The action of the play unfolds presumably in 1458. Athanasius Nikitin, a merchant, embarks on a voyage from Tver, in which he was born and raised, to the land of Shirvan (located on the territory of today’s Azerbaijan). Nikitin has travel certificates signed by Archbishop Gennady of Tver and Grand Duke Mikhail Borisovich. Athanasius and other merchants keep their way along the Volga, occupying two ships together. Their ships pass by the Klyazminsky Monastery, Uglich, and arrive to Kostroma. Kostroma in those days belonged to the lands of Ivan III, whose governor allows the courts to proceed further.
Athanasius was going to join the ambassador of the Grand Duke in Shirvan, Vasily Panin, but the ship Panina already descended down the Volga. Nikitin decides to wait for the ambassador of the Shirvanshah of Tatar named Khasan-bek, who carries ninety-nine gyrfalcones from Grand Duke Ivan. In anticipation of Hassan-bey, Nikitin spends a couple of weeks, and then continues his journey,
together with the ambassador.
The path of Athanasius is not a distant one, along the way he writes notes on his “walking over the three seas”. In the Persian “sea” is called “dar’ya”, so the records are divided into Daria Khvalisskaya, which means the first sea – Derbent (it is Caspian), the Gundustan donation, meaning the second – the Indian Sea, and the Istanbul gift, that is, the Black Sea – the third.
Kazan caravan ships passed safely. Horde and Uslan, Saray and Berezan also passed unhindered. Once the merchants receive a warning that the Tatars are waiting for the caravan in ambush. Ambassador Hasan-bek thanked the informants with gifts so that they helped to lead the caravan by a safe road. However, the gifts received did not prevent the infidels from informing the Tatars of the approach of the ships that overtook the caravan on the shallows of the Volga mouth in Bogun. The ensuing skirmish brought losses to both sides. The Tatars plundered a ship laden with Nikitin’s merchandise, like a second vessel, bigger, which ran aground
in the sea, and four Russians from its side found themselves in the Tatar captivity. Others were released empty-handed and in tears into the open sea, and, having gone ashore, immediately fell into captivity.
On the arrival of Derbent, Afanasy Nikitin appealed for help, to the ambassadors Vasily Panin, who safely reached the Caspian, and Khasan-bey. He asks them to intercede for the captured Russians and help to return the cargo. Long efforts lead to the fact that people are released, but the goods can not be returned, because the one coming from the sea is considered the property of the one who owns the coast. The merchants had to leave with nothing.
People turned out to be somewhere – they went alone to seek work in Baku, others stayed in Shemakha. Nikitin decides to go to Derbent, after him – to Baku, and from there – over the sea, to Chapakur, where he remains for six months. From Chapakura, he is on his way to Sary, where he spends a month, he lives for another month in Amal. About Ray, Athanasius says that the descendants of Muhammad, who imposed a curse that destroyed seventy cities, folded their heads here. Another month Nikitin lives in Kashan, another one – in the Ride, which says that here “the cattle are fed home dates.” Many cities in his records remain unnamed. Athanasius travels by sea to Ormuz, to the island, where it is so hot that it can probably be burned, here he first observes the ebb with his own eyes. A month later he sails on an Indian ship that does not have an upper deck, called “
Nikitin is interested in everything related to trade and monitors the state of the market. He is disappointed that, although he and he were told that there are different goods, but in reality it was not so: “there is nothing for our land”. With him to the “Indian land” Nikitin brings a horse, bought for a hundred rubles, however, this horse is taken away from him by the khan. Khan explains this by saying that Athanasius is Rusyn, and not a Muslim, and the horse is supposed to have only a Muslim. He says that he is ready to return Athanasius’s horse in the event that he takes Islam in the next four days. The term fell on the Assumption Post – Spasov day, but on the eve of the city treasurer Muhamed appeared, like a Horosanian – from those places, “where does the sun come from”, who stood up for Nikitin and returned the horse to the Russian merchant. Athanasius calls this “a miracle of the Lord,
Once in Bidar, Athanasius again shows an interest in the commodity; he writes about what is sold for sale: stallions, cloth, silk, various goods for black slaves, all – “Gundustan”. Of food – only vegetables, and “for our land” here, too, there is nothing.
Athanasius goes into describing the customs and customs of the peoples who inhabit India: he says that people from the common people here are all black, that they walk naked, with bare head and bare chest, and they braid hair in a braid. He notes that many belly-daughters also give birth to children every year, which are very numerous here. He writes that wherever he goes – everywhere behind him a lot of people, marveling at the white man.
An inquisitive Russian traveler, interested in everything, here opens a lot: agriculture, the army, military science. Nikitin writes that battles are fought mainly on elephants, soldiers are dressed in armor, as well as horses. The heads and tusks of elephants are armed with huge forged swords, on the elephants themselves – damask armor, as well as turrets, in which a dozen people are housed, and each of them has guns and arrows.
A special interest in Nikitin is a religious theme. He agrees to go with the Hindus to Parvat, about which he tells that it is for them the same as Jerusalem, the same that Mecca – for “bersermen.” It is surprising to him that seventy-four different faiths coexist in India, and that people belonging to different faiths do not eat, drink, or marry each other (here he speaks of castes).
Nikitin saddens that he lost his native – Russian – church calendar, as he lost the scriptures on the day when his ship was looted. He is upset that he does not observe Christian holidays – Easter, Christmas, and the fact that he does not keep posts on Wednesdays and Fridays. He says that he hopes only for prayers to God about saving himself, living in a circle of non-believers. Athanasius tries to determine the day on which Easter will have to be, trying to read the starry sky. With the “fifth Easter” he decides to return to his homeland, to Russia.
Again and again Nikitin keeps records of what happened to him to see, and also he writes down various information he receives from knowledgeable people, about ports and trades, which are from Egypt and to the Far East. He makes notes about where “diamonds are born”, and in which “silk is born”, and also warns those travelers who will read his notes, about what difficulties they can meet on the way, describes the internecine strife that occurs in neighboring peoples.
Another full six months Afanasy wanders around different cities, and finally arrives at the port – the city of Dabhol. After paying two gold, Nikitin sails on a ship across Ethiopia to Ormuz. Ethiopians managed to agree and the ship avoided robbery.
From Ormuz Nikitin goes overland in the direction of the Black Sea, reaching this route in Trabzon. For one gold, he goes to Kafu (Crimea) on a ship. The chief of city security, having considered Nikitin as a spy, robs him. The transition of the sea is complicated by the autumn weather and the winds that their ship, as Afanasii writes, is to Balaklava itself. from there they go towards Gurzuf, where they make a stop for five days. Athanasius writes that he reached Katha by the grace of God nine days before the fast of Filippov, it pleases him, he glorifies the Lord-Creator, whose grace he has passed three seas. On the rest, as he says, “only God is the patron, amen!”.