To a Mountain in Tibet

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Overview

Colin Thubron, one of our greatest living travel writers, offers a haunting and beautiful account of his journey to the holiest mountain on earth, the solitary peak of Kailas in Tibet, sacred to one-fifth of humankind.

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To a Mountain in Tibet

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Overview

Colin Thubron, one of our greatest living travel writers, offers a haunting and beautiful account of his journey to the holiest mountain on earth, the solitary peak of Kailas in Tibet, sacred to one-fifth of humankind.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Colin Thubron's first travel book since his acclaimed 2006 Shadow of the Silk Road exemplifies the writing skills and keen observational powers that have brought him acclaim as one of the last of the great gentleman travel memoirists. To a Mountain in Tibet takes us on a measured pilgrimage from isolated Nepal to Tibet's Mount Kailas, a snowy, majestic peak sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. Thru Thubron's words, we witness the convergence of numerous disparate pilgrims on this holy site and the many monasteries that surround it; we also experience his own deep remembrances of personal family losses. A major book by the award-winning travel author of Among the Russians, The Lost Heart of Asia, and In Siberia.

Alida Becker
…[Thubron] has come to be known for his ability to summon just the right phrases to fix a place or person in the mind's eye. In To a Mountain in Tibet, however, what seems almost as striking is [his] understanding of the power of silence. …Thubron has, as always, thoroughly researched his subject, so his descriptions of shadowy Buddhist shrines and wildly various religious supplicants are interspersed with eloquent accounts of Tibet’s place in the imaginings of the West and its own welter of myth and history, as well as colorful views of the flora and fauna of a landscape that can at times seem alluringly pristine, at others as alien as a distant planet.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
“The mountain path is the road of the dead,” writes Thubron (Shadow of the Silk Road) in this engrossing and affecting travel memoir that transcends the mere physical journey. In the wake of his mother’s death, Thubron sets off to Mount Kailas in Tibet, a peak sacred to one-fifth of the world’s population and the source of four of India’s great rivers. Kailas has never been climbed: the slopes are important to Tibetan Buddhists who say the mountain’s guardian is Demchog (a tantric variant of Shiva). Along with two guides, Thubron embarks on a pilgrimage that begins in Nepal and crosses into Tibet, recounting not only his arduous journey but also the political and cultural history of Tibet and the West’s continued fascination with its mysticism. Along the way, he observes pilgrims of various religions converging on Kailas and the myriad monasteries, most of which were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution and rebuilt decades later. It is the poignant evocations of his mother and sister (who died at 21), interwoven with his profound respect for the Tibetan culture and landscape that make Thubron’s memoir an utterly moving read. (Mar.)
Financial Times
“Thubron’s descriptive writing is as dazzling as the scenery. His scholarship on the area’s religious and political history is enthralling.”
Booklist (starred review)
“The journey is the reward, for both writer and reader, in this rich, beautiful account of the landscape, people, culture, and politics of Tibet.”
Christian Science Monitor
“[Thubron has] been called one of the world’s greatest living travel writers. Few will doubt it, after they accompany him on this search for earthly sanctity.”
Times Literary Supplement (London)
“With great elegiac precision…Thubron adroitly navigates the difficult line between an emotive personal memoir…and a vivid description of one of the most spectacular mountain journeys…”
National Geographic Traveler "Book of the Month"
“One of the greatest contemporary travel writers. . . . As he guides us along these braiding trails, Thubron’s moving evocation makes for an unforgettably enlightening journey.”
Wall Street Journal
“Thubron has spent four decades writing in forceful and respectful ways of foreign lands, and To a Mountain in Tibet is no exception.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“More meditative than his sweeping Shadow of the Silk Road. . . . Walking with Thubron up the sacred mountain, strenuous as it is at times, is well worth the effort.”
Seattle Times
“One of the greats of contemporary travel writing . . . Thubron’s transcendent prose places the reader directly on the path to Kailas, culminating with the final glimpse of the sacred site.”
New York Times Book Review
“Thubron has, as always, thoroughly researched his subject, so his descriptions of shadowy Buddhist shrines and wildly various religious supplicants are interspersed with eloquent accounts of Tibet’s place in the imaginings of the West...”
Los Angeles Times
“Thubron is a versatile painter of place…an expert guide for the region’s complex topography…He is refreshingly clear and unintimidated…”
Bob Shacochis
“Thubron walks for the dead and writes for the living, and I can’t remember when I have been so thoroughly and deeply moved by an author’s outward journey.”
Carmela Ciuraru
“Like the works of Bruce Chatwin and Paul Theroux, Thubron’s gorgeous, evocative writing transcends the genre and reads like great literature.”
Time Magazines Literary Supplement (London)
"With great elegiac precision…Thubron adroitly navigates the difficult line between an emotive personal memoir…and a vivid description of one of the most spectacular mountain journeys…"
Hugh Thomas
“A masterpiece of travel writing...”
Charles Allen
“Not only the most revealing book he has ever published but also the most profound. . . . The telling . . . is masterly, with that sharp poetic eye for detail that is Thubron at his best.”
From the Publisher
"Engrossing and affecting...poignant evocations of his mother and sister, interwoven with his profound respect for the Tibetan culture and landscape, make Thubron's memoir and utterly moving [listen]." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review
"Book of the Month" - National Geographic Traveler
"One of the greatest contemporary travel writers. . . . As he guides us along these braiding trails, Thubron’s moving evocation makes for an unforgettably enlightening journey."
Booklist
"The journey is the reward, for both writer and reader, in this rich, beautiful account of the landscape, people, culture, and politics of Tibet."
Library Journal
Best-selling author Thubron's approach to this book differs slightly from that of his other work (e.g., Shadow of the Silk Road). His mother, last of the family, passed away as he began this extraordinary journey. Mount Kailash, a mountain sacred to Buddhists and Hindus, has never been climbed, only circumambulated. It is similar to the Ganges or Mecca—followers want to visit or be buried there. Thubron quotes monks, pilgrims, porters, guides, and fellow travelers to enliven his work. He vividly describes the physical world he treks—e.g., he writes, "yaks have shabby petticoats and their tread is slow, almost delicate." More moving are his profiles of people who make the journey in thin shoes and flimsy clothing. They are joyous despite suffering, loss, and the dislocation of everything they value.Verdict Thubron's own journey of grief and his search for understanding heightens his experience and augments his descriptions of believers he observes. This personal narrative will enrich readers interested in memoir, travel, and Tibet. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/10.]—Susan Baird, formerly with Oak Lawn P.L., IL
Kirkus Reviews

Novelist and acclaimed travel writer Thubron (Shadow of the Silk Road, 2007, etc.) chronicles his trek to Mt. Kalias, "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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781452631141
  • Publisher: Tantor Media, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Library - Unabridged CD
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 6.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Colin Thubron, an award-winning travel writer and novelist, is the author of Mirror to Damascus, Among the Russians, Behind the Wall, and the novels Emperor and A Cruel Madness, which earned him the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award.

Steven Crossley is one of a select group of narrators who have recorded over two hundred audiobooks. He has won multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards, including for The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie and Sharpe's Fury by Bernard Cornwell.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

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(8)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Not sure what the point of the story is about

    As I read this book, I thought it had great promise, although the author describes beautiful scenery surrounding Tibet, the tale never really got going. The story just wasn't engaging enough.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    A take your time reading. Very educational. Helped me learn about Tibet. I will read again. Next time I will get even more out of it Enjoyed it very much. Can't wait to share the book.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2013

    This is an extraordinary book, in the quality of observation Col

    This is an extraordinary book, in the quality of observation Colin Thubron brings to his work and his
    lean, poetic writing -- writing which feels both natural and at times improvisational, as well.  

    The book is "just enough," in many ways, hinting at beautiful depths.  The book is clearly a very personal journey and a spiritual one.

    I read it first several months ago and it's still with me. If you are looking for pure travelogue, you'll get much of that but you may be disappointed. But if you are
    looking for a work of art and a masterpiece at that, it will deeply affect you.

    I particularly like how Thubron addresses in a nuanced way the grief he is experiencing and how he ends his journey with a blue note rather than a pat resolution.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 14, 2012

    A Fascinating Hike to the End of the World

    I thoroughly enjoyed the grueling hike to Tibet and on to the sacred mountain of Kailas, the most holy site for both Hindus and Buddhists. The people met on the way were fascinating. The effects of the Chinese Cultural Revolution on ancient customs and culture were demonstrated and very sad. Mr. Thubron is no doubt a very accomplished traveler and travel writer. However, the descriptions of multitudes of beliefs were piled up with ancient gods and goddesses and demons until I became lost in detail. The author claimed he made this trip to seek some relief from the grief of recently losing his mother. I had hoped for some catharsis to be offered at the close, but there was not much to ponder. Perhaps the physical hardships were that.

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  • Posted June 13, 2012

    As a descendant of John Dryden and someone who was born to Briti

    As a descendant of John Dryden and someone who was born to British privilege, the author developed his writing ability early and then devoted his life to writing travel accounts, mostly (what a great way to live!). This is a beautiful and sensitive account of a personal journey to Mt. Kailas in Tibet where thousands of Buddhist and Hindu pilgrims travel, apparently, to repair their soul even as they must circumambulate the frozen massif for several days at nearly 19,000 ft. above sea level, many risking their lives in the process. CT does a beautiful job in weaving a description of the amazing journey with his own memories of his family and feelings of their loss even as he intertwines informed observations about local culture, myth, and spirituality. He makes the claim that he wrote his first book (Mirror to Damascus, 1967) only after he settled in to live with a family in Damascus.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2012

    good book

    In recording his journey to a sacred mountain, Thubron paints a subtle, and excellent portrayal of modern Tibet. The ending's a bit abrupt, but it's a very good book.

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  • Posted January 30, 2012

    I cancelled the order days ago. Why ask me for a review?

    Please test your automated software asking for reviews of books
    when they are not even ordered. Test your software before you use it.
    I cancelled the order for this book days ago.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A spiritual journey worth the taking

    "In the beginning Kailas was just rock-rock and stones. Without spirit. Then the gods came down with their entourages and settled there. They may not exactly live there now, but they have left their energy, and the place is full of spirits."(the myth behind Mt. Kailas)

    Now in his seventies, famed travel writer Colin Thubron left his wife and home in England and trekked to a holy mountain in Tibet from Nepal. It was a personal journey. From Nepal, where his father hunted bear and big cats eighty years before, Thubron headed to Kailas, or Gangs Rinpoche, the holy mountain, the "precious jewel of snow." "Early wanderers to the source of the four great Indian rivers-the Indus, the Ganges, the Sutlej, and the Brahmaputra-found to their wonder that each one rose near a cardinal point of Kailas." Kailas is a holy mountain for Buddhists and Hindu alike, and thousands of worshippers every year pilgrimage to Kailas to circumnavigate the base. At 15,000 feet, the base of Kailas is 52 km long, and it sits next to the highest freshwater lake in the world, Manasarovar. Kailas is reflected in its waters: "To the Hindus.the lake is mystically wedded to the mountain, whose phallic dome is answered in the vagina of its dark waters." Kailas has never been climbed. Perhaps it is true that "only a man entirely free from sin could climb Kailas." Thubron's journey to Kailas is spiritual as well. He meditates on his life, his recently deceased mother and long-dead sister as he walks, but he shares with us what he sees along the route, in case we don't get the chance. The journey begins as if "through a ruined English garden," strewn with viburnum, jasmine and syringa, honeysuckle, dogwood and buddleia. Soon the track becomes "savage and precipitous," and as he gets closer to Kailas, the road becomes positively alive with pilgrims dressed "in a motley of novelty and tradition," often scattered in groups of two or three, who look "unquenchably happy". And closer yet: The monks, who have been praying in a seated line for hours, advance in a consecrating procession. Led by the abbot of Gyangdrak monastery from a valley under Kailas, they move in shambling pomp, pumping horns and conch shells, clashing cymbals. Small and benign in his thin-rimmed spectacles, the abbot hold up sticks of smouldering incense, while behind him the saffron banners fall in tiers of folded silks, like softly collapsed pagodas. Behind these again the ten-foot horns, too heavy to be carried by one monk, move stentorously forward, their bell-flares attached by cords to the man in front. Other monks, shouldering big drums painted furiously with dragons, follow in a jostle of wizardish red hats, while a venerable elder brings up the rear, cradling a silver tray of utensils and a bottle of Pepsi-Cola." But finally the destination is reached, and a Buddhist monk shares his philosophy: "Only karma lasts. Merit and demerit. Nothing of the individual survives. From all that he loves, man must part."

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