|2011-11-21||Steve Gardiner||Book Review: To A Mountain In Tibet|
As a fan of travel writing, I enjoy being transported into an interesting place. As a fan of Tibet, I especially enjoy being transported into the world of the Himalayas. In his book To A Mountain In Tibet, Colin Thurbron does both.
Thurbron's goal in this book is to visit the sacred region of Mt. Kailas and complete a circumambulation of the mountain. It is the most holy of mountains for Buddhists and Hindus or roughly one-fifth of the world's population, so the history is rich and mesmerizing.
Using the framework of his own journey, Thurbron explains the history, economics, religion, and geography of a mountain that stands alone, made of a different structure than the Himalayan giants not far away and the unique source of four great rivers—the Indus, the Ganges, the Sulej and the Brahmaputra. He winds the story of people on a pilgrimage into the dreams and heartbreaks that have made India, China, and Tibet the fascinating places they are.
Of course, there is also his personal story, a journey taken following the death of family members and the questioning that haunts a soul in times of loss. His story is at the same time an adventure of the physical, mental, and spiritual, and he captures each carefully in this account.
Good travel writing should capture the place for the reader, and Thurbron does that with passages like the moment when he first sees the peak of Mt. Kailas in the distance: “In this heart-stopping moment pilgrims burst into cries and prayer. Even our seasoned trekkers spill from their Land Cruisers to gaze. There seem no colours left in the world but this bare earth-brown, the snow's white, and the sheen of mirrored sky. Everything else has been distilled away. The south face of Kailas is fluted with the illusion of a long, vertical stairway, as if for spirits to climb by. It shines fifty miles away in unearthly solitude. Void of any life, the whole region might have survived from some sacred pre-history, shorn of human complication. We have entered holy land.”
From the tragedy of the Chinese invasion of Tibet and the damage of the Cultural Revolution to the beauty of the lakes and people who enter and leave the story, To A Mountain in Tibet is a treat for anyone interested in life in the Himalayan nations.