Book Review: "To a Mountain in Tibet" by Colin Thubron

Summary from This is the account of a journey to the holiest mountain on earth, the solitary peak of Kailas in Tibet, sacred to one-fifth of humankind. To both Buddhists and Hindus it is the mystic heart of the world and an ancient site of pilgrimage. It has never been climbed. Even today, under Chinese domination, the people of four religions circle the mountain in devotion to different gods.

Colin Thubron reached it by foot along the Karnali River, the highest source of the Ganges. His journey is an entry into the culture of today's Tibet, and a pilgrimage in the wake his mother's death and the loss of his family. He undertakes it in order to mark the event, to leave a sign of their passage. He also explores his own need for solitude, which has shaped his career as a writer—one who travels to places beyond his own history and culture, writing about them and about the journey. To a Mountain in Tibet is at once a powerful travelogue, a fascinated encounter with alien faith, and an intimate personal voyage.

It is a haunting and beautiful book, a rare mix of discovery and loss. In its evocation of landscape and variety of exotic peoples, of mythic and spiritual traditions foreign to our own, it is a spectacular achievement from our greatest living travel writer, an artist of formidable literary gifts, uncanny intuition, and wondrous insight.

I'm going to admit that I was a bit disappointed while I was reading this book. It's mostly my fault as I had thought this was mainly going to be a travel memoir. I was expecting more on the author's adventures as he traveled throughout the country more like something from the Travel Channel. If you're looking for something like that, this is not the book for you. Rather than a fast paced travel adventure, it is a slow paced spiritual hike that you have to savor and find peace instead of just rushing through. That being said, this is a beautifully written book.

Thubron explains the beliefs of different religions in the areas he traveled in from tenets of Buddhism to the deities in Hinduism as well as other smaller cultural religions. I really appreciated learning more about how different cultures practice other religions. Even though I don't share the same faith, I am always interested in learning more about what others believe in. I feel that it is important to know about different religions and find out exactly what differences you share and what you have in common.

As Thubron continues on this travels, he describes the people and scenery in full detail. I could honestly picture myself on the side of a mountain walking along side of him, glancing at the people walking by and seeing a mountain looming above me. He describes Tibet the way he sees it, the people who are suffering and those who cannot return home. It's a stark contrast from how most Americans are living and there are many who have no idea of what is going on the other side of the world.

This is a book that is not to be rushed through. It's a travelogue that is also a spiritual and emotional journey. It's a book where you feel both exhausted and refreshed at the same time. This is probably one of the more unique reads that I've read this year and I'm glad that I kept going with it.

To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron is published by Harper (2011)

This ARC was provided by the publisher


  1. Wow, how do you do that? You always end up reading a lot of books that are already on my TBR list!


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