Novelist and acclaimed travel writer Thubron (Shadow of the Silk Road, 2007, etc.) chronicles his trek to Mt. Kailas, “the most sacred of the world’s mountains.”
The book opens with the author traveling across northern Nepal toward Kailas, a 22,000-foot mountain in Western Tibet. Considered holy to the adherents of four religions and one-fifth of humankind, Kailas beckons to pilgrims and travelers alike. Thubron’s reasons for undertaking the arduous trek across magnificent but desolate lands at the “roof of the world” were personal rather than faith-based. His travel party—comprised of “a guide, a cook, a horse man, myself”—reflected the private nature of his journey, which actually began the day he lost his mother. The author sought to mark the passing of the last member of his birth family by going “somewhere meaningful on the earth’s surface.” The closer Thubron drew to Kailas, however, the more he found himself inexorably drawn into the mystical heart of Tibet’s “death-haunted culture.” Western objectivity fell away, transforming an impartial observer of monks, pilgrims, temples, monasteries, religious relics and end-of-life rituals into a very human seeker struggling to come to terms with the transience of human existence and the fact of his own aloneness, both as a man and a writer. Travel offered no freedom from the pain of surviving (or dying); it only brought “an illusion” of change that temporarily distracted rather than cured. Yet Thubron still found a kind of grace in the unexpected cross-cultural connection he experienced with the Tibetan poet-yogi, Milarepa. However alien the terrain, a shared humanity with Tibetans rendered the author’s experience of loss universal rather than unique. Emotional subtlety and vivid evocations of the people and places are only part of what makes the book so enjoyable. The present-tense narration allows readers make discoveries alongside Thubron, which adds immeasurably to the intimacy and immediacy of the reading experience.
A powerful and hauntingly elegiac hybrid of travelogue and memoir.