Monsoon is my favourite season after winters to enjoy reading books. Even as the much-loved seasonal rainfall continue to elude my region for fifth year in a row; so far, I have wrapped up over half a dozen books. Before getting back to sharing travel stories on bNomadic, I’d wish to share my thoughts and reactions on a few more titles I came across during all this while. The current one in line is A Mountain in Tibet, a travel bestseller written by the master travel author and historian Charles Allen.
For over three decades now, the master storyteller Charles Allen has been bringing out thoroughly researched and lucidly narrated books illuminating the field of travel writing, colonial or regional history. And just so, carrying his signature expression, this particular book packs a researched and unprejudiced narration that traces the natural history, myths, legends and information surrounding the Kailash Mountain and particularly the sources of the Great Rivers of Asia. From the astonishing geographical properties of South-Western Tibet that are celebrated in Hindu and Buddhist sacred literature to the Indian surveyor spies called the Pundits who explored it in disguise or the controversy surrounding Sven Hedin’s claims and more, the author takes an objective approach to trace the origin and true sources of the River Ganga, Sutlej, Indus and Brahmaputra in Tibet.
The book comprises ten interesting chapters; each talking about a specific period or activity related to the legend of the sacred Kailash, the queen of lakes – the Mansarovar, the true source of the Ganga, Sutlej, Indus, Brahmaputra and its course through the forgotten frontier, etcetera. Through this book, Charles Allen has tried to present a historical glance into what Sven Hedin would call, “a geographical mystery that had captured and held men’s imaginations ever since the first Aryans penetrated the great Himalayan mountain barrier some three thousand years ago”. Even as the Kailash remains the centre point of the book, the author has particularly emphasised on enticingly tracing the true sources of the four great rivers whose upper courses lay hidden in the Kailash Mansarovar region. The journey to retrace the rivers starts with description of the Mughal Emperor Akbar’s attempt to order the first systematic inquiry into the sources of India’s great rivers and fine-tunes with details coming out of the most recent satellite findings.
The author explains that the mystery around the Kailash was centred on the belief shared by a large slice of humanity that somewhere between China and India there stood a sacred mountain, an Asian Olympus of cosmic proportions. This mountain was said to be the navel of the earth, the axis of the universe and from its summit flowed a mighty river that fell into a lake and then divided to form four of the great rivers of Asia. It was the holiest of all mountains, revered by many millions of Hindus, Buddhists and Jains as the home of their gods.
The trans-Himalayan plateau of Tibet is a vast, sterile, and terrible desert, too cold and too arid to provide more than the meanest of existences. Till about a century ago, the Kailash remained an enigma to the outside world. With the onset of the twentieth century, a succession of few enterprising travellers, remarkable explorers and enthusiastic pilgrims who took up the challenge of penetrating the hostile, frozen wastelands beyond the Western Himalayas; reasoned out the mystery to some extent. Gradually the true sources of the four mighty rivers: the sacred Ganga at Gaumukh, the Indus, the Sutlej and Tsangpo-Brahmaputra in the Kailash Mansarovar region were identified.
Comprising 290 pages of full excitement, A Mountain in Tibet is available at an average price of Rs 270 at Amazon and Flipkart. I totally recommend this book to someone who is interested in knowing more about the Kailash Mansarovar region or the sources of the four great rivers.