To a Mountain in Tibet
by Colin Thubron
Harper, 2011. 227 pgs. Non-fiction.
At 22,027 feet, Mount Kailas is a bit of a shrimp of the Himalayas, not even making the 100 Highest Mountains in the world list, but it sits at the top of the holiness scale, a mountain held sacred by a fifth of the world's population, including Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and Bons. After the death of his mother, his last blood relative, Colin Thubron undertook a pilgrimage to Kailas as a means of grieving and honoring his family. In this, as in so many other travel narratives, it is the journey rather than the arrival that matters, although reaching Kailas means the beginning of another journey--the cleansing "kora," or circumnavigation of the peak which takes travelers to a dangerous 18,600 feet above sea level. Thubron's description of his trek in Nepal and Tibet is rich with historical, cultural, and spiritual references; nor does he spare the reader a stark look at the grinding poverty which is rarely referenced in romanticized Western views of "mystical" Tibet. And yet his journey to the mountain and then around it is steeped in the breathtaking beauty of the land and the vigor and kindness of her people. Though I at first regretted the absence of pictures in the book, I soon came to realize that Thubron's exquisite descriptions and atmospheric text were better than any number of Google images, and much more memorable.