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Travelogue set in Tibet (an unforgettable encounter on the roof of the world)

25th November 2014

The Friendship Highyway by Charlie Carroll: travelogue set in Tibet.

IMG_2885Charlie Carroll tells the story of two journeys to Tibet in the present day. One is his own: he had always wanted to visit this remote, forbidden country and finally decided to make his dream a reality. The other is the journey of Tibetan-born Lobsang, who has lived as an exile in Nepal and India, but always longed to return home – almost an impossibility. But not quite. The two young men meet on the road known as The Friendship Highway, that runs for 440 miles between Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, and Zhangmu, the border town across the river from Nepal.

I found the book very gripping to read. The two journeys are interwoven, with chapters alternating between Charlie’s autobiographical account, and the story of Lobsang’s life as told to Charlie. They tell of the history of the region, the annexation of Tibet by China in 1950, the Dalai Lama (whose former house Charlie is not allowed to see), and the circumstances of the Tibetan people today. There’s a painful contrast between Charlie’s privileged life as a Western foreigner in Tibet (though it’s not without its dangers) and the privations suffered by Lobsang.

The heart-rending events of Lobsang’s flight from the Chinese-controlled Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) in 1989 are told through the perspective of a young child, who can’t understand but only feel the loss of his brother, shot by Chinese border guards. Lobsang grows up as a refugee in Kathmandu and becomes a student in Delhi, where he falls in love with a Tibetan fellow-student, Drolma. They are in love not only with each other, but with Tibetan-ness and their homeland. When Drolma returns to Lhasa, Lobsang wants to follow her; but as he left the country illegally, he must return the same way – on foot over the Himalayan mountain passes! A happy, fulfilled year follows – but when Drolma gets into trouble with the authorities for her political activity, Lobsang’s situation becomes desperate.

Charlie must have listened very carefully and respectfully to the story Lobsang told him over many hours, and his research has clearly been considerable. He doesn’t hesitate to describe the grimmer aspects and the difficulties that he and Lobsang variously encounter, from filthy toilets to treacherous taxi-drivers; but I loved the picture he paints of Tibet, with its glorious natural beauty, its mountains and snow, its prayer flags and jade necklaces, its dependence on yak-butter. This flowingly-written book certainly made me want to go there – and gave me a very good idea of the bureaucracy I would have to go through to do so.

Kim for the TripFiction Team

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  1. User: aditi3991

    Posted on: 27/11/2014 at 10:26 am

    Sounds like an interesting book! Your review is really very enlightening! 🙂 I must read this book!