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The book's revelations about Tibet, its striving for independence despite it being both backward and apart from the world in most ways is reminiscent of the American Indians. Thinking about the story's beginnings, it is both interesting and sad (for Tibet and its explorers) how events have scarred the nation.
When it comes to delineating the history of Central Asia and environs, few writers can touch the craftsmanship of author Peter Hopkirk. In his hands, what could easily be boring history, becomes, instead, vibrant excitement. As in his other books, Hopkirk makes these mysterious and fabled lands come alive. In this book he describes the many attempts by adventurers from the outside world to penetrate remote Tibet and its almost-mystical capital, Lhasa. Chapter by chapter Hopkirk ticks off the sagas of these opportunists, some seeking fortune and fame, some on their majesty's (or tsar's) service. In the contest between Tibet versus the world, Tibet scores early and frequently, thus keeping the others out. But eventually, overpowered by modern weaponry, the outsiders win. It's tempting to cast this in terms of good-guys versus bad-guys. But it's not that easy, as the reader will see. What IS easy is declaring this book a fantastic and exciting history of a mysterious land that just wanted to be left alone.
Peter Hopkirk does his usual, excellent job chronicling the efforts of Westerners (especially the British) from the 1860's to the early 20th century to find a way to explore the once forbidden kingdom of Tibet. The colorful cast of characters include men such as Francis Younghusband, Sven Hedin, Nikolai Prejevalski and women such as Dr. Susie Rijnhart and Annie Taylor. Some were military personnel given the mission to make contact with the Tibetans while some were spies recruited and trained by the British government in India to do survey work and collect information on Russian intentions in Central Asia, real or imagined. Others were missionaries such as Dr. Rijnhart (who would pay a terrible price for her efforts) but some were like Henry Savage Landor, adventurers that in his case, needed material for a book and suffered mightily in the process.
Although most of the people Hopkirk chronicles in Trespassers on the Roof of the World were motivated by the desire and associated glory of being the first Westerner to reach Lhasa, their tales are not the most interesting, at least in my viewpoint. Mohamed-i-Hameed, Sarat Chandra Das, Kishen Singh, Nain Singh and his cousin Mani, all British spies and often referred to as "pundits", did much of the early work of opening up Tibet. Their activities were technically illegal and much resented by the Tibetans but their resourcefulness and bravery cannot be questioned and I cannot help but admire them. Hopkirk's expose' of their activities is altogether too brief and I hope he is able to write more about them in the future.
Sad to say, once the British did reach Lhasa, interest in Tibet slowly faded to the point that when the Tibetans asked western powers for aid in resisting the Chinese annexation of their country in 1950, there was very little done for them. Realpolitik at work, I suppose, but I also think it made many people (especially the Tibetans) wonder what all the fuss among Westerners over Tibet was about in the first place. All in all, Trespassers on the Roof of the World is a great book for anyone interested in learning more about Central Asia's history and is an entertaining read to boot. I highly recommend it.
Peter Hopkirk has written a fascinating book which looks at the strange country of Tibet, a land high in the Himalayas which has evolved its own form of Buddhism. Its extreme climate, desolate terrain and paranoid population made it difficult (if not impossible) to explore. It was the lure of the unknown which drew many of the Europeans to attempt to sneak into the forbidden land and their experiences make for great reading... adventure writing at its best! Includes excellent maps and photos.
A pretty decent narrative of the various incursions into Tibet at a time (mostly late 19th - early 20th Century) when entry and passage was aggressively discouraged. For clarity and context, a maps should have been included tracing the route of each journey. Good overview.
There are no other words to describe this book other than it is a treasure trove of knowledge regarding Central Asian/Tibetan exploration. After reading it, you will come away with a better understanding of Tibetan culture and beliefs--but also the fears, anxieties and stress the Tibetans have been under for centuries to maintain their distinct culture and way of life--and the players who risked their lives to break down the walls of Tibetan instransigence. Anyone planning to embark on a journey to Tibet, either physically or scholarly, must read this book. Mr. Hopkirk treats the subject with the respect and dignity it deserves, especially with regard to honoring the memory of those who made the self-sacrificing journey to "the roof of the world".
I cannot remember reading a recounting of history in a region that is more entertaining than Hopkirk's Tresspassers on the Roof of the World. In an attention grabbing manner, Hopkirk tells the tales of westerner's attempts, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to reach Lhasa, the spiritual and temporal capital of Tibet. The characters are serious, yet amusing, and their stories are told very well. A quick read but well worth the trouble of picking up the book!