To a Mountain in Tibet – Colin Thubron

Couple of months ago, I had been to a book exhibition in Expo and while there were thousands of books lying around. Let alone browsing, it was practically impossible to even glance through. The hall was huge. I guess it was MPH who put up the sale..

Anyways, I picked up a few including this book – To a Mountain in Tibet – because not only the title was intriguing but it somehow struck a chord. Tibet, Himalayas, Spirituality, Monasteries are something that I’ve been fascinated for like forever. In addition, Tibet itself is always perceived as blessed, mystical place that’s known for the Buddhist monasteries and amazingly beautiful natural peaks. In addition, I guess it also had to do something with one of the books  I recently read “Living with the Himalayan Saints” by Swami Rama. 

The author Colin Thubron seems to be pretty popular for his Travel Journals and other books. This journey to Mount Kailash in Tibet is more personal for Colin as he is also mourning the death of his mother. Being an agnostic, he didn’t really have anything profound or religious but decided to go there anyway. 

His journey starts in Nepal, one of the remotest parts where he was dropped by a helicopter and along with a couple of helpers – guide, cook, etc – hired, he starts the journey on foot towards the mountain. While Colin mentions the villages are pretty beautiful, he can’t help but notice the poverty in these villages, most of which have been abandoned by half of the villagers – who moved to cities or towns like Kathmandu – in search of better life. He also notes something which I find very sad about – that it’s the same situation of every village all over Asia. Unfortunately it is true!!!

The author continues his journey through some extreme weather conditions on foot and crosses the border over to Tibet, which is where Mount Kailash and Mansarovar lake are situated. These are extremely holy sites for the Hindus as well as the Buddhists. Many Indians do a pilgrimage to this place, which seems to be full of religious display everywhere. Most of the customs around this place are Tibetan or perhaps influenced by Bon, the pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet. In general, Tibet has been pretty peaceful and content until the Chinese occupation which resulted in a lot of resentment and wars. Many Monasteries were closed down sadly and the Dalai Lama, who is sort-of spiritual head, had to flee to India and made Dharmasala his home. Many Tibetans followed too. Even the area of Mount Kailash and surroundings, because they are nearer to the border, are on constant watch by the Chinese soldiers. 

Colin Thubron shares his experiences with a few monks and at various religious sites, monasteries and temples. I haven’t heard of the Tibetan Book of the Dead but apparently, it is quite popular. In fact, Colin explains the gist of the book, which seems pretty intriguing. I can relate to it because of me being Indian and not much of it comes as a surprise. Not just about the Book of the Dead but most of the things that is mentioned. However, as Colin himself admits, in one of the interviews, it may be slightly difficult for Westerners to comprehend the mysticism and other concepts of Buddhism or Hinduism that may seem to the Western eye as steeped in superstition and occultist..

I loved the book and enjoyed it though the language is slightly sophisticated for me and I had to refer to the dictionary a few times but as there were too many, I just let go and started reading through without completely getting stuck on a few words. I mentally marked this book to my “Retirement Shelf”, that I would want to revisit in my Golden Years, as they call 🙂 Overall, I wouldn’t say it is a profound reflection of Colin but surely a very personal journey that’s probably quite different from his previous ones and maybe, a little more reflective and with a bit of introspection. Just my two cents!!