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To A Mountain In Tibet

On a journey to Tibet, renowned travel writer Colin Thubron creates one of his most revealing and personally intimate works.

To A Mountain In Tibet
By Colin Thubron
Harper
224 pages

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Embarking on a pilgrimage is the most archetypal of human journeys.

Generations have walked well-worn footpaths, striding forth toward distant temples, aiming to attain enlightenment or inch closer to God.

Colin Thubron’s quest isn’t religious, but the spiritual aspects of his wandering loom large.

Thubron, for 40 years, has made a splendid writing career out of exploring a range of ancient holy lands – in Asia, South America, and Russia – inviting his devoted readers to join him as voyeurs. Rightfully, he has attracted an audience because in addition to an ability to construct eloquent narratives, Thubron has an aura of honesty and trustworthiness – the kind of thing that can only be earned over time.

Thubron’s latest travelogue, an autumnal memoir titled To A Mountain In Tibet, happens to be one of his most revealing and personally intimate.

The back story goes like this: Following the death of his aged mother, the eccentric Englishman, now a septuagenarian, goes back to Central Asia (the site of his bestselling “Shadow of the Silk Road”) and sets out to scale a mountain on what Buddhists call a quest, or kora. Not just any massif, but Mt. Kailas, a formidable fortress of rock, an extension of the Himalayas in western Tibet, that notoriously has turned back plenty of intrepid alpinists.

To the best of Thubron’s knowledge, Kailas has never been scaled by Westerners. The allure is both cultural and topographical. Kailas is considered sacred to one fifth of the world’s human population (a power spot for Buddhists and Hindus), and its melting glaciers and snowfields are a tributary source to the mighty Ganges.

Thubron carries the memories of his parents and long departed sister into the airy heights, where stone monasteries were erected by monks centuries ago, then torn down by Chinese invaders during the Cultural Revolution, and subsequently rebuilt as a form of peaceable protest. Somewhere out there, too, is the mythical kingdom of Shambala.

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