Select one of the keywords
To a Mountain in Tibet    by Colin Thubron order for
To a Mountain in Tibet
by Colin Thubron
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2011 (2011)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Colin Thubron, author of Shadow of the Silk Road and The Lost Heart of Asia among others, now brings us a lyrical account of a trip to circle sacred Mount Kailas ('holy to one fifth of the earth's people') in To a Mountain in Tibet. A map at the beginning shows how the journey started in Simikot in the remote Humla area ('a cruel region in a poverty-stricken land') of Nepal, following the Karnali river into Tibet. Thubron tells us that 'These first hours have a raw exhileration. The track shimmers ahead with a hard brilliance. The earth is young again.'

Thubron undertook the trip 'on account of the dead.' It was a response to the recent loss of his mother, the last of his family - his father died before her and his sister was tragically killed in an avalanche at age twenty-one. He says, 'I need to leave a sign of their passage.' His story of the challenging Himalayan journey is interleaved with childhood memories, with descriptions of local people and monks encountered along the way, and with forays into Tibetan history, mystique and mysticism. As he climbs to Kailas, he reminds us how to many peoples around the world, 'The mountain path is the road of the dead.'

Accompanying the author are a guide (Iswor) and cook (Ram) - 'Tamangs, sturdy people close to the Tibetans'. Having trekked in Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Ladakh and Zanskar, I appreciated his descriptions and explanations, for example of the 'cairns of piled stones that mark the high passes'. And I recognized in the author's reaction to Kali worship in Dakshinkali my similar response near Varanasi - where I too found it hard to reconcile a 'sea of blood and offal' on marble temple floors with the high spirited family feasting on the sacrifices that went on in surrounding hills - I was similarly 'repelled by what Western abbatoirs conceal.'

Thubron shares his research into Tibetan history and beliefs. He takes us far back to Bon gods and practices, which 'Buddhism, in turn, imbibed.' Of this people and 'land maimed since 1950 by Chinese occupation', he tells us that 'Where Tibetans sense spirit, the Chinese see superstition', a dichotomy hard to bridge. If you enjoy travel literature, then To a Mountain in Tibet is a must read. It has made me want to delve into the author's previous books, which I have inexplicably missed.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Travel books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews