cruel Way is the title of Maillart's book about this experience, cut short by the outbreak of the second World War.[1]

She spent the war years in the South of India, learning from different teachers about Advaita Vedanta, one of the schools of Hindu philosophy. On her return to Switzerland in 1945, she lived in Geneva and at Chandolin, a mountain village in the Swiss Alps. She continued to ski until late in life and last returned to Tibet in 1986.


Ella Maillart's manuscripts and documents are kept at the Bibliothèque de Genève (Library of the City of Geneva), her photographic work is deposited at the Musée de l'Élysée in Lausanne, and her documentary films (on Afghanistan, Nepal and South India) are part of the collection of the Swiss Film Archive in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Books by Ella Maillart

In French

Videos and films (in French only)

Publications concerning Ella Maillart



  1. Allen, Benedict (2002) The Faber Book of Exploration. London: Faber; p. 392-395

External links

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