Title: To a Mountain in Tibet
Author: Colin Thubron
Release Date: March 1, 2011
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Travel
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
To a Mountain in Tibet chronicles Colin Thubron’s journey to Kailas, a mountain that is sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus. His journey starts in Nepal, and as he and his guides slowly make their way to Kailas, Thubron interacts with the local people and culture, as well as reflects on the deaths of his mother and sister.
To a Mountain in Tibet is a beautifully written book about a physical and emotional journey. After his mother’s death, Thubron decides to undertake a journey to Kailas, a spiritual center and the source of India’s four great rivers. The trip is difficult – he proceeds on foot with his guides, starting at Simikat in Nepal. The air is thin on his journey as he climbs from 8,000 feet to 18,600. He sees multiple people around him become sick and have to turn back because they didn’t properly prepare for the altitude and acclimatize. Though the journey is slow, it gives Thubron a chance to talk to the people who live in these desperate areas and get a sense of their plight.
The people that Thubron encounters are poor. They want a better life for themselves and their children. At the Nepal-Tibet border, Thubron realizes how lucky he is – if he were a Tibetan, he would not be able to cross the border. Once he reaches Tibet, he doesn’t hesitate to describe what he sees there, how the political situation has affected the people’s every day lives. At the same time, though, they do not wallow in their despair, and instead look for the joys in life.
This book is just as much an inward exploration as it is an outward one, though. Thubron probes his grief throughout the journey, saddened by the fact that he is the last living member of his family. It’s not overly self-indulgent, but it does give the book a personal touch, with the feel of a memoir, rather than just a travel book.
Thubron’s writing is also absolutely gorgeous. His descriptions are breathtaking and poetic, making this book a delight from beginning to end. His writing elevates this book from a travel memoir to something else entirely.
I really enjoyed To a Mountain in Tibet. Though it is short, it is packed with so much – personal experiences, explorations of culture and history, grief, loss, despair, spirituality, and religion, all while undertaking an amazing physical journey.