Finding the past in Tibet

Colin Thubron’s heartfelt memoir ‘To a Mountain in Tibet’ explores the region’s martial and religious history

 To a Mountain in Tibet, by Colin Thubron, Vintage, RRP£8.99, 244 pages

Trekking from Nepal into Tibet to join the devoted for their ritual kora, a pilgrimage around remote Mount Kailas, Colin Thubron arrives to find the region swarming with Chinese police and not a yak in sight for porterage. Peaking at over 5,480m, the arduous route is barren but awesome, a zone of “charged sanctity” that emerges from Thubron’s mosaic of observations.

As with Thubron’s previous travelogues, this memoir is a vehicle for his immense cultural knowledge. Although Kailas is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists, Thubron thoroughly explores the region’s martial and religious history to take in such ancient cults as Bon worshippers. Submerged deep within this erudition are shards of an intimate devotion to his own departed family – memories of his parents and haunting reverences to his sister, lost in an alpine avalanche.

However heartfelt, these fragments are few and closely guarded by the rigour of Thubron’s penetrating cultural commentary.

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