Enjoy the post!
The Victorian World's Fascination with Tibet
The Victorians were avid readers. Their appetite for tales of adventure and journeys to forbidden and exotic lands was insatiable, especially during those long, cold winter nights. Hence the success of novels like "King Solomon's Mines", "Dracula" and "20,000,000 Leagues Under the Sea." As far as the natural world was concerned, no country stirred the public's imagination more than Tibet. Locked away in the foreboding Himalayas, the Victorians longed to read about this mysterious Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas that was ruled over by a god-king, the Dalai Lama, but no explorer managed to reach this forbidden land. With Tibetan soldiers armed with matchlock rifles stationed at every mountain pass under orders to turn away or shoot any foreigner caught trampling their Buddhist kingdom, entering into this forbidden land seemed like an impossible feat. And that's how it was for centuries.
By Sophie Schiller
Lying at an average altitude of 15,000 feet and surrounded on all sides by the enormous peaks of the Himalayas, Victorian travelers dubbed Tibet 'The Roof of the World', and Lhasa, its mysterious capital so long closed to foreigners, was called The Forbidden City.
|The Potala Palace in Lhasa: Seat of the Dalai Lama. Every explorer in the Victorian age dreamed of reaching this fascinating, mystical kingdom.|
By the late Victorian period, the public's fascination with Tibet had reached a fever pitch. All the major newspapers and every geographical society on earth was waiting to hear which explorer was brave enough (or fool-hardy enough) to dare enter the Forbidden Kingdom. As Great Britain and Russia began vying for political and military control in Central Asia in what was known as "The Great Game", the race became heated match, the stakes higher, and the Tibetans more fearful that their isolated Buddhist kingdom would be trampled on by non-believers. Before long, an international race to Lhasa was underway.
|The yak is the only pack animal suited to life at high altitudes.|
Here are some of the hardy explorers who dared infiltrate the Forbidden Kingdom:
General Nikolai Prejevalsky- Notable Russian explorer of aristocratic Polish heritage, who inspired fear in all who met him. He was active in the 1870's up to 1888, making several attempts to reach the Forbidden City of Lhasa, but each time was forced to turn around due to the extreme altitude and sick animals. The closest he came to Lhasa was 160 miles, a record at that time. He eventually died just before his final expedition and was buried beside Lake Issyk-Kul in what is known today as Kyrgyzstan. Prejevalsky was a legend in Russia, a favorite of the Tsars, and a classic explorer in the Victorian mold.
|General Nikolai Prejevalsky: Despite the resemblance, he was NOT the father of Joseph Stalin.|
William Rockhill- Young American diplomat in Peking who studied the Tibetan language and thought he could sneak his way into Tibet by dressing as a Buddhist pilgrim. In the 1880's after his wife came into some money, he organized a caravan and set out on a grueling thousand mile march to Lanchou from where he planned to clandestinely cross into Tibet. He reached Tibetan Monastery of Kumbum where he gathered materials on the Tibetans and their religion and pressed onward, but was driven back 400 miles from Lhasa by the harsh climate. His second attempt brought him to within 110 miles of Lhasa, beating Prejevalsky's record. He was later awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society and went on to become the ambassador to St. Petersburg and Constantinople.
|William Woodville Rockhill: the diplomat who dreamed of seeing Lhasa|
Alexandra David-Néel- Perhaps the most flamboyant and celebrated of the Tibetan explorers was David-Néel, a true eccentric who was years ahead of her time. Born in Paris in 1868, she became an opera singer before turning toward more spiritual pursuits. A seeker and a mystic by nature, she became a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and a practicing Buddhist. After disguising herself as a Tibetan beggar, she became the first European woman to enter Lhasa in 1923 and wrote about her strange encounters on the Roof of the World. Although she reached Lhasa long after the Victorian period had ended, her story is worth mentioning because she exemplifies the adventurous spirit of her Victorian peers. She had an audience with the Dalai Lama in Darjeeling and sold many copies of her memoir which are read even today. A French movie about her life was made in 2012.
|Alexandra David-Néel- Probably the most spiritually inclined of all the Tibetan explorers.|
Annie Taylor- Adventurous, 36-year old English Presbyterian hell-bent on carrying the gospel to the Dalai Lama. Due to a childhood heart-condition, she was spoiled and coddled by her parents and was not expected to survive into adulthood, but she outlived her doctors' prognoses and became a missionary in 1884, selling all her jewelry to raise the funds necessary to set sail for Shanghai. After organizing a caravan, she mounted an expedition to Tibet along the Tea Road from Szechuan to Lhasa. After experiencing ill health and passing the skeletons of earlier travelers, her sense of self-preservation forced her to turn back only a 3 day march from Lhasa. She died at the ripe old age of 67.
|Annie Taylor in Tibetan dress.|
Jules Dutreuil de Rhins- By far the unluckiest of all the Tibetan explorers, de Rhins was a former naval officer who organized a caravan to Lhasa in 1884. He traveled for 4 months and came within a six day march of Lhasa when he was ambushed by a party of Tibetan bandits armed with matchlocks. After a standoff, during which time he was deteriorating from the altitude sickness, frostbite, and gangrene on his legs, he was finally captured, bound by his hands and feet, and thrown alive into a river.
Sven Hedin- Swedish explorer born in 1865 who made 3 daring expeditions through the mountains and deserts of Central Asia between 1894 and 1908, mapping and researching parts of the Sinkiang Province and Tibet which had been unexplored until then. He is probably the most famous and lauded of all the Tibetan explorers, but his later associations with the Third Reich have clouded his otherwise stellar image.
|A heroic depiction of Sven Hedin in Tibet was widely used to sell products during the Victorian era.|
Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri d'Orléans- This unlikely partnership between a burly, fast-shooting French explorer and a gambling, womanizing French prince is recounted in Race to Tibet, a novel about their daring exploits on the Roof of the World. A self-made man of French peasant stock, Gabriel Bonvalot traveled widely throughout most of Central Asia and scaled some of the most dangerous passes in the Pamir Mountains and the Himalayas. The story of his journey to Lhasa is a fantastic adventure filled with action, danger, and suspense and just a little romance. No spoilers here!
|Gabriel Bonvalot: As fearless as he was gorgeous. He was so rugged, he was considered the explorer's explorer.|
Ultimately, it wasn't until 1903 with the British invasion of Tibet under Colonel Francis Younghusband that Westerners reached the holy city of Lhasa. The Tibetans paid dearly for this invasion, which cost them thousands of lives, but the British were willing to do anything to keep the Russians out of Lhasa and as far away as possible from the jewel in their crown: India. This was the last major move in the Great Game, and the beginning of a sad and tragic era in Tibetan history, one that would climax with the Chinese invasion in 1950, an oppressive occupation that continues to this day.
I would like to ask the readers a question: After so many years, why do you think the world is still so enamored with Tibet? What does Tibet represent to you?
Race to Tibet by Sophie Schiller
Publication Date: January 26, 2015
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction/Adventure
By 1889 Tibet is the last unexplored country in the world. Gabriel Bonvalot is determined to be the first Westerner to reach Lhasa but lacks a sponsor. When the Duke of Chartres promises to pay his expenses Bonvalot agrees, even after he learns he must bring along the Duke's wayward son, Prince Henri d'Orléans. Along the way Bonvalot meets Camille Dancourt, the wife of a missing surveyor, who attaches herself to the expedition in order to find her missing husband. During the journey the intrepid explorers are besieged by freezing temperatures, volatile winds, mountain sickness, hostile Tibetans, and duplicitous Chinese Mandarins. Nearing collapse, Bonvalot realizes they will have to resort to force if they ever wish to escape Tibet alive.
RACE TO TIBET is an adventure thriller that will take you on a suspenseful journey to the Roof of the World.
"Fans of Jules Verne’s travel adventures will find Schiller has done a solid job of transforming an obscure real-life Victorian expedition into a thrilling yarn." — Publishers Weekly
ExcerptThe Tibetan spoke again, but this time his voice changed. He began to chant as if he had gone into a hypnotic trance. He closed his eyes and recited a mantra that sounded like a prayer from another world.
"Our Oracle predicted that during the year of the Iron-Tiger the Jade Emperor would capture the golden bird and send her into exile, but a small army with metal sticks would sweep down from the north and rescue her. Once free the golden bird would fly to the Potala Palace to perform the sacred duty of acting as tutor and maidservant to the Dalai Lama. The Oracle said that for this great service, good fortune would follow the foreigners all the days of their lives. But if the golden bird is captured by the mandarins, they will lose their heads. She is called Pema, or lotus flower. Her true identity may not be known by anyone outside this tent, not even by your closest servants. For this reason, we call her the golden bird."
"I'll bear that in mind," said Bonvalot. "Don't worry, your golden bird will be safe with me. You may go in peace now."
Bonvalot led the visitors back to their horses while Pema stayed behind beside the tent, looking like a forgotten stupa on a windswept hill.
The Tibetans mounted their horses and galloped away. All that remained behind was the forlorn figure of Pema wrapped in her sheepskin coat, silent except for the humming of her prayer wheel. Her eyes followed their every movement.
"Now that we've got her, what do we do with her?" said Bonvalot, regarding the Tibetan girl with curiosity.
"I suppose our Christian duty is to feed her," said Father Dedeken. "And give her a warm place to sleep."
When Rachmed explained the situation to the caravan men, some of them objected to the intruder; others raised their eyebrows and cast suspicious glances in her direction, but otherwise they accepted Pema's presence, albeit guardedly.
Later, Bonvalot sat Pema down by the fire and offered her a bowl of tsampa and tea. When she became more comfortable, he urged her remove her shawl.
Reluctantly, the girl pushed away the shawl and when they caught a glimpse of her face in the light of the campfire, the men gasped: Pema was the most exquisite creature they had ever seen. She was beautiful in a mystical sort of way, with skin like polished white jade, rose petal lips, and black, almond-shaped eyes. Her hair was braided into dozens of tiny plaits that were bounded by a single strand of coral beads suspended from a golden disk on her forehead; around her neck she wore multiple strands of coral and turquoise necklaces, and in her hands she held a prayer wheel that she clutched like a golden scepter. Pema had an almost regal presence about her, like a royal consort. Or a goddess.
About the AuthorSophie Schiller was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in the West Indies amid aging pirates and retired German spies. Among other oddities her family tree contains a Nobel prize-winning physicist and a French pop singer. She loves stories that carry the reader back in time to exotic and far-flung locations. She was educated at American University, Washington, DC and lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is currently working on a new historical thriller set in the Caribbean.
For more information visit Sophie Schiller's blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Blog Tour ScheduleMonday, November 23
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views
Interview at Let Them Read Books
Spotlight at 100 Pages a Day
Tuesday, November 24
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews
Wednesday, November 25
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, November 26
Guest Post at Passages to the Past
Spotlight at Book Nerd
Friday, November 27
Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
GiveawayWe have a signed paperback of Race to Tibet up for grabs! To enter, see the GLEAM form below.
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on November 27th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.