The Tibetan plateau, situated at some 15,000 feet (4500 metres), surrounded by great mountain ranges which include the two tallest mountains in the world, Everest and K2, was one of the last areas of the globe to be explored by Western travellers. The mixture of Tibetan Buddhism, presided over by a spiritual leader chosen as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, alongside popular tales of the Yeti, or ‘abominable snowman’, combined with its remoteness, has given this vast area more than a whiff of exoticism. This, however, is not the whole story.

The plateau forms borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. As such it was part of ancient trade routes and from the seventh century onwards was fought over by Mongol, Chinese, Nepalese and British forces. In addition its glaciers and snow-fed highlands feed Asia’s great rivers, the Brahmaputra, Mekong, Yangtze, Indus, Yellow and Salween, giving it great strategic importance.

The Indian pundit, Sarat Chandra Das, made two journeys to Tibet in the 1880’s, reaching Lhasa. He was reputed to have been a spy for the British and his observations would have provided vital information for the British invasion of Tibet in 1903, one the last and most infamous events played out in the Great Game between Britain and Russia, with Britain determined to defend its British Indian territories against possible invasion from the north. His account was first published in 1902 as Journey to Lhasa and Central Tibet.

Henry Savage Landor was an eccentric English explorer, who scorned special equipment (like ropes for mountaineering), and whether in the jungle of the mountains, dressed as if he was in Bond Street (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). He travelled in Western Tibet in 1897, and in attempting to reach Lhasa (closed to non-Bhuddhists), was captured and tortured by the Tibetans. His account, In the Forbidden Land, 1899, is an incredibly handsome 2-volume work, profusely illustrated.

The first great scientific expedition to Tibet was by the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin. He was notable for using local scientists and assistants to aid him and located the sources of the Brahmaputra, Indus and Sutlej Rivers. An essential work in the exploration of the plateau is Trans-Himalaya discoveries and adventures in Tibet, 1909-1913.

 

 

In 1938, John Hanbury-Tracy published Black River of Tibet. This was an account of the exploration of South-east Tibet in 1935. The author claims to have seen the footprint of the abominable snowman. We offer a fine copy in dust-wrapper.

 

Finally, a book on Tibetan Buddhism. Sir Charles Bell spent eighteen years in Tibet, including a year in Lhasa. In The Religion of Tibet, 1931, he tells how Buddhism came to Tibet, and its influence on the country. We offer an attractive first edition in dust-wrapper.