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Customer Review

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tiptoe to Tibet, 22 Dec. 2009
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This review is from: Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Race for Lhasa (Paperback)
For centuries Tibet was the innermost core of one of the most inaccessible, and therefore most mysterious, places on earth. The country was ringed by mountains and protected by sub-zero temperatures. There was Everest (and possibly an even higher peak). There was Lhasa with its "golden domes like tongues of fire" and its Potala palace of a thousand rooms rising into the clouds from a sheer rock face. There was Tibetan Buddhism which could instal a Dalai Lama from the cradle. Small wonder that the brave and the curious wished to see for themselves.

Stripped to basics, these are adventure stories: Somerset Maugham meets John Buchan. But in detail they are revealed often as accounts of immense courage in overwhelmingly forbidding circumstances, sometimes of almost unbelievable foolhardiness. Remarkably but perhaps not surprisingly, virtually everyone who made the attempt wrote about it afterwards. Hopkirk has read the books, feretted among the official archives, travelled the area himself. The narrative is vivid and anecdotal but there is enough political and historical background to establish context. If the voice is the voice of Empire it is at least authentic.

The reservation of other readers that this book does not look at the trespassers from the point of view of the Tibetans would only be valid if the author had set out to provide a rounded account. But that is matter for other writers with other perspectives. Peter Hopkirk unashamedly sets out to tell the many stories of those who attempted - and mostly failed - to penetrate the forbidden kingdom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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