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Paperback Trespassers on the Roof of the World Book

ISBN: 0874775760

ISBN13: 9780874775761

Trespassers on the Roof of the World

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Book Overview

For nineteenth-century adventures, Tibet was the prize destination, and Lhasa, its capital situated nearly three miles above sea level, was the grandest trophy of all. The lure of this mysterious... This description may be from another edition of this product.

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Asia Central Asia History Tibet Travel

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Gatecrashers and trespassers have not diminished the lure of Tibet.

Although extraordinary geography was the best natural defense the Tibetans had against foreign invaders, it can also be the sole reason that lures many a traveler, visitor, and tourists to Tibet to date. Of course, religion, spirituality, culture, art, and life on the high altitudes in the most extreme of climates are other reasons for venturing into this land. In Hopkirk's book, trespassing by foreigners, especially Europeans, was an extension of the Great Game, the struggle between Britain and Russia for expansionism in Central Asia. Military supremacy, a face-to-face encounter with the Dalai Lama, or recognition by the Royal Geographical Society and other prestigious societies at the time was the prize for people from different walks of life--missionaries, soldiers, geographers, naturalists---to venture into this forbidden land. Alas, no matter how well-guarded the country, especially Lhasa, was, the Tibetans' defense was no match to the military might of the British. China proved to be a formidable occupier as soon as the British lost their firm hold on Tibet during World War II. An American pilot was the first intruder from the air---by accident. Nonetheless, relentless trespassing by foreigners was the inevitable truth that many Tibetans must have found hard to swallow. The book is a masterpiece of historical writing. Starting with Tibet's stupendous geography, the book segues on the origin of Tibetan Buddhism. Eventually the reader is initiated to the challenging craft of punditry, the only way the outside world could glean some scientific information on this forbidden land. If Hopkirk intended to instill wonder and suspense on the reader as he narrates a series of close calls by pundits and disguised explorers from being caught and daring-do attempts by intruders in order to be recognized as the first outsider to set foot on this forbidden land, he has succeeded. With exquisite writing style and a penchant for vivid description of people, places, and events, the book is a highly engaging read. Those who risked their lives and their families to venture into a forbidden land can be easily blamed for folly, but Hopkirk brings out the humanity in them. Every adventure is told so well that can make good reading anywhere and anytime. History reading can't get to be more fun that this!

Pulp History

If there's ever been a writer of history who captures the essence of Indiana Jones-style adventure, that man is Peter Hopkirk. Having made a career as Our-Man-in-Asia for the London Times, Hopkirk turned from writing news to writing history, in particular the often-overlooked history of Central Asia. He began this phase of his career by writing a history of European encroachment on the Silk Road. He followed this work with Trespassers on The Roof of The World. This history of "the secret exploration of Tibet" is an enjoyable blend of mystery, romance, adventure, history, and journalism. Trespassers on the Roof of The World traces the history of colonial interlopers in their quest for the legendary city of Lhasa. Hopkirk follows the footsteps of the very first pundits who pioneered the mapping of Tibet and leads his readers through the bloody years of the Red Chinese Cultural Revolution. His treatment is both thorough and comprehensive. The reader first finds that the spirit of James Bond's "Q" was alive and well in the Survey of India, the chief repository of geographic intelligence during the Great Game. The early surveyor-spies for the British Empire were followed in turn by both Men-of-Science and Men (and, perhaps more prominently, Women)-of-God. Explorers of every cut and hue, and finally, the armies, both British and Chinese. Hopkirk treats each one, while intentionally glossing over some of the most celebrated of the Tibetan visitors, such as Heinrich Harrer. As a collector of "rare books on Central Asia," Hopkirk makes ample use of the most obscure narratives and travel logs, in addition to the archives of the Survey of India and the Royal Geographic Society. Hopkirk's appeal as a writer is in his ability to take these dusty old diaries and bureaucratic reports and breath life into them. His journalistic style imbues the history with the urgency and import of an NBC News Special Report. Another of Hopkirk's achievements is his ability to remain sympathetic with the Tibetan people without perpetrating the stereotype engendered by the Richard Gere and Company that the Tibetans were living an idyllic virtuous life of contemplation before the Chinese rolled in. Hopkirk points out that although Lhasa is the mysterious, romantic City of God, it was a squalid hellhole, which one source called, "A Metropolis of Filth." He recalls the incidents of monks fighting over young boys, citizens defecating in open cisterns in the streets, and a criminal justice system that frequently used removal of eyes and hands as punishment (the former being more frequent than the latter). While his tone and style appeal to a popular audience, they do not detract from the book's scholarly endeavor to demonstrate that although it strove for centuries to remain cloistered from the outside world, Tibet has been a crucial character on the world stage.

Well told

This book is a history of the outsiders who have tried to gain entry to Tibet through the centuries. It begins with a brief description of Tibet, its geography and history, and why the political and religious leaders decided to forbid foreigners from visiting during the Middle Ages. The book then examines each of the major attempts by foreigners to enter the country and learn its secrets. The first descriptions are of Captain Thomas Montgomerie's spies, Indians who were trained in surveying and espionage skills and sent into Tibet under cover to map the country. The information these spies provided was essential for drawing the first accurate maps of Tibet. Hopkirk then describes the many subsequent attempts by Westerners to crash the gates and see Lhasa first hand. These Westerners included army officers from both the British and Russian armies, missionaries, and private citizens. All were turned back before they reached Lhasa until Francis Younghusband and the British army blasted their way through in 1903-1904. After Younghusband's opening of the country for the British, it became a little easier for foreigners to gain access to the country, at least for British government officials, that is. Hopkirk provides brief accounts of other subsequent adventurers and their expeditions to Lhasa, including Alexandra David-Neel, Heinrich Harrer, and Sven Hedin. He also describes the trips of the first explorers who attempted to climb Mt. Everest, especially Mallory. He closes the book with a description of the Communist Chinese invasion of Tibet as one final example of unwelcome trespassers.As I read this book, I was again struck by the contrast between how little average Tibetans had in the way of material goods or lifestyle, and how fiercely they struggled to keep it that way and keep foreign influences out. The descriptions of Lhasa at the turn of the century when Westerners first gained access to it make the place sound quite miserable- -open gutters, vermin, disease were everywhere. The monks and religious leaders possessed incredible power, and subjected people to hideous corporal punishments if they stepped out of line. When considering such circumstances, it's hard to believe that average Tibetans would really prefer to be left alone, to mire in their own dirt ruled by a strict theocracy. Nevertheless, these days the very word Tibet evokes images of the exiled Dalai Lama and his endless missions for peace. The idea that we have of Tibet today must somehow have been contained in the culture that the trespassers described in this book found and fought to destroy.The book is quite well written and engaging. Hopkirk does a masterful job at weaving together a coherent narrative thread from the various documents that describe the expeditions. His organization and selection provide clear insights into the topic and a balance that is hard to realize when reading the various firsthand accounts of these expeditions..

The Outside World Comes Crashing In

This is a very entertaining little history book by the master expert on the obscure lands of Central Asia, Peter Hopkirk, who is also an excellent writer. The focus here is an esoteric bit of history which has probably not been covered elsewhere - the race by the outside world to get into mysterious Tibet, and especially its forbidden capital Lhasa. The Tibetans' almost pathological need to be left alone led them to repel anyone from outside shortly after such interlopers crossed the border. Add to that Tibet's inaccessibility, surrounded on three sides by the most impenetrable mountains on Earth, and on the fourth side by equally hostile deserts, all of which many people though the ages have died trying to traverse. Of course this all made outsiders, especially Westerners, yearn to "gatecrash" this forbidden land.Hopkirk tells the intriguing tales of the various adventurers, diplomats, and missionaries who made the earliest attempts to reach Lhasa, most of whom didn't make it. While mostly unsuccessful in reaching their ultimate goal, these hardy souls still had incredible stories to tell and contributed immensely to the sparse knowledge of Tibet's geography and culture. Included are some unexpected goodies like the story of the indestructible Pundits from India who literally counted the steps they took, plus the earliest deadly attempts to conquer Mt. Everest. The book ends rather depressingly with the story of China's brutal occupation in the 1950's, which ended Tibet's self-imposed isolation once and for all, after which the Chinese closed it off even more tightly because of political paranoia. Throughout the book, Hopkirk offers some key insights into ancient Tibetan culture and their homegrown brand of extreme Buddhism. As a result we find that Tibet was never the spiritual paradise of pure thought and devotion that modern celebrity Buddhists try to tell us it was, before the outside world screwed everything up (we see that not even the Dalai Lama makes that claim). You may be surprised by the fierce, if naïve, warlike tendencies of the Tibetans, even their monks. The only problem with this book is Hopkirk's tendency to hold back on many stories. He starts to describe some very interesting tales, like the harsh ordeal of the lone female missionary Susie Rijnhart or the mysterious Japanese spy Narita Yasuteru, only to abruptly claim that the conclusions are outside the scope of the book or more extensively described elsewhere. This is a rather frustrating tease from the author, especially since this book is not that long and there is surely room to spare. But that's the only misstep in this most enjoyable book. (Note: for the much larger story of this region, in which Tibet played a small historical part, see Hopkirk's later masterwork "The Great Game.")

More China bashing from the Great Game maestro

Another classic from the Englishman who brought us Great Game tales and the story of China's missing Buddhist artwork. This time it's the story of the race to be first in Lhasa - even though the Tibetans asked no one to come and gave no one permission to enter their country. An international cast of Russians, North Americans, the French and the British all attempted to win. Hopkirk's tale of heroism and derring-do then ends with the tragic days of the mid-twentieth century when China invaded and Mao's Red Guard fanatics tried to destroy everything that stood in the way of total domination.Most travellers entered Tibet incognito, either as private travellers hoping to evade detection, and win the prize of being first to enter the sacred city, or in the service of their military or religious masters. All failed, until the legendary Sir Francis Youghusband fought his way there - in true Great Game style - as the head of a British army battalion sent to head off Russian imperial advances into Tibet.Of course, the Tibetans didn't want the Brits telling them what to do and conflict broke out. These days, the manner of the British victory at Guru - in the modern day Indian state of Sikkim - would be the subject of an international enquiry. Many of the other tales are also tragic ...Others are heroic. Most spectacular of all were the 'Pundits' - British trained Indian's spies - who entered Tibet disguised as holy travellers and spent years spinning their prayer wheels, counting every pace and mapping every corner of the country for their colonial masters. It's amazing what you can learning from boiling water. But the final thoughts that linger are those that wonder why the British, after having spent so much energy defeating the Tibetans, then turned turtle and abandoned them in their hour of need. The United States, by then the world's dominant power, stood by and did nothing either. It's a melancholy ending to a truly classic work of art that has you groping for the travel maps and the hiking boots. Once again, Peter Hopkirk has managed to spin an enormously enjoyable story about a page of history that very few know anything about. Watching the Dalai Lama rail against China on the BBC will never be the same again.
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