Hiking Read – In the Abode of the Gods

Kawa Karpo - courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and  Jan Reurink

Kawa Karpo – courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Jan Reurink

I hope this post will be the first of many about good hiking reads. I’d like to share what I have enjoyed, and perhaps get ideas in return. I’ve been prodded into this new territory by a gift.

Last month, for my birthday, my eldest daughter gave me the 2014 edition of The Best American Travel Writing. I had read none of the previous 13 editions, but was inspired to get stuck into this one because its editor was Paul Theroux, author of The Great Railway Bazaar and my favorite travel writer. I flipped through the contents, looking for an essay to read first, and settled for In the Abode of the Gods by Jeffrey Tayler. Mr. Tayler’s name did not ring a bell, but his first paragraphs promised a hike, the best mode of travel, railways notwithstanding.

Tayler’s hike is a 15-day pilgrimage around Kawa Karpo, a mountain on the border between the Chinese province of Yunnan and Tibet that is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists. The hike starts on the upper reaches of the Mekong River. You can read In the Abode of the Gods free of charge at World Hum, so I won’t précis it here. I’ll just mention a few things I liked:

  • Tayler’s occasionally poetic prose (“Downward we strode, our mules’ bells ringing.”)
  • Background information – what makes Tibetan Buddhism “Tibetan”; the relations between the Chinese government and the Tibetan inhabitants of the region …
  • Glimpses into the lives of Tayler’s local husband-and-wife guides.
  • That Tayler explains why he is on the trek (“long enamored of Buddhism”) but is otherwise quite self-effacing.

Because I enjoyed In the Abode of the Gods, I googled Tayler to find out more about him. Only then did I realize I had read him before, a book called River of No Reprieve about a boat journey down the Lena River in Siberia. I enjoyed that too, and no doubt will reread it soon, even though it is not about a hike.

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