[100% off] Pioneers of Tibet: The First Western Explorers
Pioneering Explorers of Tibet is a book which charts European exploration of an often secret, mysterious Tibet. With its forbidden capital of Lhasa, this small kingdom, nestled in the Himalayas, has been a focal point for Western interest since the early Middle Ages. In each gripping chapter, we will meet a wide array of eccentrics, priests, adventurers, tourists, diplomats and explorers. Bound together by a love of Tibet and an ability to overcome great personal hardship, these pioneers paved the way for modern travelers.
Turning their backs on family, spouses, and their own country, explorers like Nicholas Roerich and Thomas Manning, amongst others, sacrificed everything and dedicated huge portions of their lives to learning the Tibetan language, understanding its rich culture and traversing its barren, forbidding landscape. They were the first to see Tibet’s diverse tapestry of Lamas, its looming mountains, to hear the sounds of its braying yaks and ceremonial horns, the first to smell its dark homes and the first to be utterly changed by Tibet itself.
Furthermore, this book is a celebration of Mark Twain’s maxim that ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes’. The historical sweep of this book encompasses over a thousand years of human travel, and it is truly astounding how people across centuries, separated by huge swathes of time and space, share so much in common. For each one, Tibet was a place synonymous with spiritual enlightenment. Yet, each pioneer was a complex, contradictory product of their era. Jesuit priests went into the heart of Tibetan Buddhism on proselytising missions, but even they could not help but be impressed by the majesty of the Dalai Lama and his followers. Other Christians in this book had to practically apologize to their readers – almost all of the explorers were inspired to record intimate details of their time in Tibet – for finding so much to admire in this Eastern religion.
And why wouldn’t they be swept away? Partly this was because of their own willingness to immerse themselves into Tibetan life – Abbé Huc and Joseph Gabet, William Rockhill and Ippolito Desideri all became proficient in the language. These very different men studied, read and even wrote in Tibetan, bridging the gap between East and West. But these Europeans were also received warmly by their Tibetan hosts. Lamas debated with Desideri, swapped stories with Huc, and nomads saved the lives of more than one explorer harassed by the unforgiving elements, by bandits and the forces of international politics. The empire squabbling between Britain, the United States of America and China is a looming shadow in almost every episode.
Nevertheless, there was great danger on the road to Tibet. George Forrest, who we touch briefly on in our Joseph Rock chapter, was forced to hide under rivers while being pursued by murderous Lamas. His friends, who could not escape, were beheaded and had their hearts torn from their bodies. Sven Hedin pushed his travelling party so hard, most of his horses and mules died from exhaustion. In one startling episode, Sven only escaped dying of thirst by crawling to the only watering hole available for miles. By reading this book, the reader will lose count of how many times these explorers had to wear disguises and sneak across borders. The stakes were often lethally high.