A Mountain in Tibet

If I am ever asked what my greatest enemy is, my answer would probably be procrastination. When I look back I see that the majority of my life I have spent contemplating (ok that is just a fancy word for lying in the bed all day and daydreaming about stuff that would never happen in reality) and pushing deadlines. Perhaps I like the last minute drama too much. I am a drama queen no doubt about it, even the internet quiz has concluded the same.

For past three months I have been meaning to write this post; but always getting hindered (read using stupid excuses not to write) by something – psycho stalker ex, career issues, little bit of tomfoolery here and there. So I have finally realised that if I didn't sit down and force myself into writing, this post was never going to materialise. Ok, this is basically a stolen wisdom; I stole it from my favourite blogger. So even at this moment I have no idea what I am going to write; but I am forcing myself to go on.

Charles Allen was born to British parents who were born and lived in India until the independence and even after that. He decided to take up the career of a traveller and history writer (lucky bloke) based on his life in India. However it was not until 1975 his first book was published - Plain Tales from the Raj: Images of British India in the Twentieth Century. His works focus mainly on the history of Indian subcontinent. He probably knows more about India than any average Indian. Mountain in Tibet was his fourth book, published in 1982.

While studying geography in school did any of you ever wonder how those maps were made? Honestly, I never did. Even though I was always the one with a very powerful imagination; I still am. I mean, come on, the mountains were there. So were the rivers. From time immemorial. What is there to find out? I always hated geography in school. It was the most boring and rigorous subject to me. And unfortunately our education system does not give a damn about anything that is ‘out of syllabus’. So there you go. We spent our adolescence remembering that the Tsangpo was originated from Mansarovar and suddenly took a turn at Namcha Barwa and took the name of the Brahmaputra before entering India through Arunachal Pradesh. But the story behind those great discoveries? Those were never taught in the classroom.

A Mountain in Tibet goes back in the past and explores the course of history and turn of events that helped discover and map a major part of India and western Tibet (still unmolested by the oppressive claws of China). The initiative started with the patronage of King Akbar. A group of missionaries was sent out in 1603 but it ended in failure. The first successful mission did not take place until 1624 when another group of Jesuit missionaries set out to explore the land of the ‘Lake Mansaruor’ led by Father Antonio de Andrade. And that was only the beginning. After that over a span of almost 300 years, explorers, monks, fortune and glory seekers kept going back to that one region in search for answer. What lies behind those great snow caped walls? The never dying mystery and myths surrounding Mount Kailas and Lake Mansarovar never stopped luring a bunch of ‘crazy’ people to whom a normal life seemed always a mundane option. And the history of the mankind shall forever be grateful to those wild, gypsy souls.

A Mountain in Tibet revolves around the great Mount Kailas (or the Kang Rinpoche as the Tibetans call it) and the myths surrounding it including the four great rivers that come out of that region – the Ganges, the Indus, the Sutlej and the Tsangpo. In Hindu scriptures, Mount Kailas is the abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati who happen to be the Buddhist equivalents of Lord Demchog and his consort Dorje Phamo. The Tibetan legends say that back in thirteenth century a battle took place between Naro Bonchung (the head of the Shamanism) and Guru Milarepa (the head of the Vajrayana Buddhism) at the foot of the Mount Kailas. And with the victory of Milarepa, the foothold of Buddhism was established permanently in Tibet. However, Vajrayana eventually assimilated many Shamanistic customs and evolved over time to arrive at its current state.

The book has many interesting characters. Hyder Jung Hearsey, who was a mercenary, half British half Jatt. A forever rebel who was practically a pain in the bottom to the British government. I fell in love with him instantaneously. An insurgent warrior mercenary who also went on expeditions to map an entire region – ok I’m probably made for such men. William Moorcroft is an eminent name to all those Tibetology enthusiasts out there. The adventure of Hyder Jung and Moorcroft is a delightful saga and probably the best chapter in the entire book. The book also tells the story of Kinthup, a Sikkimese fellow who literally became a slave in order to find the connection between Brahmaputra and Tsangpo. Not to mention the Bhotias who went on clandestine expeditions to Tibet backed by the Survey of India. In fact, had it not been for the Survey of India, a large part of Indian subcontinent would have remained unexplored. Again, we are grateful to the British for that. The book ends with the story of the great Swiss explorer Sven Hedin and the controversies regarding his various claims. 
36 years later another adventurer, a self-proclaimed Sven Hedin idealist made his way into Tibet and ended up being part of the history of Tibet forever. But that is a different story, and a different book.

For some people life is nothing but an endless series of great adventures. A Mountain in Tibet talks about a few such characters who once risked it all out of sheer passion and zeal. This book is a complex yet delightful read for the geography enthusiasts as well as the adventure lovers. It will take the reader to those mystical times when Tibet was still the unmolested virgin that she was. And who doesn't love a little bit of time travel through written words every now and then?