From Publishers Weekly
A contributing editor at National Geographic Adventure and correspondent for Outside magazine, McRae wonderfully documents the history of exploration, both geographical and spiritual, in Tibet's Tsangpo River Gorge, an acknowledged "power place" in Tibetan Buddhism and believed for centuries to be the gateway to nirvana. McRae begins in the 1920s and focuses on the work of naturalist Francis Kingdon-Ward, an Englishman bent on unraveling the mystery behind the Tsangpo's precipitous drop in elevation. (He thought it was caused by a hidden waterfall.) McRae then looks at contemporary tourism in the region. In the 1990s the Chinese government opened southeastern Tibet to foreigners for the first time since the 1959 takeover, and since then, it's become a hot spot for modern-day explorers. McRae's leading men include a low profile wilderness guide from Tucson, Ariz., who got the attention of the Guinness Book of World Records when he claimed that, by his calculations, the gorge was the world's deepest canyon; Ian Baker and Hamid Sardar, American expatriates living in Kathmandu; and Arizona land developers Gill and Troy Gillenwater, who became violently ill after bathing in a sacred spring and returned to America to write about their exploits for an outdoor clothing catalogue. In his previous offering, an essay collection called Continental Drifter, McRae opined that the Chinese were turning Tibet into a religious theme park. He elaborates, though with reporting that sometimes feels detached, on that lament here, exposing Western bravado against the backdrop of one of the East's most mysterious-and beautiful-places.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
The Tsangpo River Gorge, in southeastern Tibet, is a fascinating place. Threaded by a torrential river, walled in by lofty peaks, plagued by foul weather and earthquakes, its beauty nonetheless casts a spell on both Eastern and Western imaginations. Revered by Buddhists as a sacred place, it was reimagined and dubbed Shangri-La by James Hilton in his 1933 novel Lost Horizon and has been the site of repeated incursions by Westerners, whether botanists, budding Buddhists, or adventurers. McRae, an experienced travel and outdoors writer, has expanded two previously published articles into a broad overview. Only 80 years ago a 10-mile stretch of the Tsangpo was still unexplored; at present, China plans to build resorts and draw hordes of tourists to this pristine place. But while McRae does a fine job of recounting the various expeditions to paradise and placing them in social context--and has an eye for the unfortunate human habit of despoiling places-- some readers may tire of his only somewhat credulous and fairly lengthy descriptions of the region's sacred geography. Keir Graff
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