CIA in Mustang, MIA in Dharamsala

A new novel on Tibet highlights, and skirts around, many of the region’s issues.

Tales of Tibet and Tibetans continue to sell well to an English-speaking readership. Home to the mysterious, the demonic, the keys to the mind and humanity's redemption, ever since Herodotus wrote of gold-digging ants there, Tibet has been 'a land simply like no other', in the words of Alexandra David-Néel, the first European woman to win the 'race' to Lhasa during the early 20th century. Like places of fable everywhere, armchair explorers far outnumber their more intrepid counterparts, and even today, when railroads and highways crisscross the plateau, books continue to be the vehicle for the majority of would-be Tibet explorers, due to restrictive and expensive permits and frequent lockdowns imposed by the authorities.

For the past few decades, discourse on Tibet in the English-speaking world has largely been produced outside of it. The nature of this discourse, too, has undergone a sea change since Tibet first entered the general lexicon of news, politics and travel during the late 19 century, from one concerned with geographical exploration and geopolitics to one largely dominated by spirituality, and, more specifically, how those in the West can learn from Tibet, and why they should. The Tibetan side of this conversation is led by a formidable entourage: a Nobel Peace Prize winning spiritual head who has topped Watkins' 100 Spiritual Power List since 2012; jet-setting incarnations and teachers joining prominent neuroscientists in the search for universal happiness; monks volunteering for their experiments and giving TED lectures. Today, more than any other major world religion, Tibetan Buddhism appeals to (or is marketed towards) the hip, the environmentally friendly, and those slightly disenchanted with the consumerist ways of Europe and North America, and increasingly, of China too. The rest of lay Tibetan society has been swept along to complete a chic portrait of kindness and non-violence. Tibetans are the "baby seals of the human rights movement", according to scholar and translator
Robert Thurman.

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Himal Southasian