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Tibetan Pilgrimage: Architecture of the Sacred Land [Hardcover]

Michel Peissel

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Book Description

28 Oct 2005
By combining masonry with the skills of nomad tent-makers, Tibetan architects have produced unique, magnificent buildings that, for too long, have remained obscure and underestimated. It took author-illustrator Michel Peissel, who speaks Tibetan, forty-five years and twenty-nine expeditions on foot and on horseback to reach the lesser-known fortresses, chapels, and monasteries that he sketched and painted for this book. Tibet - the impossible pilgrimage also reveals how the Tibetan nation and its culture are still very much alive even though Tibet has since been partitioned and appropriated by China, India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Incredibly today, from the Himalayas of Nepal to Mongolia, from Baltistan and Ladakh across occupied Tibet to Kansu and Szechuan, hundreds of new, elegant buildings are still being built according to the finest Tibetan traditions. This book is certain to foster an appreciation for the elegance of Tibetan architecture, confirming the extent of its influence and its remarkable originality.

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About the Author

Explorer, anthropologist, and author, Michel Peissel has dedicated his life to investigating the remotest regions of greater Tibet. He became the first anthropologist to study and explore the small kingdom of Mustang, eastern Bhutan, Zanskar, and the kingdom of Nangchen, where, in 1994, he discovered the elusive historical source of the Mekong River. He has written 19 books about his expeditions, published in 16 languages. Many of these books went on to become international best sellers, among them The Lost World of Quintana Roo, Mustang - the Forbidden Kingdom, and Cavaliers of Kham - The Secret War in Tibet.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellant Beginners Intro to Tibet 14 Oct 2010
By John Jeffery Rabb - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
You can't go wrong with this beautifully illustrated book. It's an excellent book to get a beginners' grasp of Tibet. The wonderful watercolors just suck you right in, and then the very readable text gets you up to speed on what you are looking at, with much of Tibet's history. But it's not a dense history book that puts you right to sleep. It's light and enjoyable reading for those who wish to just dip their toes into the water on the subject. Even scholars would appreciate it for the illustrations to help bring to life deeper information that they've found elsewhere. In other words, I highly recommend it to Tibet scholars as a companion book as well. So whether you're a newbie on the subject or an advanced scholar, you won't be disappointed with this book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "What the lens of a camera cannot see" 2 Feb 2013
By John L Murphy - Published on
Nearly half a century of Himalayan and Tibetan exploration and nearly thirty expeditions on, this handsome edition offers nearly a hundred watercolors from a renowned adventurer-anthropologist. The late Michel Peissel illustrates "what the lens of a camera cannot see," and he tries to express the inner construction hidden on the outside of the fortresses, homes, monasteries, cave dwellings, chortens, and castles he surveys. From the western realms of Zanskar, Mustang, and Guge to the Tibetan heartlands around Lhasa and Tsang, to the sites on the eastern Chinese frontiers, this covers immense terrain.

Skillfully suggesting solidity in his lines, yet open to a range of colors symbolizing monastic affiliations and cultural alliances, the exteriors Peissel documents unfold as the clear and cogent narrative keeps pace. It begins with the Songsten Gampo early-medieval dynasty which forged a national Tibet, and shows how the revival of Buddhism enabled monasteries to emerge as akin to universities. Second sons, freed from the land by relative wealth of farmers under a form of feudalism secured by armed power and remote terrain, became monks. This also kept land freed up, as fewer populated it and as brothers commonly shared a wife.

Peissel terms this a golden age, for four centuries, Greater Tibet could afford to feed its people and defend them, while not letting the balance of humans to resources tip against sustainability. While the Fourteenth Dalai Lama represents a peaceful mien, his predecessor the Fifth ruled ruthlessly, bringing to an end the amity. Peissel reminds us that the Dalai Lama, ruthlessly, dominated a third of Greater Tibet, in earlier times a far more hostile attitude which alienated and persecuted those who opposed rule from Lhasa. We understand why so many monasteries resemble fortresses. The Fifth lama sided with the Mongol and Manchu patrons; he pushed out right, left, and center competing Tibetan families and powers, spreading opposition to Lhasa and the Potala, which housed a palace and prison.

It's noteworthy how Peissel counters the popular image such as Robert Thurman and New Age proponents simplify of a benevolent realm enduring free of strife. Armies, assassinations, and fear dominate the Tibetan past as much as the recent era, and the cease-fire lines across Kashmir, the borders shutting off ancient trade with Bhutan, and the Chinese crackdowns show all too well. These perpetuate the logistical and diplomatic, as well as expedition and geographical difficulties Peissel tells of in his journeys to "Mustang" in Cold War Nepal in 1964, a Bhutan facing India's intervention in 1970's "Lords and Lamas," and the Minaro ("The Ant's Gold") along the Kashmir forbidden zones in the early 1980s. (I reviewed these three recently on Amazon.)

This elegant, readable narrative is short, but long enough to join Peissel's many journeys across his beloved landscapes. Focusing on the man-made environment it does not attend to the human, animal, or ecological encounters of his travel books but it provides an accessible introduction to his career. A short list of his expeditions and books appends this large-format, appealing collection of art and words which take you into the perspective of an artful tale-teller showing us his favorite sights.
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