Main To a Mountain in Tibet To a Mountain in Tibet Colin Thubron This is the account of a journey to the holiest mountain on earth, the solitary peak of Kailas in Tibet, sacred to one-fifth of humankind. To both Buddhists and Hindus it is the mystic heart of the world and an ancient site of pilgrimage. It has never been climbed. Even today, under Chinese domination, the people of four religions circle the mountain in devotion to different gods. Colin Thubron reached it by foot along the Karnali River, the highest source of the Ganges. He undertakes it in order to mark the event, to leave a sign of their passage.
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Share via Email The perfect cone of Kailas. In the other nine volumes, the inner journey hovers between the lines as our man bushwhacks through the lost heart of Asia, bounces along the silk road in the back of a superannuated Moskvich and gnaws gristle behind the Great Wall. Where Are You? The author is addressing his dead mother. To a Mountain in Tibet tells the simple story of a secular pilgrimage to the sacred slopes of Kailas in the western Himalaya.
Travelling on foot with a cook, a guide and a horse man, Thubron sets out from Humla, the remotest of the Nepalese regions. Steering at first by the Karnali river, the group soon swings north-west towards the Nala Kankar Himal that shelves into Tibet, walking under walnut and apricot trees, through silent Thakuri villages and paddy fields, where traders once bartered salt and wool for lowland grains.
Thubron conjures the wobble of a tin bridge over a torrent, the "cathedral shadow" of spruce and prickly oak and the two-note song of a Himalayan cuckoo over smooth grasslands. Sometimes the four seek refuge on the mud floor of a home, at other times they pitch tents, greeting, round the camp fire, stocky smugglers in bobble hats driving buffalo freighted with Chinese cigarettes. Monasteries have always been a Thubronian leitmotif — remember the monk in Journey into Cyprus who watched the young author shaving and asked if he could pick up the World Service on his razor?
A great number punctuate this latest journey, furnishing the creaking prayer wheels and fluttering flags indigenous to Tibetan narratives. The country has long held the west in thrall, the very image of an inaccessible otherworld, an exalted sanctuary and a realm of ancient learning. Thubron admits he has absorbed the romance. As an antidote, he tries to unravel the complex beginnings of the mystique and expose the reality of internal Tibetan violence centuries before and the hateful Chinese invasion.
Through the direct speech of interlocutory monks, he is able to explore the shifting pantheon of regional deities — Hindu, Buddhist and shadowy, shamanic figures who waft through the hinterland.
He husbands his lyrical expression artfully. It leapt forth unexpectedly, to great effect, in the memorable first line of In Siberia : "The ice-fields are crossed for ever by a man in chains. This journey, he reveals in the opening pages, is a form of mourning for his mother, who has recently died — the last of his living family.
Deploying a poetic blend of travel and memoir, Thubron uses Buddhism to inform reflections on the cycle of life and the meaning of suffering. Or he tries to: often "memories come too hard for quiet thought". The process was, he says, "a monstrous disburdening". Juniper and birdsong diminish, and the band camps below the 15,ft Nara Pass defile into Tibet. At half light, a herd of goats canter through, each carrying a saddlebag of salt and capering to the whistles of Humla buccaneers in conical caps.
Across the border, all visitors must travel in Landcruisers to Taklakot, once the capital of an independent kingdom. But China Mobile billboards have replaced 60ft silk banners and obliterated the remnants of feudal sorcery. Taklakot is an image of "lunar placelessness" with "the gutted feel of other Chinese frontier places". And the Mandarin-speaking Thubron is in a position to make such judgments.
His Behind the Wall details a 10,mile solo voyage across China. Hindus also venerate the lake. The trained authorial eye never fails. Compared with most of his contemporaries, Thubron has, throughout a garlanded career as a grandmaster of the travel game, taken trouble to construct an elusive persona — throwing up a smokescreen, if you like. So this book breaks new ground. He summons — briefly — the memory of his only sibling Carol, dead in an Alpine avalanche at To mark this new departure, and to signal the undigested immediacy of a deeply personal journey, Thubron uses the present tense "We come down gently.
It is risky, and a favourite technique of amateurs, but he pulls it off by embedding the action in the context of its historical background. References to "some dream I had forgotten" even suggest efforts to glimpse the churning subconscious — that deep-sea region where motives glide unseen.
Searching and not finding is a notion that recurs in the book. Finally, at the climax of both journey and book, the perfect cone of Kailas. Isolated beyond the parapet of the central Himalaya, Kailas permeated early Hindu scriptures as the mystic Mount Meru. Buddhist texts similarly reveal the pagan gods of the mountain converting to Buddhism and dispatching a multitude of flying bodhisattvas — saints who have delayed entry to nirvana to help others — to protect the furthest crags, lighting up the mountain with their compassion.
Around the base, Thubron finds little compassion — just prostitutes and angry Chinese police swinging riot shields and truncheons Kailas lies in a disputed border region. Thubron makes the ascent, along with hundreds of pilgrims heading to a zone of "charged sanctity" to find peace with their own dead. At the highest monastery, Choku Gompa, he finds "monks nested like swallows in little cells", single butter lamps casting rods of light on to the snow.
During the last thousand feet of a kora pilgrimage climb , both Hindus and Buddhists pass into ritual death. The breathless ascent will release them to new life.
And so the final chapter finds Thubron at 17,ft, where the coffee goes cold before he drinks it. He is far too wise a writer to go in for pat endings.
Are there ever any, in life? To ask of a journey, Why? Is to hear only my own silence. Instead, it is an elegy for everything that makes us human.
To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron: review
He is travelling with a BBC crew along the Silk Road in China when he professes that he is tired of filming and needs to be alone. He turns aside and enters the desert for a moment of meditation; a moment that is recorded by the film crew, who are presumably still beside him. He is never garrulous and when he does reveal something about himself, the reader feels that these are confidences hard won. To a Mountain in Tibet is one of his most personal books. He sets off towards Mount Kailas, the mystical peak in Tibet close to the borders with Nepal and India. For centuries, Hindus, Buddhists and their predecessors, the Bon, have worshipped this mountain, which lies remarkably close to the sources of all four major rivers of the subcontinent: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Sutlej and the Indus.
To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron – review
Start your review of To a Mountain in Tibet Write a review Shelves: nonfiction , religion-and-sprituality , travel To a Mountain in Tibet tells two stories. One is the great travel writers observations along his trek to a significant physical and religious site. The other is his inner journey of coming to terms with the death of his mother, whose passing prompted this adventure. The sights, smells and sounds of this arduous walk into a remote, mountainous retreat capture his senses. But it is the local culture and sundry religious views of death that capture his imagination as he treks to the holiest To a Mountain in Tibet tells two stories. But it is the local culture and sundry religious views of death that capture his imagination as he treks to the holiest mountain in the world. In Chinese-controlled Tibet, the mountain has never been scaled, but pilgrims walk around it as an act of devotion, and to seek favor from their gods.