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“I didn’t realize what a treasure I gained when I nabbed this at a library book sale. It looks like a coffee-table book of Himalaya mountain photos. But they aren’t just any photos. They are from a master photojournalist and serious adventurer and mountain climber. And the narrative of his...”see full review » see other reviews »
“I didn’t realize what a treasure I gained when I nabbed this at a library book sale. It looks like a coffee-table book of Himalaya mountain photos. But they aren’t just any photos. They are from a master photojournalist and serious adventurer and mountain climber. And the narrative of his trekking and climbing is of historical significance. Rowell in 1980 was among the first set of Westerners allowed access to the mountain provinces of Tibet and neighboring Chinese provinces since being closed off to foreigners after the founding of the People Republic in 1949.
The book wends its way from mountains to the northwest of Tibet, into inner Tibet, and extending to ranges to the north and east of Tibet. The tour helped me appreciate how vast and remote these regions are, and Rowell does a good job balancing his own discoveries of peoples and places with that of colorful explorers and climbers of the past. On the one hand there is sadness in his learning how much new settlement and development under the communist regime had changed the indigenous cultures and devastated the wildlife, while on the other hand it was a pleasure to experience what aspects of culture and wilderness were still persisting.
The intersection of desert and high mountains in the Xinjiang (Sinkiang) province near the borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kyrgyzstan made for some exquisite visions. He compared the feel of the region to Nevada and Utah, the difference being mountain twice the height of those in the U.S. For this section, we are treated to the explorations of Eric Shipton, a British consul in Kashgar in the 40’s. In this area, Rowell participated in the first party to ascend and descend the peak of Mustagh Ata (24,600 ft.) by ski, led by Ned Gilette. A trip through the Tian Shan range highlights the Kirghiz and Uygar tribes, Muslim peoples now dominated by an influx of Han Chinese settlers.
The next phase of the book takes you through the Tibetan plateau, a partial climb of Everest (Chomolungma; 29,000 ft.), a review of Mallory’s expeditions, and a visit to the holy capital of Llasa. It some great images to go with my in-depth delving into Western intersections with Tibet in Wade’s massive and outstanding book on the British expeditions in the 20’s, “Into the Silence”.
Next we move to Minya Konka (Mt. Gongga; 23,000) in the Szechuan (Sichuan) province and Anye Machin (Amne Machin; 20,610) in Qinghai (Kokonor) province. The story of Terris Moore’s climb of the former in 1932 was fascinating to hear about. Rowell was unable to join naturalist and climber George Schaller as planned at his study of pandas in the region initiated in 1981. Anye Machin is a bigger focus for this book. The mountain is so remote that Joseph Rock’s first descriptions of it in the 20’s and the claim it might be higher than Everest (wrong by 10,000 feet), helped stimulate Hilton’s fictional account of Shangri-La. The main reason it remained relatively unknown to Westerners was the fierce Golok (Golog) peoples who dominated the region from the 7th century. By 1981, this nomadic Buddhist tribe were still holding on to their culture against communist repression and push for assimilation, though more recent information suggests most are now moved to large housing complexes. Rowell used a Golok guide on a 120 mile circumnavigation of Anye Konka, a traditional pilgrimage route. Then he joined Kim Schmitz and Harold Knutson on the first successful climb of its highest peak.
The book provided me a great introduction to remote regions of China and Tibet. The prose in this book is surprisingly good sometimes, such as in this paragraph on the paradoxes of the Tibetan people:
Tibetan culture is full of what appear to be paradoxes. The land itself has extreme alternations of season, and a rugged appearance with a most fragile dusting of soil. Village life sets the broght exterior splendor of nature against the dark interior worlds of the home and the monastery. Individuals display opposite personality traits, which would be deemed contradictory in the logic-ridden Western world: extreme generosity and extreme cruelty, spontaneous laughter and mystical ritual, orthodoxy and tolerance, superstition and sagacity.