Among the various travelogues, Hiuen Tsiang's Si-yu-ki or Records of the Western World, is regarded to be the most valuable source-book for the study of ancient Indian history. Si-yu-ki is not merely a travel-diary recording Hiuen Tsing's visit to various places in India and the places en route, but is also an account of the conditions of India during the seventh century. This journey was undertaken by Hiuen Tsiang primarily with a view to visiting the Buddhist places of pilgrimage and to seek answers to the questions agitating his mind. He was inspired in this by the recollection of similar journeys undertaken centuries ago by his predecessors, Fa-hien, Sung Yun and many others.
Born at Loyang in the year 600, Hiuen Tsiang set out on this journey to the regions west of China and to India at the age of twentynine (629) from Chang' an in West China. Travelling by the northern route which took him to Turfan, Kara Shahr, Lake Issyk Kul, Tashkent, Samarkand, Balkh and Bamiyan, he arrived in the Kingdom of Gandhara towards the end of the year 630. Therefrom he proceeded to India and practically traversed the entire country going as far south as Kanchi and Nasik, Valabhi and Multan in the west. During his sojourn he spent nearly eight years, from 635 to 643, in Harsha's dominions and stayed for about fifteen months at Nalanda, learning the Yogachara doctrine which he afterwards enunciated in a book on his return to his country. Early in 645 he reached China, returning by the southern route passing through Kashgar, Yarkand, Khotan and Lop-nor.
On his return to China, where he was received with great honour and bestowed the title Master of the Law, he took to the work of compiling an account of his travels.
In the present volume, Samuel Beal has included, for the sake to completeness, Travels of Fa-hian or Fo-Kwo-ki. The mission of Sung-Yun and Hwei-Sang and the preface to the Si-yu-ki by Chang Yueh.