Celebrated travel writer Colin Thubron discussed religion, sorrow and spirituality during a discussion on his book To a Mountain in Tibet. The octogenarian author began his address on day two of the Jaipur Literature Festival quoting author Dorothy Sayers’s take on meeting fellow authors: “What we make is more important than what we are, particularly if making is our profession.”
“People expect that if they get hold of an author and shake him long enough and hard enough, something illuminating will emerge out of it, but it doesn’t,” he quipped.
For his critically acclaimed travelogue, Thubron travelled to Mount Kailash in the western Himalaya in tragic circumstances, after the death of his mother, the last of his living family. “According to Hindu mythology, more than 2000 years ago, appeared a mystic mountain. From it flowed out four rivers that nourish the earth: The Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Sutlej and the Indus. In time this mountain became associated with a real mountain. The Kailash is an island of extraordinary isolated beauty. It is a site that is also controversial, since it is in Tibet. But it is venerated by both Hindus and Buddhists, so much so that one fifth of humankind regards this mountain as the heart of the world,” said Thubron.
People place so much faith and sanctity in the mountain that the Kailash has never been climbed. Reinhold Messener, the iconic Italian mountaineer, once even sought permission to climb it, but changed his mind after he understood the sentiments attached with it.
After a gruelling and emotionally sapping trek which begins by the Karnali River, during which eight people died while he was there, when Thubron reached the summit of Mount Kailash at 15,000 feet, he didn’t feel any epiphany or have a Road to Damascus experience. But there were valuable life lessons he picked up during the trip. “Having been brought up as a Christian, like most people in Europe, the journey brought me in touch with Hindu and Buddhist traditions. It was cleansing and it stilled me.
In one of the rare lighter moments of his speech, Thubron reminisced about how his perception of the Tibetan monks changed during the journey. “My friend in Kathmandu told me that people assume monks are very peaceful people. But most of the times they are very passionate. So I came across a group of boisterous young monks, who were throwing things at the television. They were provoked since their favourite football club, Manchester United, was losing owing to a bad judgment by the referee.”
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