THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE WESTE

The impulse to believe the absurd when presented with the unknowable is called religion. Whether this is wise or unwise is the domain of doctrine. Once you understand someone's doctrine, you understand their rationale for believing the absurd. At that point, it may no longer seem absurd. You can get to both sides of this conondrum from here.

THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE WESTE

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:20 am

THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE WESTERN CREATION OF SACRED LANDSCAPE
by Peter Bishop
© 1989 by Peter Bishop

NOTICE: THIS WORK MAY BE PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT

YOU ARE REQUIRED TO READ THE COPYRIGHT NOTICE AT THIS LINK BEFORE YOU READ THE FOLLOWING WORK, THAT IS AVAILABLE SOLELY FOR PRIVATE STUDY, SCHOLARSHIP OR RESEARCH PURSUANT TO 17 U.S.C. SECTION 107 AND 108. IN THE EVENT THAT THE LIBRARY DETERMINES THAT UNLAWFUL COPYING OF THIS WORK HAS OCCURRED, THE LIBRARY HAS THE RIGHT TO BLOCK THE I.P. ADDRESS AT WHICH THE UNLAWFUL COPYING APPEARED TO HAVE OCCURRED. THANK YOU FOR RESPECTING THE RIGHTS OF COPYRIGHT OWNERS.


Image



Table of Contents

Introduction
Maps
1. An Imaginative Geography
2. Tibet Discovered (1773-92)
3. Inventing the Threshold (1792-1842)
4. The Axis Mundi Appears (mid-nineteenth century)
5. Outside Time and Space (1875-1914)
6. Lost Horizons: From Sacred Place to Utopia (1904-59)
7. Conclusion: The Empty Vessel
Notes
Bibliography
Index

"There are moments during the process of imaginative creation when seemingly diverse fantasies start to beat in time and then swell into a single resonance. A great chord is struck and held for a while. Both participants and listeners seem overcome with the primordial, archetypal purity of the sound. Everything then becomes a signifier for this great imaginative chord. At this moment the sacred place is truly born; its imaginative history begins. It then has its own coherence and logic ... We have come a long way from the vague Romantic generalizations so common earlier in the century."

***

"Whilst the term Aryan had first arisen in the eighteenth century through the discovery of a linguistic relationship between Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, by the 1850s it had outgrown its philological origins. It became associated with the idea of an 'original race' who formed the light-bearing vanguard of true civilization. Darwin's evolutionary theory gave the Aryan fantasy a much-needed scientific framework which also dovetailed beautifully with imperial demands."

***

"What fine baseless fabrics might not a cosmographer build on this situation, who, from a peat or an oyster-shell can determine the different changes which volcanoes, inundations and earthquakes have produced on the face of this globe."

***

"I took one more long took at the boundless prospect. There is no loftier country on the globe than that embraced by this view, and no more howling wilderness. Were it buried in everlasting snows, or burnt by a tropical sun, it might still be as utterly sterile; but with such sterility I had long been familiar. Here the colorings are those of the fiery desert or volcanic island, while the climate is that of the poles."

***

"I find it extremely difficult to describe in an adequate manner the extreme desolation of the most barren parts of Tibet, where no luxuriant forest or bright green herbage softens the nakedness of the mountains, but everywhere the same precipices, heaps of rocks, and barren monotonous desert meets the eye. The prospect before me was certainly most wonderful. I had nowhere before seen a country so utterly waste."

***

"How wonderful the order and perfection of the inorganic universe as compared with the misery and confusion of the organic! There is some refuge for the spirit in the order and beauty of this unfeeling inorganic nature."

***

"It was, he wrote, a region 'where nothing dies since nothing lives there.'"

***

"Far as the eye could reach, the unknown, unnamed mountains of Tibet indented the bright horizon with their spears and horns."

***

"It struck me forcibly before I left Zanskar that there must be some unknown relationship between the people of that province and the Scottish Highlanders. The sound of their varieties of language, the brooches which fasten their plaids, the varieties of tartan, even the features of the people, strongly reminded me of the Scotch Highlanders."

***

"The pine is trained to need nothing, and to endure everything. It is resolvedly whole, self-contained, desiring nothing but rightness, content with restricted completion."

***

"'What am I?' he asked. And in reply he quoted the Buddhist hymn, 'all is transitory, all is misery, all is void, all is without substance'."

***

"'So cold was the wind that a young eagle fell dead a few yards from my tent.' Of 3,500 yaks assembled by the British army in 1904, only 150 survived the crossing into Tibet. Hedin, on one of his Tibetan explorations, grimly referred to the lengthening 'death-register' of animals. Littledale reported that 'not a day passed but several animals had to be shot or abandoned. It is a gruesome subject which I will not pursue further'. Grenard sorrowfully told a similar tale: 'Our road was marked by the carcasses of our horses.' 'In the end,' he continued, 'all our beasts died, with the exception of two camels. The neighbourhood of the camp became a charnel-house infested with crows and even more horrible huge vultures.' Frostbite killed several soldiers in 1904 as the British crossed the Jeylap-la. Bonvalot had to bury one of his Muslim companions in the frozen ground. Grenard's leader, Dutreuil de Rhins, was killed by Tibetans in 1891. Even more tragic was Dr. Susie Rijnhart, who lost both her small son and her husband whilst trying to reach Lhasa. Grenard, as always, expressed the melancholy of such losses: ' All these miseries, added and multiplied together, gave me the impression that I was sinking into a dark and silent depth from which there is no returning!'"

***

"The palace of the Dalai-Lama is 367 feet in height, and has above 10,000 apartments, being the largest cloister in the world. Its cupolas are gilded in the best style; the interior swarms with friars, is full of idols and pagodas, and may be looked upon as the greatest stronghold of paganism."

***

"The similarly proportioned gloomy portals of Egyptian fanes naturally invite comparison; but the Tibetan temples lack the sublimity of those; and the uncomfortable creeping sensation produced by the many sleepless eyes of Boodh's numerous incarnations is very different from the awe with which we contemplate the outspread wings of the Egyptian symbol, and feel as in the presence of him who says, 'I am Osiris the Great: no man hath dared to lift my veil'."

***

"Lamas as a group were invariably described as crafty and devious in their ability to manipulate the ordinary people of Tibet and the Himalayan region. It was even reasoned that the Chinese Emperor paid homage to the Dalai Lama and his religion only in order to exploit the Lama's capacity to manipulate and control the previously aggressive Mongolian tribes."

***

"No wonder that the people of that country are extremely afraid of disobeying the orders of the Government ... crucifying, ripping open the body, pressing and cutting out the eyes, are by no means the worst of these punishments."

***

"In 1904 The Times's special correspondent, Perceval Landon, accompanying the British expedition fighting its way to Lhasa, paused to visit the Nyen-de-kyi-buk monastery. After tea with the abbot, Landon asked permission to see one of the immured monks for which the monastery was famous. These monks had taken a vow to live in darkness, each walled up and entombed within a small cell just large enough for him to sit in meditation. Some monks entered this rock-hewn home for six months, others for three years and ninety-three days, and many for life. Landon followed the abbot into a small courtyard and watched, 'with cold apprehension', whilst three sharp taps were administered to a stone slab that covered the entrance to one of these cells: 'At first the stone seemed to be stuck, or else the anchorite behind was too weak to move it. Then very slowly and uncertainly it was pushed back and a black chasm revealed. There was a pause of thirty seconds, during which imagination ran riot, but I do not think that any other thing could have been as intensely pathetic as that which we actually saw. A hand, muffled in a tightly-wound piece of dirty cloth, for all the world like the stump of an arm, was painfully thrust up, and very weakly it felt along the slab. After a fruitless fumbling the hand slowly quivered back again into the darkness. A few moments later there was again one ineffectual effort, and then the stone slab moved noiselessly again across the opening. A physical chill struck through me to the marrow. The awful pathos of that painful movement struggled in me with an intense shame that we had intruded ourselves upon a private misery'."

***

"Indeed, just to be 'above the clouds' placed Tibet into the 'once upon a time', the 'land far away, of fairy-stories. Like the giant's castle at the top of the beanstalk, or the palace of the gods atop Mount Olympus, Tibet was 'above the clouds', ethereal, not of this world, a land of dreams. Even the border war between Britain and Tibet in 1888 was hardly taken seriously. 'It has one characteristic', commented The Spectator, 'which takes it out of the range of common conflicts. It has been waged above the clouds and not remote from the line of eternal snow.' In 1904 The Spectator again could not quite treat the capture of Lhasa by British troops as a serious event: 'It is more like the adventure which children love as "Jack and the Beanstalk', than any ever recorded by grave historians.'"

***

"The Tibetans were renowned for misleading Western travelers and giving wrong directions. 'It is almost impossible to get the correct names of places or lakes in Tibet, as every Tibetan lies on every occasion on which he does not see a good valid reason for telling the truth,' wrote an exasperated Bower. Elsewhere, he exclaimed: 'it is terribly hard work trying to get geographical information out of Tibetans, and when in exceptional cases, as does occasionally happen, a vein of truth runs through their statements, it is so fine as to be almost impossible to discover'."

***

"Grenard wryly mentioned finding 'a box containing six cakes of scented soap, which were the only specimens of soap that could be discovered within the radius of Lhasa in the month of January 1894 and which their purchaser was delighted to sell to us after having them for forty years in his shop'."

***

"The Tibetans seemed to inhabit a pre-Copernican world. The flat-earth theory had long been a source of amusement in the West, a sign of medieval ignorance and stubbornness, if not lunacy. Younghusband reported a conversation with the head abbot of the Tashi Lumpo monastery, near Shigatse. He was, wrote Younghusband, 'a courteous, kindly man', 'a charming old gentleman'. However, he firmly interjected when Younghusband 'let slip some observation that the earth was round'. Younghhusband continued: '[he] assured me that when I had lived longer in Tibet, I should find that it was not round, but flat, and not circular, but triangular, like the bone of a shoulder of mutton.'"

***

"Gold is, of course, a major symbol for the goal of psychic transformation. For the alchemist it represented both the aspiration and the completion of the opus, the spiritual journey. As Jung writes, gold is a symbol of eternity, of paradise, and hence of the psychological centre. In relation to gold, he quotes an alchemical text: 'Visit the centre of the earth. There you will find the global fire.' Wilson echoed these sentiments when he wrote: 'It is no wonder, then, that a Chinese proverb speaks of Tibet as being at once the most elevated and the richest country in the world. If the richest mineral treasures in the world lie there, there is abundant reason why strangers should be kept out of it and why it should be kept sacred for the Yellow religion. The great cluster of mountains called the Thibetan Kailas well deserves to be called the centre of the world. It is, at least the greatest centre of elevation."

***

"The Potala palace was not just a receptacle for pagan gold and Tibetan superstition; it would also soon become that place on the whole globe where the greatest accumulation of imaginative gold, the aspirations of Western travelers, could be found. Gold speaks of salvation, paradise, boundless wealth, the centre of the world, the meeting point of earth and heaven."

***

"Landon compared the romantic fantasies conjured up by 'the Golden Roofs of Potala' with those of Rome in 'the opium-sodden imagination of De Quincey'."

***

"The continued closure of this land was therefore essential and Wilson, whilst protesting against it, was unconsciously defending this policy: if the real 'secret' about the 'wealth' of Tibet ever leaked out, the place would surely be overrun and hence made worthless."

-- The Myth of Shangri-La, by Peter Bishop
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE W

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:23 am

Introduction

The concept of sacred place has been important in religious studies but has usually been applied to sites that are either traditional, such as in Australian Aboriginal culture, or well established, as for example in Classical Greece. Such sacred sites are therefore presented as somewhat static, as fixed and complete. By tracing the images evoked in the encounter between Tibet and travelers from Europe, Russia and America, but especially from Britain, this study aims to examine the phenomenology of a sacred place in the process of its creation, fulfillment and subsequent decline. It explores the differences between a geographical location, a sacred place and a utopia. The study is especially concerned with the relationship between the interior phenomenology of a sacred place and the wider context outside its boundaries. It is therefore less of a historical narrative than an in-depth analysis of the inner meanings that Tibet came to hold directly for a considerable number of Westerners and also indirectly for their cultures as a whole.

A way of reading the texts of travel and exploration is developed. It sees them as psychological documents, as statements of a psychology of extraversion, which reveal significant aspects both of the fantasy-making processes of a culture and of its unconscious. In addition it explores the complex relationship between geography, imagination and spirituality.

While the study is methodologically based in archetypal psychology, it also draws widely from such disciplines as humanistic geography and French deconstructionism in an attempt to situate the travel texts within a series of broad psychological and social contexts. It is therefore an attempt to develop an imaginal approach to cultural analysis, one that traces the movement and transformation of images whilst simultaneously leading them back to their root-metaphors. The study is unique in that it presents one complete tradition of travel writing. As such it throws light on the development of the wider genre of travel writing itself, and its place in the complexities of Western spirituality.

The primary texts are those written by explorers and travelers both in Tibet and also around its borders -- in the Himalayas and in Central Asia -- between 1773 and 1959. These years have been selected because they mark the boundary between the first British visitor to Tibet in modern times and the final exile of Tibet's spiritual and secular ruler, the Dalai Lama. Whilst travelers from many Western nations journeyed to Tibet during this period, relations between Tibet and the Western world were dominated by the British. This was primarily due to their presence as imperialists in India and the Himalayan region. It is therefore this relationship which serves as a focus for the study. All the primary texts have been published in English. This is less of a restriction than it would first appear to be, for travelers and explorers to Tibet formed a fairly cohesive international community, one which shared interest and familiarity, if not friendship. They were certainly familiar with each other's work. This fact, together with the British government's vested interest in the region, ensured that most accounts were soon translated into English.

Tibet is revealed in these texts as an imaginal complexity rather than a unity -- a conclusion that is perhaps widely applicable to sacred sites. There were many 'Tibets': historically, as the wider social and psychological contexts altered, and as the place itself acquired its own imaginative momentum; and synchronically, as through each traveler was expressed a very particular archetypal style of fantasy. At certain, limited moments, such imaginal diversity assumed a common coherence -- usually under pressure from institutions such as the Royal Geographical Society, or from the more diffuse promptings of a collective need, or from the coherence of Tibet itself, its genius loci; but the place was always a site of contending fantasies. This study shows that the interior phenomenology of Tibet as a sacred place was never sharply delineated and isolated from the demands of the outside world -- indeed that the two spaces continually interpenetrated each other -- and that the threshold of a sacred place is a significant region in its own right, one that expresses imaginal depth and tension. A sacred place is in a continual state of process.

The creation of Tibet is located within the wider struggle by Europeans to redefine both global geography and their own place within it. The emergence of a geopolitical imagination and a mythology of imperialism are seen as crucial to Western fantasies of Tibet. By tracing the recent history of Western perceptions of Himalayan, Central Asian and Tibetan landscape, this study reveals the late-nineteenth-century development of a radically new aesthetic appreciation of wilderness regions. The crucial struggle between empirical observation and imaginative interpretation is identified and documented. The development of a wilderness aesthetic is traced to a series of separate imaginative moves: for example, a shift of emphasis away from landscape forms and an increased awareness of light and color; Darwin's theory, which drew all the landscapes of the world into a common schema; then Ruskin's achievement in laying the basis for a kind of natural morality of landscape; and finally, the sense that many Westerners had of belonging to such distant places.

A close imagistic reading of the texts makes it clear that Tibet has provided many in the West with a sense of historical continuity -- whether through associations with archaic ancestors, or with Ancient Egypt, or with some primal occult wisdom. Tibetan religion, culture and geography were intertwined and virtually inseparable in Western fantasies until the first half of the twentieth century. Then, under the increasing sense of threat to the perceived isolation and purity of Tibet, there was a separation between fantasy and geographical place. 'Shangri-La' marks the final movement of Tibet from a geographically grounded sacred place to a placeless utopia.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE W

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:24 am

Maps

Image

Greater Tibet and Surrounding Countries in 1900

Image

The Physical Features of Greater Tibet in 1900
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE W

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:27 am

Part 1 of 2

Chapter 1: An Imaginative Geography

New myths spring up beneath each step we take.
-- (L. Aragon [1980])


A Global Mosaic

In one sense, natural landscape does not exist. We inescapably shape the world, even if only with our minds and not our hands. Where we shape the world, we create places. 'To be human', writes Relph, 'is to live in a world that is filled with significant places: to be human is to have and to know your place.' It has been said that to be without a relationship to a place is to be in spiritual exile. [1] Humans seem to need such special, even sacred, places. The space under the stairs, or in the corner of a room, so essential in childhood, is echoed again and again in sacred groves, caves, churches and temples. [2] Here, it is hoped, it is possible to form a closer connection with some unseen power: lofty and divine, or hidden in the depths of individual memory or of collective memoria. [3] Often these special places are purely personal, idiosyncratic and random, but most cultures also have their officially sanctioned sacred sites. Europe, for example, was once covered with such places, each linked by ancient routes of pilgrimage. [4]

In addition to both the informal respect bestowed by individuals upon their own special places and the collective worship of sites recognized by an entire culture is the grander, but more elusive, fascination with faraway places. With these places the fabulous and the empirical merge indiscriminately; sometimes embracing vast regions -- Cathay, Tartary, the Orient, the Indies -- sometimes much more specific -- the mountains of the Moon, the source of the Nile, Arcadia. [5] As the old European pilgrim routes fell into disuse and an age of exploration was initiated, these faraway places became increasingly mobilized by a Europe that was seeking a new global orientation and identity. A succession of empirically surveyed geographical places, although still fabulously imagined, evoked the hopes and fears of generations from the seventeenth century onwards. [6] At the same time, in Europe itself, pilgrimage was superseded by travel as a leisure activity for aristocrats and the rising middle classes. Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, the era of mass travel began, although long-range journeys for leisure, sport or science still remained the prerogative of Europe's upper classes. [7]

Some authors have insisted that there was a decline in the sense of sacred place as European culture moved into the industrial era of the nineteenth century, [8] but such a conclusion ignores the changes occurring both in the experience of the sacred and in the notion of place. From the Alpine peaks to the Arctic, from Tahiti to Tangier, European imagination spanned the globe. Europeans were constantly taking bearings from these remote places. This global involvement revolutionized European conceptions of the world: as a physical, social, political, spiritual and aesthetic reality.

These 'faraway' places frequently came to exert a mysterious fascination. I would argue that they were truly sacred places, but in modern guise. [9] Whereas sacred places in traditional cultures seem to have been created ex nihilo, to have existed always, these new places can be seen in a process of creation, fulfillment and decline. In them we can trace how a geographical location becomes transformed into a sacred place. They offer a unique opportunity to follow the relationship between cultural imagination, physical landscape and the sense of the sacred. They are windows into the changing spiritual aspirations, the soul, of modern Europe. [10] Tibet was one such place. It began almost as a mere rumour in the mid eighteenth century, but a hundred years later it had evolved into one of the last great sacred places of Victorian Romanticism. Its significance still reverberates strongly through European fantasies to this day. This is therefore a study of the encounter between Tibet and Western fantasy-making as revealed in the stories told by travelers and explorers: a study in the creation of a sacred place.

Travel Writing and the Exploration of Tibet

There have been several excellent studies of Tibetan exploration, but without exception they are straightforward narrative histories. [11] In addition, some reference to the story of exploration is frequently included in more general studies of Tibetan culture, as well as in historical accounts of Western political intervention in Central Asia. [12] Whilst performing the invaluable role of documenting Western involvement in the region, these accounts are singularly lacking in a number of crucial areas. The context within which these journeys were made is either ignored or limited to that of imperial politics, and even then only to the most strategic levels. The full psychosocial context of Tibetan travel has not received its due attention. This has resulted in a failure to situate travel accounts against the background of Western culture, and hence to assess the inner meaning that Tibet has held for the West. Also, in these studies, the travel accounts have usually been analysed on a simplistically literal basis, valued only in terms of their apparent factual truth, their contribution to a supposedly evolving empirical knowledge about Tibet. No attempt has been made to understand the genre of travel writing and how it can be interpreted.

This is, upon reflection, an astonishing omission. It assumes that travel writing is unequivocal in its meaning. All too often it is conceived to be either a poor cousin of scientific observation, or else to fall short of the creativeness of 'pure' fiction. Travel writing has its own history, its own stylistic schisms and struggles. [13] As a genre it is something of a complex hybrid and has been connected with autobiographies, eye-witness accounts and travelogues. It has been called a sub-species of memoir, a form of romance (quest, picaresque or pastoral), a vehicle for essays (ethical or scientific) or a variant of the comic novel. [14]

Travel writing can be seen as the art of the collage: newspaper clippings, public notices, letters, official documents, diary extracts, essays on current affairs, on art, on architecture, comic dialogues and homilies, are somehow clustered together to form a coherent and satisfying whole. The internal coherence of these assorted collages of essays, sermons, and so on, relies extensively on the image of geography and landscape, but this coherence can encourage too literal a reading of travel accounts.

The gross physicality, the geographical locatability, of travel books should not blind us to their fictional nature. Travel writing is not concerned only with the discovery of places but also with their creation. This is the case no matter how much effort is devoted to being as true as possible to the 'empirical' material. Frequently the travel account masks a totally fictional and imagined journey. Norman Douglas for example, actually admitted inventing characters. Whole passages of Robert Byron's accounts bear scant correlation to what actually took place, and it has been said that Evelyn Waugh seemed to behave as if 'descriptive passages do justice rather to potentialities than to facts.' [15]

Robert Byron, the well-known travel writer of the 1920s and thirties, attempted to justify travel as a way of gaining knowledge, and it is this concern which is central to any debate about travel literature in its cultural context. Knowledge produced by this form of activity is akin to the bricolage. [16] The travel writer then becomes the bricoleur, the odd-job person, who creates a body of knowledge from the materials at hand -- a process that is primarily orientated around the senses. Byron, in fact, wrote that 'the traveling species' is involved in a quest for 'an organic harmony between all matter and all activity ...' [17] Above all, travel accounts are involved in the production of imaginative knowledges. They are an important aspect of a culture's myth-making, yet this perspective is frequently overlooked.

The density of the text, and hence its claim to empirical truth, arises from a number of elements, each of which contributes towards the coherence of a travel account. Geography, locatable places and map coordinates can be verified, their empirical reality bestows authenticity on other aspects of the discourse. [18] But such a concrete actuality can obscure a poetic, or psychological, role in the creation of the text. [19] The use of photographs also encourages a literal reading. Certainly, the place of photographs in travel accounts is highly problematic, it is difficult to understand how they are selected and why they are included. Frequently they appear incidental and seem to be chosen at random or merely on the basis of personal whim. Defying any obvious logical connection, all too often they are merely 'postcards' which say: 'I have actually been here, at such and such place. This proves it.' Like the random use of foreign words, photographs impart a certain density and authenticity. Dates, in particular, give an apparent rigour and factuality to travel texts. Fussell writes that 'travel is thus an adventure in time as well as distance'. [20]

Maps, with routes carefully marked, combine both landscape and time. Routes are the temporal and spatial threads around which the bricolage is organized. No matter how wide the digression, no matter how disparate the topics, the route provides a datum to which he can, and must return. Once the route is left, we could say that the travel account is over. A travel account, unlike purely geographical descriptions or guidebooks, is organized as a narrative. Narrative, it has been observed, 'mystifies our understanding by providing a false sense of coherence.' [21] In fact, travel accounts pose some interesting questions for any theory of narrative: they present a constant interplay between two levels. The objective, tangible world of physical geography and chronological time consistently slides over, and breaks into, subjective personal experiences and digressions. Most travel accounts consist of small islands of personal narrative afloat on an ocean of dates and geography. These well-structured stories are often threaded together into a sequence which is entirely dependent on the idea of route. The image of the route emerges as the key to their apparent coherence and authenticity. Even the personal experiences of the traveler are secondary to the coherence and logic of the route; the route gives the traveler the authority to narrate.

The logic of the route must be established by the author if the text is to work as a travel discourse. The route is basically a trace left in geographical space and chronological time, but the imaginative continuity and quality of this trace can vary. The route can be socially structured and sanctioned, as in pilgrimages, or Aboriginal visits to sacred sites along sacred routes, or carnivals and street processions. When pilgrims begin their journey, they know precisely where they are going. So too, the individual traveler who follows the path of a Marco Polo, or an Alexander the Great, also follows, like the Aboriginal, well-mapped routes and socially recognizable sites. In all these cases the route is known beforehand. It is already mythic, already a narrative before the journey is undertaken. The journey merely activates and actualizes the route and the map. However, there are times when the physical geography becomes symbolic as the actual journey unfolds. The landscape and the route are mythologized as a result or the journey. There is no set route; it is rarely repeatable. For example, Matthiesson's journey into the Himalayas in search of the rare snow leopard became a soulful walk only as it progressed. The further he moved from Western civilization, the deeper he journeyed into the uncharted regions of his psyche and imagination. [22]

The route must be shown to possess a structure, an order of meaning, over and above mere chronological sequence or geographical position. Often this is achieved by means which are quite transparent. As we have seen, either the route is the trace of a collective idea such as a path for trading, or pilgrimage, or it is based on the traveler's subjective desire -- for example, to climb a particular peak, see a specific view. However, the most sublime art of all is to make the elements of the route -- the physical geography and chronological sequence -- appear to tell their own story. We then find that the authenticity of geography and dates is reinforced by the authenticity of narrative, and by the privileged access to truth accorded to it in our contemporary culture.

Finally, the use of the first-person account of experience gives the strength of testimony to the discourse. Autobiographies and diaries also carry this authenticity. Hillman forcefully argues that such a confessional mode supports the idea of a 'unified experiencing subject' confronting a chaotic and fragmented world. He emphasizes that in a literal, personalistic confession there is a loss of connection to the anima mundi, to the aesthetics of soul in the world. Foucault, moving along a parallel trajectory, has pointed to the way the confessional mode in literature, derived substantially from the church confessional, has reinforced the ideology of an autonomously creative author. He writes: 'Since the Middle Ages at least, Western societies have established the confession as one of the main rituals we rely on for the production of truth.' [23] Travel accounts are often a form of secularized pilgrimage. Travel and experiential narrative are a powerful combination. The claims to truth of such a narrative depend, however, upon the authority of the narrator. Hayden White argues that the 'very right to narrate' hinges upon this. [24] In travel accounts it is the physical act of journeying along a specific route which bestows such authority.

In Laurence Sterne's important eighteenth-century work, A Sentimental Journey, travel was combined with a radical sensitivity towards subjective states. This combination of outer physical geography and the inner world of private subjective experience seems at first to be an anomaly, but they have an ancient association. Victor Turner has commented that in the ritual of pilgrimage, personal experience becomes public. [25] For travel the reverse is also true: physical geography and public space become personalized. [26]

To a certain extent every travel account presents the image of several planes of discourse, sliding across one another, conflicting, contradicting, reinforcing and interrupting one another. Historical, geographical and personal experience all have their own modes of coherence and authenticity. Frequently personal narrative may appear to be eliminated whilst, for example, certain social, archaeological or botanical observations are made, but I would suggest that in the travel account such narrative is never nullified, only temporarily subdued.

Travel can function as a metaphor for inner experiences. Similarly, geography can provide maps for the description of consciousness. Each place, frontier or natural feature then becomes filled with symbolic resonance. [27] This seems to be the crucial aspect of travel accounts as a form of knowledge: not that geography (and so on) authenticate personal experience, but quite the reverse. The travel account creates a symbolic landscape filled with subjective meanings: even the descriptions of the weather can provide precise impressions of mood. It would also be wrong to assume that the creation of landscape is solely the work of an isolated individual. As Lowenthal comments, 'Every image and idea about the world is compounded ... of personal experience, learning, imagination, and memory.' [28]

Any study that refers to travel writing as a primary source needs to separate out these various levels of discourse and to note how they influence each other. For example, one must distinguish between the various nationalities and their specific imaginal relationship to Tibet. Britain, France, Italy, Russia, the USA, Germany and Austria all have a long tradition of Tibetan, Himalayan and Central Asian exploration, but whereas the British and Russians were involved in aggressive imperial expansion, the other countries were not. Political concerns were not, therefore, an explicit part of their accounts. For the British in the Himalayas, the room available for imaginative play was structured by the realities of administration, territorial defence, and executive power. But for explorers from other countries, without any explicit colonial presence in the region, a different set of constraints operated and revealed themselves at work in their accounts of travel and exploration.

Nevertheless, there was also a certain consensus among European and American travelers to Tibet, the Himalayas and Central Asia, despite national and personal differences. As we shall see, travelers were frequently familiar with each other's accounts, many of which were soon translated into English. In a very real sense, then, any travel account that had been translated into English immediately became part of the general stock of experiences and aspirations upon which British travelers drew and which therefore became their own. This internationalism was assisted by the similarities in class and gender among explorers and travelers, no matter what their nationality. They were invariably from upper-middle-class or aristocratic backgrounds, and they perhaps had more attitudes and values in common than their diverse national backgrounds would at first suggest. This international communality was particularly strong during the golden age of Tibetan exploration in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Reading Travel Accounts

It is frequently through extreme geographical differences that a culture reflects upon, and tells stories about, itself. The gradual emergence of the image of Christian Europe, for example, depended extensively on the development of fantasies about an Islamic Orient. Fantasies of Tartary, of the East, of the West, and of Asia acquired a coherent shape only quite recently. They were formed within the context of Europe's struggle for self-definition and image. Tibet was part of the oppositional fantasy between East and West, between Occident and Orient.

This study is therefore not a narrative history of the exploration of Tibet; it is primarily concerned with how Tibet was directly experienced and imagined by Westerners, particularly the British, over a period of nearly 200 years. Travel texts are of particular value to such a study for they lie at the intersection of individual fantasy-making and social constraint. More regulated than, say, dreams, but one of the most personal documents, they are a unique record of a culture's imaginative life. I will argue that Tibet's fringe of its everyday concerns has been directly responsible for the consistently rich fantasies evoked by that country. In a sense, Tibet's peripheral place gave permission for many Europeans and Americans to use it as an imaginative escape, as a sort of time out, a relaxation from rigid rational censorship. Time and again Tibet was endowed with all the qualities of a dream, a collective hallucination. As with dreams, issues that are central to everyday life emerge symbolically in a striking, unashamed naivety.

Travel writing is often more candid than conscious autobiography, often less defensive than observations made closer to home. As life at the centre of Europe's empires became more organized, their values more protected, accounts of life at the distant periphery seemed to become more revealing. Here European fascination with geographical Otherness could be readily indulged. As Yi-Fu Tuan notes, 'Peripheral location is a geographical emblem of anti-structure.' [29] For example, many nineteenth-century travel writers presented the Orient as a certain type of experience. [30] It was a place of pilgrimage, a spectacle, a totally homogeneous and coherent world of exotic customs, of disturbing yet alluring sensuality, combined with horrific bestiality and perverse morality. As Said wryly notes, 'In the Orient one suddenly confronted unimaginable antiquity, inhuman beauty, boundless distance.' [31] For many, the Orient was a place of loss, of self discovery, of transcendence, of ennui. For Flaubert, for example, it provided a landscape of the macabre, of sadomasochism, of the femme fatale. 'Sexual promise (and threat), untiring sensuality, unlimited desire, deep generative energies' were attributed to the 'Orient' by such writers. [32]

As James Hillman points out, there was a close relationship between nineteenth-century European and American images of geographical places, and their conceptual images of the unconscious. For many of the Romantics, for example, the unconscious was 'the inner Africa.' Hillman writes: 'the topological language used by Freud for "the unconscious" as a place below, different, timeless, primordial, libidinal and separated from consciousness recapitulates what white reporters centuries earlier said about West Africa.' [33] Also, seminal figures in the West's so-called 'diicovery' of the unconscious, from Goethe to Carus to Jung, undertook long journeys that were formative for their ideas. There can also be little doubt in the services of natural science, or merely anecdotal -- played in the formation of ideas about the unconscious. In some ways too, as Hillman astutely observes, the myth of the 'discovery' of the unconscious paralleled the myth of the 'discovery' of the world. One cannot presume that one preceded the other or was somehow primary: 'Psychology conveniently imagines white men projected their unconscious onto Africa but projection works two ways; geography's Africa appears as psychology's unconscious.' [34]

The respective images of Otherness, both geographical and psychological, seemed to resonate in step with each other, from the naive worship by early Romantics to a later, more circumspect awareness of its shadows, contradictions and paradoxes, but although so-called inner and outer 'exploration' moved in step, they by no means followed identical trajectories. It would surely be a mistake simplistically to reduce one into the other. Nevertheless, we shall see that as the geographers, explorers and imperial surveyors charted the geographical regions of Tibet, they were at the same time establishing the contours of an imaginal landscape. Similarly, they were plotting not just the physical routes into Tibet, but also the psychological routes between Europe and aspects of its unconscious.

I am proposing, then, that we entirely reverse the usual reading of travel texts. Rather than being solely concerned with where the travelers and explorers were going, I want to examine from where they were coming. Two centuries of travel writing on Tibet tell as much, if not more, about Western fantasies than they do about a literal Tibet. Travel accounts can be read as extroverted dreams, and it is to studies in the language of dreams that we can turn for methodological guidance: from Freud's work come ideas of condensation and displacement in symbol formation; from Jung's psychology we find the method of amplification, of reflecting individual imagery against the wider background of cultural symbolism; Hillman and archetypal psychology insist that the utmost respect and attention be given to the fullness and depth of images, with due regard for their aesthetics, paradoxes and ambivalences. [35]

Whilst psychological studies of exploration and travel have been made before, these have almost invariably been with the aim of understanding the mentality of the individuals concerned. [36] Such accounts generally follow one of two directions: they are concerned either with the explorer-traveler's motivation, or with the experience of a particular place. [37] However, another kind of approach attempts to understand the cultural significance of landscapes, in terms of both their creation and their appreciation. [38] This study is closer to the latter approach than to any concern about individual psychology.

The Contours of Sacred Place

Places are produced by a dialogue between cultural fantasy-making and geographical landscape. The 'mountains seemed ... surprised to see us', exclaimed the nineteenth-century French explorer Grenard, as he made his torturous way across the bleak vastness of northern Tibet. [39] For many of these travelers, the landscape was alive: It evoked the depth-imagination. Places can be considered to have a genius loci that expresses something beyond the needs and aspirations of individuals, or even of an entire culture. [40] Particularly close attention is therefore given to the images evoked in the encounter between the imagination of travelers from Europe and America and the geographical places of Tibet.

Approaches to the idea of sacred landscape have emphasized a number of concerns:

1. The mythic, or archetypal dimension has been stressed by Eliade, Jung, Hillman, Casey and Layard. [41]

2. The phenomenology, perception and experience of landscape and place have been investigated by Relph, Bachelard, Yi-Fu Tuan, Lowenthal and Heidegger, amongst others. [42]

3. The social context of sacred landscape and of the perceptions of landscape have been studied by many of the authors cited above. In addition, many valuable theoretical conclusions have been drawn from extensive studies of Australian Aboriginal sacred sites and sacred journeys. [43]

Yi-Fu Tuan has coined terms such as 'geopiety' and 'topophilia' to describe the intense relationship between humans and such specific geographical entities as woods, streams, hills, or more general places such as home, Motherland or Fatherland -- even the whole earth itself. [44] Heidegger conceived a place to be where mortals, gods, earth and sky are gathered and where we mortals could 'dwell poetically on earth'. [45] Aristotle connected place with the image of a vessel. This should not be thought of as a mere passive container, but rather in terms of places providing their own boundaries, because they evoke a fascination -- they are always affairs of the heart. [46] Tibet became a landscape to which the soulful imaginings of many Westerners were drawn; one which has sustained a deep fascination over the centuries.

Sacred space has been defined in terms of its separation from the profane world, by the limited access accorded to it, by a sense of dread or fascination, by intimations of order and power combined with ambiguity and paradox. Sacred places also seem to be located at the periphery of the social world. As we shall see, so far as the West is concerned, Tibet easily fits such a description.

A sacred place, or temenos, always has a defined boundary and a centre. At its perimeter lies the threshold. This, writes Eliade, 'is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes two worlds - -and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible'. [47] Rituals accompany the crossing of the threshold, guardians protect the passageway. [48] At the centre of the sacred place is the axis mundi, the world axis, the link between heaven, earth and the Underworld. Such places give orientation and establish order. They allow access to imaginal depth and meaningfulness whilst holding chaos at bay. Sacred places provide an essential continuity with the past, with the Ancients of one's cultural tradition. [49] Whilst grounding the present in memory, they also provide an orientation for the future, give it meaning.

Sacred places are sites of paradoxical power -- of destruction, and also of renewal. They can induce a sense of both serenity and terror. Such places are terrible, yet also fascinating. Contemporary use of the term 'sacred place', frequently lacks such paradox, too often sacred places are imagined merely as benign places for healing and contemplation. [50] But as we shall see in the case of Tibet, once paradox has been too easily resolved, contradiction replaced by harmony, ambiguity by certainty; once fear and darkness have yielded to unequivocal hope, then the sacred place has become a utopia. A whole new set of fantasies is then mobilized. [51]

Notions of sacred space and travel come together in the phenomenon of pilgrimage. Like travel accounts, pilgrimage has its landscapes, its sacred places, its sacred routes and its literature of guidebooks and individual accounts, often written in a confessional style. [52] Victor Turner has emphasized the peripheral yet important nature of pilgrimage: geographically, culturally and imaginatively. [53] I want to argue for a wider definition of pilgrimage, or of sacred journey, which will encompass exploration and travel. As with the more conventional pilgrimage, travel and exploration can also convey a public sense of the sacred. Through the ceremony of travel the individual can be involved in a collective celebration, production and maintenance of the sacred and of the mythic. It is from such a perspective that Tibet can be seen as one of the modern sacred sites of western pilgrimage.

This study argues that places, such as the one Tibet became, provide a society's imaginings with a vital coherence. It seeks to show how such a landscape is produced, established and reproduced both within a historical period and also over a long span of time. In the case of Tibet and the British imagination, for example, three imaginative contexts were of primary importance, although they were not always harmoniously related:

1. The imagination of imperialism, particularly in India, exerted its influence throughout the formative years of Britain's involvement with Tibet. Imperial rivalry, global geopolitics, a sense of imperial destiny, the consolidation of the empire through exploring, mapping and surveying, in addition to concerns of trade, were uppermost in the imperial imagination.

2. The geographical imagination found one of its fullest developments in the nineteenth century and dominated Britain's relationship with Tibet. Especially important were the changing attitudes towards wilderness landscapes, as well as to exploration and travel. Under the heading of exploration can be included adventurers and mountaineers, as well as scholars in geography, archaeology, ethnology, and the physical and natural sciences. This period saw the birth and consolidation of many intellectual disciplines in their modern form -- geography, archaeology, anthropology, and comparative religion. But in the nineteenth century many explorers, by inclination or necessity were active in a variety of overlapping concerns rather than being narrow specialists.

3. Ideas about personal experience were also undergoing profound changes. Especially important were the decline of Christianity's spiritual hegemony in Europe, the rise of interest in Eastern and traditional religions, and the development of theosophy, existentialism and psychoanalysis. In particular, the mystical imagination has formed a continuous thread in Britain's relationship with Tibet. Indeed, it seems that missionary activity in Tibet assumed a low profile in the popular imagination, perhaps because of the consistent respect shown for Buddhism.

Each of these imaginative paradigms had its own specific tradition and history, but each was also part of a larger social-historical milieu. Hence the various landscapes of Tibet were sketched not in isolation by the individual travelers but, for example, against a background of British Victorian attitudes towards religion, 'primitive' cultures, the 'East', social class, sexuality, aesthetics, and even travel itself.

This is therefore a unique study of a complete tradition of travel writing in its psychosocial context. But as we shall see, so compelling was this place, with its strange yet profound religion, its harsh yet benign theocracy, its splendid and archaic civilization, its impossible landscapes of mountains and deserts, its rugged yet amiable people, its frustrating and tormenting isolation, its position atop the highest mountains on the globe, that it touched and questioned virtually every area of Western endeavor.

Power and the Production of Places

Foucault argues that power and knowledge are inseparable. We are, he writes, 'subjected to the production of truth through power, and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth'. [54] The 'truth' about a place such as Tibet, therefore, was not discovered, but produced as a result of specific social and imaginative relationships. Tibet was always in the process of being created, always adjusting its contours in step with the changing requirements of the European fantasies. But places are not only the result of such complex social processes; they also help to organize them and give them coherence.

Edward Said's seminal study, Orientalism, is directly concerned with the creation, maintenance and reproduction of such a place, in this case the 'Orient'. He argues that the Orient was, and is, a fundamental place in the landscape of Western imagination. Said sees imaginative geography as crucial to the organization of knowledge: 'Geography was essentially the material underpinning for knowledge about the Orient. All the latent and unchanging characteristics of the Orient stood upon, were rooted in, its geography.' [55] These places -- the Mediterranean, the Arctic, or the Orient -- are like islands which provide a coherence for the Western fantasy of itself. [56] As Said remarks, 'these geographical entities thus support and to an extent reflect each other.' [57] In the case of the 'Orient', this mythological reality became so closed, so dense and literal, that a whole scholarly discipline arose around it -- Orientalism. Said astutely comments that such learned pursuits promote more of a 'refinement' of 'Western ignorance' than 'some body of positive Western knowledge which increases in size and accuracy.' [58] Following Foucault, we could say that these discourses are concerned with the expression and organization of doubt as much as anything else. [59]

Some insight into the relationship between knowledge and imaginative geography can be also gained from Gladwin's study of navigation among Pacific islanders. He was puzzled by their mapping of imaginary islands. [60] The navigators were highly pragmatic people, and these precisely coordinated and meticulously plotted imaginary islands at first seemed an anomaly to Gladwin, yet he discovered that these islands were essential for the coherence of the navigational maps and techniques. The Orient, the Mediterranean, Tibet, the source of the Nile, Greece, and so on, were similarly both factual and yet also imaginary. They could be located precisely, geographically, on a map, yet at the same time were imbued with additional symbolic meaning. They provided an internal coherence for the structure of Europe's mythological foundation and sensibility. [61] They were impossible but necessary.

Through the practical repetition of discourses, including those of travel, a surface is produced on which an imaginary place appears, replete with people, customs, landscape, weather, food, clothing, history, and so on. [62] Said has extensively detailed this production process for the 'Orient'. Traders, explorers, adventurers and missionaries were among the first to travel and to return laden with stories. These laid the foundations and began to shape the contours of these distant places. They also established the routes -- both imaginary and geographical -- by which such places could be approached. It will be seen, in the case of Tibet, that the travelers' fantasies varied according to whether they approached by way of Afghanistan (adventure, mountain climbing), India (British Raj, colonial rivalry with Russia), China (Tibeto-Chinese rivalry), or Mongolia (Silk Route, archaeology). Subsequently, anthropologists and other specialist 'travelers' also came to tell their stories. James Boon, for example, writing about the practice of anthropology, points to the 'ritually repetitive confrontations with the Other which we call field work'. He documents the way Bali, as a place, emerged from out of this 'ritual repetition'. [63] Each era reconstructs the contours of these imaginary worlds, but on surfaces already laid down.

The nineteenth-century and twentieth-century travel accounts already had a stage replete with the Sphinx, Cleopatra, Eden, Troy, Sodom and Gomorrah, Astarte, Isis and Osiris, Sheba, Babylon, the Genii, the Magi, Nineveh, Prester John, Mahomet, and dozens of other characters, scenes and plots.' [64] In addition, any subsequent discourse about the 'Orient' had to 'pass through the learned grids and codes provided by the Orientalists'. [65] Said argues that the contours and culture of this vast imaginary landscape became self-validating. Orientalists referred to other Orientalists for verification. In much the same way, we shall see travelers in Tibet refer to each other's accounts for confirmation.

The British discovery and exploration of Tibet occurred in the shadow of the Royal Geographical Society's hegemony. This institution established early in the nineteenth century, exerted its control by means of funding, coordinating, training and publishing; its extensive network of connections among the leaders of British imperialism; its pioneering role in geography and its leadership in geographical education. Above all, the Royal Geographical Society's aims and practices dovetailed with the needs of nineteenth-century imperialism: they both conformed with, and confirmed, prevailing geopolitical values. [66] Yet the society's control was never absolute. The struggle against its hegemony was to be a fundamental characteristic of Tibetan travel literature, although rarely was such a challenge direct or overt. Also, the constraints imposed by the Royal Geographical Society's hegemony were more often conducive to the production of knowledge than to its restriction. One could argue that control is most often effective when it encourages investigation in a certain direction rather than preventing it altogether. [67] Through these various constraints -- theoretical, ideological, empirical, imaginative and political -- vessels are created which actually assist and support specific imaginative production. Said, for example, points to a 'linguistic Orient, a Freudian Orient, a Spenglerian Orient, a Darwinian Orient, a racist Orient, and so on'. [68]

European and American fantasies about Tibet were never a vague abstraction, never just a set of images carried around in the heads of individual travelers. They were always tangible, always embodied in distinct practices, ranging from accepted styles of prose and landscape description to how expeditions were organized and equipped. The imagination was embodied in the relationship between explorer-travelers and their non-European guides, companions, escorts, servants. Institutions such as the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal society, the Alpine Club and the Survey of India simultaneously encoded, concentrated and legitimized fantasies. Above all, they had the power to establish these imaginative practices as truth and to impose this upon what Said has dramatically called the 'silent Other'. [69]
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE W

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:27 am

Part 2 of 2

The Psychosocial Context

Quite clearly, the evolution of Tibet as a sacred landscape occurred within a complex psychosocial context. Numerous discourses intersected in Tibet, or wove themselves around its creation. This study must therefore follow the trails left by botanists, geologists, linguists, missionaries, students of comparative religion, Buddhists, Buddhologists and Tibetologists, anthropologists and archaeologists, aesthetes of both landscape and art, mountaineers, journalists, surveyors, soldiers, diplomats, photographers, mystics, traders, professional travelers, adventurers and poets, as they made their way into Tibet or around its formidable perimeter. These individuals lived and worked during a period of unprecedented global expansion by the Western powers, of unrestrained urbanization and industrialization; at a time when revolutions were occurring throughout the full range of social and physical sciences, as well as in the political and social life of Western societies.

The creation of Tibet, between 1773 and 1959, coincided almost exactly with the rise and fall of European, and particularly British, imperial aspirations. Tibet was witness to a massive reorganization of global time, space and identity. Old empires collapsed as the modern era was ushered in. The new geopolitical order was legitimized by a complete realignment both of memory and of expectations. In their role of story-tellers, travelers and explorers played a crucial role in this process. By studying these accounts we are allowed privileged access to the imagination, both unconscious and conscious, of the ruling and upper-middle classes of Britain and other Western nations.

We shall see that during most of this long period travel accounts were usually conservative protests against modernism, the masses, and the changing world order. But they also played a crucial part in the creation of a thoroughly new Weltanschauung -- with respect to traditional cultures, the peoples and geography of the world, nature and science and, above all, personal meaning. New myths emerged, old ones became revitalized -- the Wise Men of the East, an Arcadia hidden in a remote secluded valley, the mastery of death, the search for the Self, the vitality of the frontier.

Five eras in the unfolding of the West's imaginative relationship with Tibet have been selected. Although these are not completely arbitrary, there could just as easily have been six or seven. Nevertheless, each of these eras offers a view of a particular Tibet, complete within itself yet also in process, replete with tensions and contradictions. This is therefore a study not of one, but of five 'Tibets': of their individual genesis, development and decline. Each 'Tibet' was very much an integral part of its era -- hence the necessity of as full an understanding as possible of the psychosocial context. But as we shall see, the transformation from one imaginative 'Tibet' to the next was not solely dependent upon the vicissitudes of its cultural context. This movement had its own internal logic, its own relative independence. Also, despite the satisfying coherence of each of these individual imaginative 'Tibets' we shall see that there was also an overall shape to the fantasies about Tibet which spanned nearly two hundred years.

The boundaries of each era have been selected, first, in terms of some significant event in the history of Western involvement with Tibet; and secondly in terms of some core, or root-metaphor that gave the era its apparent cohesion. Sometimes the beginning and end of such an era are quite definite and are dictated by unquestionable events -- this was true of the first 'Tibet' to be imaginatively created in modern times. In 1773 British troops clashed with the Bhutanese, thus evoking a direct response from Tibet. In1774 George Bogle became the first modern non-ecclesiastic westerner to enter Tibet and leave a written account. The close of that optimistic era is similarly beyond dispute. In 1792 Tibet barred its frontiers to Westerners in the aftermath of a series of Gurkha invasions from Nepal for which Britain was held partly responsible. Most of Tibet then remained sealed off from Western curiosity for over a hundred years. It was this single fact alone that initiated the 'next' era.

Excluded from Tibet itself, Westerners, particularly the British, began a systematic exploration of the surrounding Himalayas. Hence Tibet began to acquire a shape. Its boundary began to be mapped. A few intrepid individuals made solitary journeys into the country even reaching Lhasa itself, so reminding the West of that hidden, unknown land beyond the mountains; but most of all, Westerners were fascinated with the Himalayas. This era was also dominated by a revolution in landscape aesthetics in Europe and America: mountain Romanticism was in its first full flowering. Yet this era did not lack pertinent historical events concerning Tibet, and it came to a definite conclusion in around 1842. The British attempt to establish hegemony in the Himalayas, and thus to ensure a stable, well-controlled northern frontier for India, received a series of major setbacks between 1841 and 1842. The Sikhs had already conquered Ladakh in 1834, and in 1841 they invaded Western Tibet. Britain had recently had an army annihilated in Afghanistan, and its somewhat laissez-faire approach to imperialism seemed inadequate to cope with the situation.

The next period, between 1842 and 1875, was marked less by external events than by a single-mindedness of purpose. Systematic and scientific exploration was the ideal of the day, with Darwin's famous work hovering inescapably over the whole era. The Himalayas were mapped and their place in the British imagination was assured. A new landscape aesthetic was emerging under the careful tutelage of Ruskin. Behind its well-protected and well-defined frontiers, Tibet came to symbolize something very special. Both its religion and its position, 'on top of the World', began to exert a fascination with Western travelers. As an ancestral source of the Aryan race, these lofty regions were quietly beginning to evoke deep longings.

1875, the beginning of the next era, bears no relation to any significant historical event -- it is merely the gateway to the closing quarter of the nineteenth century. During this time the tradition of Tibetan exploration finally acquired its own internal dynamic and entered its golden age, which culminated in the British armed expedition to Lhasa in 1904. Then it seemed that a decisive breakthrough had occurred: that the 'forbidden City' had finally been reached, and Tibet now lay open at last to Western curiosity. But this fin de siecle Tibet was merely one of a series and not, as was hoped, the final resolution of an enigma. A travel restriction once more descended, and in some ways the country became even more isolated than before.

The final period of this study begins with an event far from Tibet yet so monumental for the West as to overshadow all else: the First World War. It ends, however, with an event that was intensely specific to Tibet: the final exile of the Dalai Lama in 1959, and the apparent destruction of traditional Tibetan religious culture in its homeland.

Any contextual study that attempts to do justice to the complexities of an era can quite easily become lost among the historical details of politics, social analysis, aesthetics, geographical understanding, military strategy, missionary work, botanical investigations, and so on. Clearly we must remember our primary objective and stay as close as possible to the phenomenology of the imagination, to the Western sense of the sacred with regard to Tibet. In addition, this is a study of the imagination in process, and careful attention has to be directed at the subtle transformations of fantasy.

An Imaginative Analysis

James Hillman has clearly articulated the concerns of such an imaginative analysis. 'Depth psychology', he writes, 'has applied its method to the study of alchemy, myth, religious dogma and ritual, scientific theory, primitive behavior, cosmologies, psychiatric ideas -- all in terms of the archetypal fantasy therein expressed.' [70] An archetypal reading of these Tibetan travel texts therefore seeks to uncover the deep structure of the imagination and to plot its transformations. [71] Hillman writes:

We can extend depth psychology from persons to things, places and ideas as manifestations of imagination. The same imagination, the same soul, that presented itself in fifteenth and sixteenth century alchemy showed itself in the extraverted psychology of the explorers seeking gold, the journey across the perilous seas, the seven cities, the impossible passage, the fountain of youth, the black man and the lost Atlantis -- the world as metaphor. [72]


From such a perspective the imaginative relationship to the world is clearly primary and not, as it is from another viewpoint, a subjective confusion and contamination of empirical understanding. [73] An imaginal reading also emancipates us from a progressive and evolutionary evaluation of the European and American understanding of Tibet. Again Hillman writes: 'No first and last, better and worse, progression and regression. Instead, soul history as a series of images, superimposed'. [74] Transformation should not be reduced solely to development.

The use of a wide range of theoretical perspectives in a study such as this raises important methodological questions. Some critical reflection on the relationship between them is certainly necessary as regards the main theorists, but I believe we must distinguish clearly between an archetypal-psychological analysis and, say a philosophical one. The former is less concerned with logical or epistemological differences between, for example, Jung's ideas and Eliade's, or Hillman's and Foucault's, than with their archetypal and metaphorical relationships. A theoretical consistency becomes less important than an imaginal one. Also, in an imaginal analysis the relationship between theory and text is crucial: how shall we place the theories in relation to the prima materia, to the other, primary, texts?

Jung himself inspired such an attitude by insisting that the crucial differences between his own ideas and those of Freud and Adler were differences of personal metaphor or imaginal orientation. He saw theories as tools, to be used according to the demands of the material. [75] Similarly, when Hillman criticizes Foucault's ideas, for example, it is not because of their logical incompatibility with his own, nor due to some internal inconsistency in Foucault's arguments, but in terms of their overall relationship to the image. In this regard he accuses Foucault of 'anarchic nihilism' -- of reducing psychopathology, and hence image-making, to mere linguistic and social convention. Foucault's insights and radical deconstructionalism, whilst paralleling some of the de-literalizing ideas of archetypal psychology, must therefore be used cautiously when it comes to making moves in image-work. Finally, as Holt insists in his study 'Jung and Marx', the aim is not to achieve a theoretical reconciliation but to open up a field of ideas that has both the width and the capacity to endure contradictions. [76]

I would suggest that an imaginal analysis must bear in mind the dominant root-metaphors of any theory that it uses to craft the imaginal material. A polytheistic approach does not exclude any perspective on the grounds of theoretical incompatibility, but instead tries to relate theories through their common grounding in imaginal reality. Eliade's ideas, for instance, are clearly based on oppositional thinking, insisting upon an almost unequivocal polarization between the sacred and the profane. His distinctions are fixed and sharply defined rather than fluid and in process. Also, Eliade presents the struggle to attain otherworldliness as the most valued orientation of Homo religiosus. Perhaps we can see the archetype of the hero at work in these striking oppositions and bold, almost desperate, struggles to attain some sacred Other; or that of the senex in his insistence upon clearly defined boundaries and rigid demarcations between classes of experience. [77] Similar archetypal perspectives appear in his portrayal of sacred Otherness as a timeless unity. As we shall see, Western fantasies of Tibet reveal images of the sacred in the process of creation: images that have a complex and contradictory multiplicity even with an occasional, overall, imaginal coherence. Tibet was an imaginal place whose boundaries -- both in space and time -- and defining internal characteristics were continually in flux, ever changing. These images reveal a sacred domain that was never sharply delineated from the profane world -- one where the sacred and profane interpenetrated, confirmed and contested each other.

The archetypal dominants in Foucault's work move between an almost Dionysian dismantling of concretized and totalizing images and Apollonian distancing from the material, with a corresponding attention to rational clarity. Foucault's work also reveals, at times, a delight in a Hermetic or trickster-like word-play. However, Said's analysis of 'Orientalism', whilst owing much to Foucault's theoretical ideas and perspective, fails to echo his root-metaphors on an imaginal level. Instead Said's work is marked by puer-earnestness, an attempt to gather up history in the services of a political cause in the present. Any anima-inspired lingering delight in the mysterious intimacy of the past is speedily bypassed as he hurries to reach the present in order to construct his grand theory. [78]

Listening in such a way to the root-metaphors of these theories relieves them of their literalness and allows space for the material, the textural images, to speak pluralistically. Our analysis itself then becomes a matter of image-work, a crafting of images. The theories do not then, as it were, stand above the primary material, claiming a privileged position; instead they too take their place as imaginal texts alongside the travel accounts and other historical documents. There is a mutual reciprocity between these various classes of text as they reveal, contextualize, marshal and organize the disparate wealth of imagery evoked in the encounter between the West and Tibet.

An Archaeology of Shangri-La

This study therefore presents an archetypal reading of an imaginal 'Tibet': not as an abstraction, but as a sensual reality: not as a series of disembodied ideas, but as a complex world of images -- shapes, colours, textures. An archaeology of the imagination is concerned with uncovering the past foundations of present fantasies. In it, memory is not just a pre-condition for the present but a part of its essential structure. The past is not absent but is ever-present beneath the apparent surfaces of daily life. One of the final and most complete embodiments of Tibet as a sacred place in the Western imagination was the utopia of Shangri-La described in Hilton's famous 1933 novel Lost Horizon. [79] In a very real sense, then, this study is an archaeology of Shangri-La.

An imaginative archaeology uncovers personalities and characters of earlier eras -- the Dalai Lama, the Potala, Lhasa, the unceasing wind, the vast Tibetan plateau, the colors and the light, the yeti, the lamas and of course, the explorers, both known and unknown. The creation of these successive Tibets was not a process of remorseless continuity. Embellishments, or streams of fantasy which did not pass into the next era but instead came to a dead end, are as vital to the understanding of imaginative processes as those dominant themes which spanned the entire period of nearly two hundred years. British troops firing at giant rhubarb plants in the mistaken belief that they were Tibetan soldiers, or the inexplicable fascination Western travelers had for the variety of hats worn at Lhasa, cannot be simply left out of the study just because they seem tangential to the main story.

The Ceremony of Travel

The individual intentions of travelers and explorers, or governments and institutions, are often less interesting than the way they went about things, or how things eventually went about their own way. So, for example, each era had its own ceremony of travel. The travel atmosphere of each was replete with its own fantasies -- tropical landscapes, love and romance, nervous frontiers, horrible places. [80] These fantasies spoke through hotels, rest-houses, mountainside bivouacs, travel guides, postcards, photographs and, above all, what was actually taken on the journey. The renowned Russian Prejevalsky, for example, set out across Siberia in 1879 with twenty three camels laden with two and a half hundredweight of sugar, forty pounds of dried fruit, a crate of brandy and a crate of sherry. His party was armed with a formidable arsenal of rifles, revolvers, a hundredweight of powder, 9,000 rounds of ammunition and four hundredweight of lead shot. His 'gifts for the natives' included tinted pictures of Russian actresses. An additional gift was some wild strawberry jam which Prejavalsky had bottled personally for the Dalai Lama. He boasted that if necessary he would bribe or shoot his way to Lhasa. [81]

The most notable non-Europeans to enter Tibet were the 'pundits'. These were Indians trained in survey work, who carried compasses fixed to the top of their walking staves, notes hidden inside their prayer wheels, and used beads on the rosary to count their paces and hence to measure the vast distances. [82] In 1935 Peter Fleming and Tina Maillart traveled 3,500 miles from Peking to Kashmir, brushing around the back of Tibet. The journey took seven months. Their supplies speak eloquently. Apart from old clothes, a few books (including Macaulay's History of England), two compasses and two portable typewriters, they carried: two pounds of marmalade, four tins of cocoa, six bottles of brandy, one bottle of Worcester sauce, one pound of coffee, three small packets of chocolate, some soap, a good deal of tobacco, a small store of knives, beads, toys, etc., by way of presents, and a random assortment of medicines. [83] Their only weapon was a second-hand .22 rook rifle to shoot food en route. Such lists are endless, yet each in its own way is a vignette of fantasies, hopes, fears and expectations. This study will listen carefully to such things as well as to ideas.

The Selection of Texts

We can locate with some precision those moments, when as an indication of a changing sensibility, a new and fundamental image appears. Sometimes it may only flicker briefly and then soon fade. Other images are more fertile: we can trace their establishment and the subtle contours of their evolution. Sometimes a long-ignored image will reappear many years after apparently hibernating, out of sight, underground. A changing imaginative context will have given it a new meaning and a restored relevance. We can also distinguish between seed-images and contextual-images. The former are characterized by a unique specificity, whereas the latter attempt to embrace and encompass. Seed-images, for example would include those that refer to a specific mountain, such as Everest. Contextual-images, on the other hand, would embrace the social attitude towards mountains in general.

It is often possible to identify key, or primary, texts in relation to these images. For example, Volume 4 of Ruskin's Modern Painters or Darwin's Origin of Species generated images that created whole imaginative contexts. The Himalayan Journals of botanist-explorer Joseph Hooker, the future director of Kew Gardens (1855), on the other hand, were formative in creating the imaginative contours of the eastern Himalayas: they fulfilled a more limited but no less important function than, say, Darwin's work. Other texts neither shaped a whole context nor seeded the region with definitive and fertile imagery. They were nevertheless crucial in echoing many of the major concerns, as well as embellishing more minor issues. Between them these more secondary texts created the overall 'tone' of the place, its atmosphere and its density.

Each chapter therefore draws upon a limited number of primary texts, some of which are contextual, whilst others are specific to Himalayan and Tibetan exploration. In the first chapters, selection of travel texts is not a real problem, but as Tibetan travel became more established, a bewildering range of accounts became available. Some, like Hooker's Himalayan Journals, Freshfield's mountaineering epic Around Kanchenjunga, or the French priest M. Huc's Travels in Tartary, Tibet and China, were acknowledged classics in their day, and so select themselves. These apart, I have chosen a range of texts that is representative of the remarkable spectrum of perspectives held by Western travelers, yet also faithful to the balance of the era's fantasies. Accounts of travel and exploration tend to be clustered in distinct, but overlapping groups. All these textual groups have their own very unique traditions. They share both style and purpose. These clusterings of texts were sometimes indicative of established and powerful interest groups such as the Royal Geographical Society, or the Royal Society.

We are therefore caught in a dilemma. If texts are selected merely to be as representative as possible of the range of travelers, then the relative value of each text in terms of the era's fantasy-making could be grossly distorted. Landon's monumental, and official, study of the British 'invasion' of 1904, Lhasa, was clearly far more formative for the British imagination than Millington's witty volume To Lhassa at Last, produced as a result of the same expedition. Yet precisely because it was humorous, a rarity in early Tibetan travel accounts, Millington's slim work is of inestimable value. If we give weight only to texts that were deemed important at the time, we are in danger of merely reproducing the official story. This may or may not represent the actual state of the era's Tibetan fantasies. For example, Bogle's diary, the first secular account of Tibet in modern times, was not published until about a hundred years after it was written. Clearly it played little or no part in forming the fantasies of Bogle's time, but it has a great claim to acknowledgement as a crucial expression of its era. In many ways it is of more value than Turner's famous account, written and published only a few years after Bogle's journey, for it is less polished, less 'prepared' for publication. [84]

Publication, distribution and recognition of travel accounts are profoundly affected by vested interests, be they a matter of institutional values or of simple economics -- will they be popular and sell? The less well-known texts therefore have a value in helping us to glance behind the official story. Often they show revealing views from the edge of the dominant paradigm: sometimes contradicting it, sometimes reinforcing it. Also, even within a single travel text there may be a variety of viewings: some mainstream, others idiosyncratic.

Before travelers even arrived at the Tibetan border, their imaginations had been prepared. The actual encounter with the empirical place then merely activated their fantasies, either confirming or contesting them. As Bachelard writes: 'Before becoming a conscious sight, every landscape is an oneiric experience.' [85]

Showing or Telling?

A distinction has frequently been made between those accounts which show and those which tell. [86] It would be relatively straightforward to tell the story of the Western encounter with Tibet, the experiences of the explorers, their discoveries, the meaning of their fantasies. But this is not intended to be just a study of the imagination, but in the imagination. I therefore want to show as well as to tell. As much as possible I want the images to 'speak for themselves' and not be reduced to abstractions. For instance, a study of landscape painting could scarcely be feasible without profuse illustrative examples, and central to this account is the study of landscape imagery -- word-paintings, as they were called in the nineteenth century. But I prefer to use these descriptive passages not just as illustrations for a conceptual argument but as part of the construction of the argument itself, woven into the text, integral to it.

Whilst an imaginative, or archetypal, study has to let the images speak for themselves, at the same time it must interpret, deepen and work them. This is an especially pressing concern in a complex, multicontextual study such as this. We can begin by recognizing the polymorphous nature of any image. Every image has many forms and faces: personal, political, historical and, of course, sacred. By bringing these diversive contextual levels into close alignment with each other, the multifaceted nature of any image is amplified. By using analogy, or by allowing resonances to occur between each group of images and metaphors, we can both deepen and shape the material without being seduced into assigning any single meaning to an image or event.

This is a work of patience; one which often moves indirectly; one that gathers images; circular rather than linear. Such a procedure therefore continually lays down one level of imaginative context after another: historical narrative; landscape aesthetics; personal experience; the genre of travel writing; imperial politics and fantasies, and so on. As this account moves slowly around an image, care has been taken that sufficient imaginal space is left for the image to reflect itself. The complexities, richness and subtleties of image-work are as much to do with tone, rhythm, tempo, texture and shape as they are with content.

From what position can we read these travel texts and images? For example, each era has looked back at preceding landscape aesthetics from a position of assumed superiority. To the earliest Romantics, Classical aesthetics seemed soulless, impersonal, over-formalized. They felt that they alone had discovered the essential truth of nature. But to the nature-lovers of the mid-nineteenth century these early Romantics seemed over-indulgent, vague about specific details, too subjective. To many people in the second half of the twentieth century both these earlier views appear too narrow, too fragmented, over-concerned with superficial aesthetics: they ignore wilderness regions, they are pre-ecological, pre-the age of conservation. To place the reflections and imaginings of early-nineteenth-century Himalayan travelers within a late-twentieth-century ecological context will therefore expose them to ridicule or irrelevance. At best it neatly locates them within a historical account of the so-called evolution of landscape appreciation towards some fantasy of 'truth'. On an artistic parallel this is equivalent to reducing Constable to a mere precursor of, say, Turner. The delicacy, force, subtlety and wit of the original image becomes lost beneath the weight of a literalized evolutionary fantasy. Passages of landscape description in these two centuries of travel texts have to be considered aesthetically in addition to historically, or politically, and so on. The framing, contextualization and amplification of these textual images is hence a vital, albeit indirect, procedure in imaginative analysis.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE W

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:35 am

Part 1 of 2

Chapter 2: Tibet Discovered (1773-92)

The love of mountains came in with the rights of man ... It seems as if the philosophers fancied they had found a fragment of the genuine Arcadia still preserved by the Alpine barrier against the encroachments of a corrupt civilization and mountains came in for some of the admiration lavished upon the social forms which they protected.
-- (L. Stephen [1871])


Images of Travel

1773 was a momentous year for the British East India Company: it found itself reluctantly at the centre of two wars. The dumping of a shipment of its tea into the waters of Boston harbor by protesting colonists, on 16 December 1773, precipitated the American Revolution. Whilst this famous war of independence was being fought by troops of the British Crown, the company's own soldiers were engaged in the little-known first Anglo-Bhutanese War. If this date marked the beginning of modern America, it also saw the birth of Tibet as a landscape in modern Western fantasies. As a result of this border war, the East India Company despatched George Bogle to Tibet in May 1774. Bogle, the offspring of a well-to-do Scottish commercial family, had been in India for four years when at the early age of twenty-eight he was selected to go on this journey by his friend and mentor Warren Hastings, Governor of Bengal. His journey to Tibet was followed in 1783, by that of Captain Samuel Turner, who also represented the East India Company. The accounts written by these two men are classics of eighteenth-century travel.

Other Europeans had previously visited Tibet. The legendary medieval journeys of Marco Polo, Friar Odoric, and other idiosyncratic individuals were followed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by the systematic missionary activity of Jesuit and Capuchin monks. [1] But the encounter between Britain and Tibet in the last quarter of the eighteenth century marked the beginning of something new; the sustained creation of Tibet as an important imaginal landscape for Western cultures. Echoes of an older, almost medieval, geographical imagining continued to be heard throughout the creation of this 'new' Tibet, but the journeys of Bogle and Turner coincided with a revolution in British geopolitical awareness.

Only two years before Bogle's entry into Tibet, Cook had returned from his epic voyage into the South Pacific. A new age of scientific exploration had begun. [2] At exactly the same time, the European -- and in particular the British -- relationship to mountain landscape was reaching a new pitch of intensity. In the Alps, de Saussure was spearheading the final breakthrough from 'mountain gloom to mountain glory', from the old distrust of mountains to a new aesthetic of Romanticism and sensual realism. [3] The eighteenth and nineteenth-century British imagination constantly reflected Tibet and the Himalayas in the mirror of the Alps. Alpine travel was assumed to be the exemplary form of mountain experience throughout the nineteenth century. As we shall see, only in the early twentieth century were the Himalayas to come into their own and shrug off continual Alpine comparison.

In the final quarter of the eighteenth century, landscape aesthetics was also poised between an allegiance to Classical formalism and a desire for Romantic realism. Such a tension existed between the spontaneity and enthusiasm of Bogle's account and the restraint exercised by Turner. The sense of an individual quest is constantly present in Bogle's diary; in this way it points forward to the early nineteenth century. But for Turner this unusual journey seemed to be nothing but an extremely interesting and curious duty. A flavor of the 'Grand Tour' lingered over both accounts and seemed to turn Tibet into a mere extension of it.

This attitude towards their journeys to Tibet is only to be expected. The 'Grand Tour' gave secular Europe the first sustained alternative to the almost abandoned medieval fantasy of pilgrimage. It provided a complex, precise, systematic, coherent, prestigious and exemplary model for the imagination of travel. [4] Its influence was extensive and profound. Ancient cultural locations became sacred sites, geographical features became views, tracks and roads became routes. But thrown out with the medieval passion for pilgrimage went popular, lower-class travel. Unless in the role of servants, soldiers, artisans, and so on, representatives of the peasant masses in Britain did not generally go on extensive journeys in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries -- in other words, they traveled for employment and not as the aristocrats and bourgeoisie were fashionably doing, in search of significant places and landscapes.

Alpine landscape initially belonged to the 'Grand Tour' only as an unpleasant, unfortunate section of the route, best accomplished as fast as possible and preferably with the blinds down. However, by the late eighteenth century the Alps had radically changed the British imagination of travel. All the evocative power of 'the sublime', which had been gathering strength for a century, was suddenly focused upon, and concentrated into, these mountains. Although initially they were to be admired leisurely and at a distance, by the late eighteenth century the Alps had many explorers climbing to their summits.

The 'Grand Tour' had long been considered routine and stale by the late eighteenth century, and Alpine travel was well advanced in providing Britain with an exciting and alternative imaginative map. At one stage on his journey Turner commented playfully, upon a Tibetan woman singing, 'I am not ashamed to own that the song she sang, was more pleasing to my ear, than an Italian air.' [5] Both Bogle and Turner would have grown up in the atmosphere of the 'Grand Tour', but would also have been aware of the 'Alpine Experience'. In some way, too, they would have realized that they were participating in the radically new domain of scientific global exploration.

The obsessive fervor towards exploration that gripped the Victorian era's imagination would have seemed remote and alien to these two eighteenth-century gentlemen travelers. Bogle, for example, was instructed by Hastings to plant some potatoes at every halting place on his journey through Bhutan and into Tibet. [6] At least three deductions can be made about this unusual task. The narrowness of the commercial imagination is matched by the thoroughness of Hasting's curiosity. In addition it tells of the insignificance of Bogle's actual journey to Tibet compared with those of later travelers, who would have been content just to go there without any specific reason. But both journey and destination were secondary objectives for Bogle and Turner. Tibet was only one place among many possible goals. Afghanistan, Assam or Burma would all have been similarly curious places to visit in the course of one's employment and duty. Also, the going was not as valued as much as the arriving. Travel for its own sake was still relatively uncommon. Such an attitude is revealed when at one point on his journey Turner writes: 'Being indolently disposed and prompted merely by curiosity, I strolled among the houses.' [7] Bogle comments in a similarly offhand manner; 'I may as well describe this temple while I am here.' Later nineteenth-century travelers would, by contrast, be furiously observing, noting, measuring and collecting images of the place and the route.

There also seemed to be no urgency about publishing the two journals. Turner was unsure about public interest in his journey, and the journal was published only in 1800, seventeen years after his return. Bogle's was not published until 1876, almost a century after he left Tibet. Another journal, written by Kirkpatrick outlining his journey to Nepal in 1793, was not published until 1811, and it was only with extreme reticence that the author sought publication. [8] Indeed, in Kirkpatrick's case the services of 'a literary gentleman' were sought, eventually to no avail in order to prepare the manuscript 'properly' to meet the 'public eye'. In other Words, travel accounts had to be 'literary'; there was still doubt about interest in the journey itself.

British contact with Tibet also coincided with the spread of European power over the globe; this brought the West face to face with extensive unknown races and customs. Eighteenth-century ethnographic speculations by Rousseau, Voltaire and others were based upon the increasing number of accounts by global travelers. [9] Questions about race, species, the geographical influence on culture, geological history, the nature of civilization and individual freedom, dominated the closing years of the century. [10] The accounts by Bogle and Turner take their place firmly within these debates and concerns.

The British involvement with Tibet witnessed a struggle over the imaginative relationship to natural and cultural landscapes that was to continue right up until the present day. The incident and circumstances that led to the first British-Tibetan contact struck up a rich and complex theme upon which variations were to be played over the next hundred and fifty years.

A border incident between the Bhutanese and the British East India Company led to the first of a series of small wars that Britain was to wage for over a century in the mountainous northern frontier of India. Eventually these were to culminate, in 1904, with the 'invasion' of Tibet. The first contact with the small Himalayan country of Bhutan had been made in 1766 by James Rennell whilst pioneering the great survey of India. [11] The East India Company's help had been requested by the Newars of Nepal, who were struggling against the aggressive expansion of the Gurkhas. Trans-Himalayan trade had been disrupted by Gurkha expansion and 'the Company' sent a small expedition into Nepal to intervene. It was a failure, and from that moment the Gurkhas became a permanent feature of British Himalayan involvement. Subsequently, in 1773, Cooch Behar appealed to 'the Company' for help against the invading Bhutanese. A small force was despatched to the malarial swamp and jungle region that provided Bengal with its northeast frontier. Despite extensive losses through sickness, the Company's forces were successful in defeating the Bhutanese. The ruling Gurkhas in neighbouring Nepal, alarmed at the expansion of British power, asked the Panchen Lama, the second most influential figure in Tibet, to intervene. [12] He sent a letter and gifts to Hastings; these were received in Calcutta on 29 March 1774. Hastings was quick to seize upon this opening into the unknown and enticing northern land, and within two months sent a mission to Tibet headed by George Bogle. Bogle spent five months at the Panchen Lama's residence in Tashilhumpo, and the contours of Tibet as a place in the British imagination began to take shape. From that moment, frontier concerns were to become a defining characteristic of Tibet's image in the West.

"This is the story of the Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy, perhaps the most remarkable, certainly the most successful book ever to come out of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor. More popular than The Celestial Home Care Omnibus, better selling than Fifty-three More Things To Do in Zero Gravity, and more controversial than Oolon Colluphid's trilogy of philosophical blockbusters, Where God Went Wrong, Some More of God's Greatest Mistakes, and Who is This God Person Anyway? And in many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least warrantly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects. First, it is slightly cheaper and, secondly, it has the words: DON'T PANIC inscribed in large, friendly letters on the cover.

To tell the story of the book, it is best to tell the story of some of those whose lives it affected. A human from the planet Earth was one of them, though, as our story opens, he no more knows his destiny than a tea leaf knows the history of the East India Company. His name is Arthur Dent, he is a six-foot-tall ape descendant, and someone is trying to drive a bypass through his home."

-- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams


Warren Hastings's Tibet: Lists and Diaries

The Panchen Lama's letter was impressive, and Turner referred to it as 'an authentic and curious specimen of the Lama's good sense, humility, simplicity of heart, and, above all of that delicacy of sentiment and expression which could convey a threat in terms of meekness and supplication'. [13] This letter and the accompanying gifts were studied assiduously by Warren Hastings for any clues about their land of origin. From his meditations Tibet emerged as a place of conciliation, diplomacy, and cultural sophistication. Obviously this was not a land of rude, illiterate primitives. Tibet clearly considered itself an authority in the Himalayas, but the British still had to determine the exact nature of its power. A complex web of allegiances spun its threads over the region between Nepal, Bhutan, China and Tibet. The elegance and calm self-assurance of the Panchen Lama's letter heightened Warren Hastings's curiosity.

The gifts, too, were revealing:

gilded Russian leather stamped with the Czar's double-headed eagle, and Chinese silk, which suggested external commerce; small ingots of gold and silver, purses of gold dust, and bags of musk, which seemed evidence of internal wealth; and Tibetan wool cloth, which together with the well-made chests in which the gifts had come, indicated a knowledge of arts and industries. [14]


Hastings concluded that the country and government of Tibet

are represented as a simple, well-disposed people, numerous and industrious, living under a well-regulated government, having considerable intercourse with other nations, particularly with the Chinese and northern Tartars, and possessing at home the principal means of commerce, gold and silver in great abundance. [15]


Whilst it was not the Arcadian utopia of the newly discovered South Pacific Islands, Tibet promised to become an important place in the confident, youthful and adventurous -- yet well-regulated -- imagination of commercial capitalism. In another letter Hastings wrote of the 'length of the journey and the natural difficulties ... the severity of the climate and the rudeness of the country'. [16] Right from the start, the landscape and the culture of Tibet seemed to be at opposite polarities: the one as barren and harsh as the other was rich and sophisticated.

The letter and gifts from the Panchen Lama did not fall into an imaginative vacuum; indeed, they activated ancient rumors and vague fragments of knowledge that had been steadily accumulating over the centuries. Hastings's primary concern was with trade, but he also instructed Bogle to determine 'the nature of the road between the borders of Bengal and Lhasa, and of the countries lying in between; the communications between Lhasa and the neighboring countries, their government, revenue and manners'. [17] Whilst Tibet had an approximate location, it was still almost without any coherent shape in the British imagination.

Hastings also gave Bogle a list of ten items, as a private commission. A pair of shawl goats was his first request, followed by a pair of yaks. The third request was for 'fresh ripe walnuts for seed ... and any other curious or valuable seeds or plants, the rhubarb and ginseng'. His next demand was for 'any curiosities, ... or what else may be acceptable to persons of taste in England. Animals only that may be useful unless any that may be remarkably curious'. The fifth item concerned Tibetan government, especially revenue collection. Then Bogle was instructed to keep a diary, a running commentary on whatever seemed to be significant. Next Hastings wanted Bogle to ascertain 'what countries lie between Lhasa and Siberia, and what communication there is between them'. The same instruction was also directed towards Tibet's position with regard to China and Kashmir. Trade between Tibet and Bengal came next, followed by a delightful request; 'Every nation excels others in some particular art or science. To find out this excellence of the Bhutanese.' Then, almost as an afterthought, Bogle was instructed to ascertain the course of the Brahmaputra. [18]

What do we make of this remarkable document, the instructions given to the first British visitor to Tibet in modern times? First of all, it is a list, and draws our attention to the important place that lists occupy in travel discourse. They are sometimes written, sometimes memorized and frequently a source of worry: what to see; what to take; what to do; what not to do; where to stay; where to go; where not to go; what to buy and bring back; how much things cost. The linear nature of travel discourse (route, chronological sequence) evokes this list mentality. In addition, those items that do not appear on the list are as important as those that do. In Hastings's instructions we find that Bogle's attention is not drawn to religion, to military matters, to Tibetan history, to details of the Tibetan landscape. Things rather than landscapes or mysteries are uppermost in Hastings's mind: things for trading, things that are productive or unusual such as animals, plants, manufactures, paintings, food, buildings, coins. The blend of enthusiastic commercialism and restrained 'scientific' curiosity in these lists contrasts with the intense geographical and religious focus that was to characterize subsequent Tibetan travel discourses. In Hastings's private commission to Bogle, ethnographic concerns (manners, customs, and so on) are really included only in item number six; in the injunction to keep a very general, spontaneous and unstructured diary.

This era believed itself to be at the beginning of a new 'scientific' exploration. Explorers such as Cook, Humboldt and Banks took pride in this radical departure from mere gentlemen travelers, traders, pilgrims or soldiers. Strict observation and empirical data were foremost in their aims. Yet the casual diary was to gain importance in travel accounts throughout the nineteenth century. The generalized, personal diary format contrasted with the attempt to regulate, specialize and isolate scientific observations. In Hastings's injunctions and in the subsequent accounts by Bogle and Turner, the diary sections, whilst only item number six on the agenda, nevertheless expressed the growing presence of the subjective and Romantic imagination. These diaries follow a different fantasy in relation to the natural world than that taken by the concern for objectivity and scientificity which simultaneously was also making its presence felt. [19] As we shall see, the diary format gradually became increasingly central in travel accounts.

Diaries express a different kind of knowledge about a place from that found in reports for specialized intellectual disciplines. Whereas the latter seek abstraction and distance, the former desire immersion and involvement. The tension between these two forms of knowledge, these two types of imaginative processes, was to become intense by the mid-nineteenth century. Subsequently they were to become alienated from each other, and two kinds of travel writing emerged: specialized, single-purpose, scientific accounts: and generalized travel diaries. The former became identified with professionals, the latter with amateurs and litterateurs. [20] The former quickly lost their connection with travel or even scientific expeditions and came to be regarded as 'objective' accounts. Their role in a creative and imaginative process became submerged beneath an urgent desire for facts, literal truths and explanatory theories. Ethnographic accounts, for example, are rarely situated within the genre of travel texts; instead they have come to be read as a form of objective reporting. The presence of the reporter remains hidden beneath a theoretical certainty and a compulsive thirst for hard data. However, as Fabian points out,

when modern anthropology began to construct its Other in terms of topoi implying distance, difference and opposition, its interest was above all ... to construct ordered Space and Time -- a cosmos -- for Western society to inhabit, rather than 'understanding other cultures', its ostensible vocation'. [21]


The diary perspective, by contrast, came to be known as the travel text, in which the presence of the traveler is well to the fore -- indeed, is the narrative's raison d'etre. But in Hastings's injunctions to Bogle such an absolute split between these differing orders of knowledge had not yet occurred.

Hastings's instructions were accompanied by a document equally as interesting as the private commission: a memorandum on Tibet. Hastings, perhaps the first example of a modern Tibetophile, compiled a brief summary of all extant knowledge on the country. [22] It is a distillation of medieval rumors, seventeenth-and eighteenth-century accounts by Catholic missionaries, and the information supplied by two lama surveyors trained by French geographers in Peking in 1717 and incorporated into the 1736 atlas of Jean Baptiste Bourgignon d'Anville. [23] Hastings's memorandum gathered the strands of the past, and led them into the context of modern imaginings on Tibet. It was an attempt to give a coherent shape to the place of Tibet, to define its contours.

The memorandum is only four pages long: the opening half page deals with Tibetan history. The power of the lamas and their relation to China takes up the next full page. Another page on Tibetan religion is followed by one-third of a page each on China and Tartary, on polyandry and on geography. Hastings writes: 'The history, government and religion of Tibet are no doubt more interesting objects of inquiry than its climate or topographical and physical characters; yet these, too, are highly curious. [24] He draws comparison with the Incas, that other ancient, high-altitude civilization in the Andes -- indeed, in these early accounts, comparisons between the Himalayas and the Andes were common. [25] But despite the low priority given to Tibetan geography (especially surprising in view of the obsession it was to become in barely fifty years' time), Hastings began the memorandum with the observation: 'Tibet is a cold, high, mountainous country'. Half a page later he comments; 'The Caucasus formed a barrier at the south that protected reciprocally both Hindustan and Tibet from any dangerous hostilities in that quarter [26].'

Tibet, from the very beginning was imagined geographically: cold, high, mountainous, isolated, enclosed. Similarly, right from the start, Tibet as a place meant religion and religious power. Despite Hastings's failure to focus Bogle's specific attention on religious and geographical questions in his direct instructions, they make up nearly two-thirds of his memorandum. He writes, without comment, that the Dalai Lama's' excrements are sold as charms at a great price among all the Tartar tribes of this region'. [27] We can detect here the beginning of that fascination which was to play such a powerful role in subsequent Tibetan exploration. This fascination is enhanced by Hastings's thoughts on polyandry, which take up a further third of a page -- a surprisingly large amount in such a short paper.

Europe and Asia: an Archaeology of Imaginative Landscapes

Hastings's memorandum makes continual reference to the 'Chinese', 'Tartars' and 'Moghuls', and reminds us that this creation of Tibet was taking place within a much wider context of global imaginings and global imperialism. By the eighteenth century, the world had already been divided and imagined many times before. It was already an archaeological mosaic of imaginative places and landscapes. The reference to the Tartars in Hastings's memorandum, as well as in Bogle's and Turner's accounts, was a late residue of medieval European fantasies of Asia and the East. It connected this late-eighteenth-century, Classical creation of Tibet back to a totally different conception of European identity.

For most of its history, Britain had been one of the European countries most removed from the Orient, or the East. Historically and geographically it was remote from direct contact with Islam, and from the eastern border struggles experienced by the Hungarians, Russians, Poles, Austrians, Italians and Spanish. For example, whilst the Tartars were remote from Britain both in time and space, for Russia they were intensely immediate. The history of Russia had been dominated by the Mongols and Tartars; [28] imperial Russian expansion into Central Asia throughout the eighteenth century had made them anything but a remote and archaic memory. Turner's journey to Tibet, for example, coincided with the Russian annexation of the Crimean Tartars. The expansionist Russian struggles may have reversed the ancient domination, but for them no discontinuity lay between the Tartars as old oppressors and as newly subjugated peoples.

For Britain, on the other hand, the Tartars lay on the other side, not just of the Himalayas but of a historical discontinuity. The fact that they had never been a real threat meant that they were to become an ideal bearer of Romantic projections in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This historical and geographical discontinuity heightened the sense of the Tibetans' Otherness in the British imagination. In the eighteenth century, however, the Tartars still evoked, even for the British, the medieval European fear of unstoppable warriors streaming out from Central Asia under leaders such as Genghis Khan. So we find Turner exclaiming with surprise after an act of kindness towards him by a Tibetan: 'I take pleasure in recording this striking instance of tenderness and attention, so different from the ferocity commonly annexed to our ideas of a Tartar.' [29]

The references by Hastings, Bogle and Turner to the presence of precious metals in Tibet are also echoes of ancient fantasies. The Greek historian Herodotus wrote of large ants in the desert to the north of India that created sandhills rich with gold. [30] For many Europeans Tibet had the reputation of being something of an Asian El Dorado. Tibet was also caught up, however slightly, in the medieval fantasy of the lost Christian kingdom of Prester John. Turner, in a passage rich with imaginative resonances, also related Tibet to Ancient Egypt because of their shared ritual use of lion imagery:

Between (Egypt] ... and Tibet, there seemed at some time or other, to have existed a frequent communication; and Egypt appeared even now to merit respectful mention, whenever they named it. From hence perhaps they have derived their veneration for the sovereign of brutes. [31]


He then goes on to connect Tibet with an even earlier milieu:

If the lion ever existed in a state of nature here, it must have been at the same time with those vast monsters, whose bones are found in huge heaps in various parts of Tartary and Siberia at this day, and clearly point to some great convulsion and change, in the order of our globe. [32]


Such ruminations on global catastrophes, when combined with Egyptian speculations, were attempts to locate Tibet precisely within a new imaginal landscape that was emerging among the British. The close of the eighteenth century was marked by a rise of enthusiasm for both geology and Egyptology. In both cases Europe was reconstructing the history of the world and at the same time redefining itself. Such a process would reach its full development only much later, in the next century.

In these texts by Hastings, Bogle and Turner, we are confronted by an archaeology of imaginative landscapes. Sometimes their presence is revealed only by a single clue, such as a word or a phrase, but these details are doorways into ancient landscapes.

The most recent past, out of which modern Europe was struggling to reimagine itself, was dominated by the great medieval Moghul and Ottoman Empires. Whilst these were still forces to be reckoned with, their decay was obvious and the waning of their power inevitable in the face of aggressive Western expansion in Asia. [33]

In the late eighteenth century, future global politics seemed likely to be dominated by Russian imperial aggrandizement, by British colonial and commercial expansion, but above all, especially in the case of Tibet, by the largest, the most remarkable and enduring empire of all, the Chinese. The Celestial Empire was still unknown, revered and a force in Eastern politics. Its internal stagnation and decay lay hidden behind its closed frontiers. One cannot appreciate the Tibetan landscape that was forming in the imagination of eighteenth-century Britain without simultaneously understanding the era's fantasy of China.

In 1730, only fifty years before Bogle's journey, the Capuchin monk Francesco Orazio Della Penna, in his report on Tibet, had commented upon the Tibetans: 'They are also dirty and nasty, and without refinement; but from their intercourse with the Chinese in 1720 they have begun to be a little more cleanly and civilized.' [34] By comparison, when Bogle left Tibet in 1775 he exclaimed in a letter to his sister:

Farewell, ye honest and simple people! May ye long enjoy that happiness which is denied to more polished nations; and while they are engaged in the endless pursuits of avarice and ambition, defended by your barren mountains, may ye continue to live in peace and contentment, and know no wants but those of nature. [35]


A fundamental tension in eighteenth-century Western fantasies about non-European peoples is expressed here. On the one hand Europe was fascinated by the Chinese culture -- ancient, orderly, refined, sophisticated, restrained. China seemed a vast land of harmony, peace, aesthetics and tranquility, the very apogee of civilization. For example, whilst Bogle remarked that 'The manners of the Tibetans are in general very engaging', he also commented that a Tibetan friend, 'by a long residence at the Court of Peking, has improved upon them'. [36]

Della Penna, in his enthusiasm for China, was merely expressing a sentiment about Chinese civilization that had been forged into common currency by earlier Catholic missionaries to the East. Chinese aesthetics -- especially interior decorating, gardening, decoration, fashion, and so on -- became immensely popular for a while in eighteenth-century Europe. [37]

On the other hand, this was also the time of Rousseau and the fantasy of the 'Noble Savage'. Baudet comments: 'The eighteenth century was one of those centuries that wished to escape from itself and from the heavy burden imposed by a thousand years of culture.' [38] Hence, he continues, it 'experiences a perpetual longing for the uncivilized'. Cook's return from his epic voyage in 1771, with tales of a Pacific island paradise, Tahiti, seemed to confirm the ideas of those who felt that European culture was burdened by guilt, hypocrisy, ambition and other diseases of civilization. In Tibet these two worlds, the natural and the cultured, seemed to meet. In these early travel texts, Tibet's relation to China was used to express this tension between simplicity and sophistication, between two conflicting images of Utopia.

Locating Tibet

Turner commented that it would be advantageous to discover 'the contiguity of Tibet to the western frontier of China (for though we knew not where they were joined, yet we knew that they did actually join) ...' [39] The rapidity of European global expansion in the eighteenth century outstripped available geographical knowledge and made old global contours redundant. It demanded an entirely new division of the world, one that was far more precise, systematic, rational and ordered. It is no coincidence that this was the period of the great map-makers: Cook set out to map the vast unknown South Pacific in 1767; Rennell initiated the immense Survey of India in 1765. [40] The ostensible reason for this rush of cartographic activity was the demand by the new global commercialism for accurate and reliable charts, routes and communications, but the next two centuries of scientific mapping were to create an entirely new sense of global inclusiveness. It was an imagination of frontiers, routes, wealth, power. Above all by remapping (classifying, defining, measuring) the globe, Europe sought to redefine itself and its position in the world. By locating Tibet in relation to China, Britain was attempting to locate itself, not just geographically but imaginatively.

The old global landmarks of Tartary, Muscovy, Byzantium, the Celestial and Ottoman empires, were becoming imaginative residues, and were clearly inadequate for eighteenth-century commercial navigation. Nevertheless they gave the emerging global vision an imaginative history: they located it within time. History, ethnography and mapping became global in the eighteenth century and fortified European identity, culture and sense of place. [41] Tibet, along with other distant landscapes, helped the eighteenth-century Europeans to get their bearings, to know themselves better. It provided them with a mirror for reflection and self-criticism. Bogle, for example, wittily observed that 'the Tibetans have great faith in fortune-telling, which indeed seems to be common to all mankind, except our European philosophers, who are too wise to believe in anything.' [42] Later he exclaimed: 'Let no one who has been at a public school in Europe cry out against the Tibetans for cruelty.' [43] Unlike Turner, Bogle was always prepared to use Tibet as a springboard for criticism of Europe. In particular he was bitter about European self-satisfaction. Whilst observing monks debating he wrote, with measured irony:

They were carried on with much vociferation and feigned warmth, and embellished with great powers of action, such as clapping hands, shaking the hand etc. These gestures are no doubt very improper and ridiculous, because they are quite different from those used by European orators, who are the true standards of what is just and what is graceful. [44]


For Bogle the Tibetan way of life had to be encountered on its own terms. Hence when confronted by some strange food he wrote: 'It is far from unsavoury, when one can get the better of European prejudices.' [45] For both Bogle and Turner, every culture had its own customs, ceremonies, manners and values. They did not travel to evaluate the Tibetans, except as a commercial proposition, and nearly all critical reflection was directed back at European self-righteous insularity.

The empirical precision of eighteenth-century mapping did not preclude its imaginative dimension. Turner proclaimed, with commendable exactitude,

Teshoo Loomboo, or Lubrong, the seat of Teshoo Lama, and the capital of that part of Tibet immediately subject to his authority, is situated in 29° 4' 20" north latitude, and 89° 7' east longitude, from Greenwich. [46]


However, he was locating Greenwich just as much as Tibet -- indeed, he was gathering the landscapes of the world around it. Remoteness became a measurable and empirical fact as Greenwich moved to the centre of the global map. Tibet became remote from, yet also connected to, Britain.

Within this eighteenth-century global redistribution of imaginative and material power, Chinese hegemony was unquestioned. In a sense it was the only extant established world empire. Russian expansion was still only a distant concern. For instance, Turner discovered that commercial overtures had been made by the Russians towards Tibet, but only with a limited degree of success because China jealously guarded its imperial rights. [47] As yet, British expansionist aspirations were too unformed for the Russian presence in Tibet to be a threat. The main concern was China. Following the spectacular Chinese defeat of the Gurkhas in Tibet and then in Nepal, a British observer nervously exclaimed: 'This government now beheld for the first time, the extraordinary spectacle of a numerous Chinese force occupying a position which probably afforded it a distant view of the valley of the Ganges, and of the riches of the East India Company's possessions.' [48] A regular commercial interchange with the mysterious and powerful Chinese Empire was one thing, but having the Chinese camped on the frontier of British Bengal was quite another. For the time being, an Asiatic power still had hegemony in Asia, but Europe was steadily moving towards its own unique form of geopolitics.

Geographically and imaginatively for Britain, Tibet lay 'somewhere' between China, India, Siberia and the expanse of Central Asia. [49] Baudet writes of the eighteenth century; 'East and West still had no separate identity.' [50] The various images of the Other -- the exotic, the primitive, and so on -- were all jumbled up geographically, all available for any indiscriminate use. The 'Orient' had scarcely arrived, but by the close of the eighteenth century the imaginative landscapes of the globe were beginning to acquire that systematization, orderliness and categorization so characteristic of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. [51] British exploration of Tibet coincided exactly with this new revisioning of the globe. It drew extensively upon the linguistic discoveries in Sanskrit and Arabic, the beginnings of 'scientific' ethnography -- by the French in Egypt, by the British in India. [52] But Tibet, unlike most of the 'Orient', was studied less as a 'textual universe' and more as a visual display, as an integral place. [53]

The Frontier as a Place

1. Setting Out


Whilst Tibet was a place of curiosity and interest for a few Europeans in the late eighteenth century, it was not yet the object of all-consuming fascination it was to become in less than a hundred years. So Bogle, on receiving his instructions to travel to Tibet, remarked:

I was glad of the opportunity which this journey through a country hitherto unfrequented by Europeans would give me of showing my zeal for the Governor's service, at the same time that it gratified a fondness I always had for traveling, and would afford me some respite from that close and sedentary business in which I had for some years been engaged. [54]


Tibet was not yet a place, it was still only an unfamiliar geographical location. Exploration, too, was not yet a heroic venture necessitating arduous preparations. Bogle's response was merely one of pleasure, but even the cause of his delight was not specifically Tibet itself, rather the prospect of visiting a place unknown to Europeans and of excelling in his duty to the Company. His hopes lay not with any athletic mountain mysticism, so common among later aspirations to reach Tibet, but simply with getting away from his desk job and into the outside world. His expectation was not of mountain adventures but of convivial travel.

2. Approaching the Frontier

Nevertheless, the entry into Tibet was still an event of significance. It is an occasion that we will encounter throughout Tibetan travel literature. Even at this early stage, Tibet lay on the other side of a frontier, and to enter it one had to cross a threshold. Turner wrote of the 'enormous height, and vast extent of the mountains' -- the 'Mons Imaus', the 'Himaloya', the 'Bod-la'. [55] When he first saw this mountain range directly, he exclaimed:

The vastness and obscurity of this enormous boundary, remote and indistinct as it appeared when it first burst upon the sight in ill-defined and fantastic shapes, could not but excite very powerful emotions in the mind; and I looked upon the formidable barrier I had to pass with mingled awe and admiration. [56]


It was these unbelievable mountains, not Tibet, that initially evoked the awe of the British and other Europeans. Bogle commented, in a similarly dramatic way, 'The chain of mountains which stretches along the northern frontier of Bengal, 18 miles distant, seemed over our heads.' [57] Tibet did not simply lie over the other side of these vast unexplored mountains but somehow partook of them, of their Otherness, of their mystery and power.

These mountains did not just separate Tibet and India, but created a qualitative difference in the way each place was imagined. Turner, for example, wrote that the 'strangeness, prevailing between Bengal and Bootan' was almost equal to that of the mountains that lay inbetween. [58] The mountains were a zone of transformation, of transition between one mode of imagining and another. Whilst sacred space must have a clearly defined boundary, this boundary or frontier is a place in its own right. [59] The Himalayan range was such a place of fascination, of awe, of mystery, for these eighteenth-century travelers and for others who followed. In their accounts the apparently simple action of crossing from one imaginative space to another became far more complex. The frontier was first approached and then entered. Within the boundary-place travelers were suspended between two imaginings. Leaving it, they then crossed the final threshold and entered the land on-the-other-side. Each of these three movements has an imaginative quality all its own. In the case of these early British travelers it was the direct experience of this boundary-place that colored their perception of the unknown place on-the-other-side. For later travelers, however, Tibet had itself become a place of fascination, and this sacred landscape then affected in its turn the experience of the mountain frontier. Fantasies about the one reinforced fantasies about the other.

3. Entering the Frontier

Upon entering the Himalayan range, Bogle paused at a vantage point for a last view of Bengal: 'It is impossible to conceive any change of country more abrupt or any contrast more striking.' [60] After gazing at the extensive plains of Bengal he exclaimed:

Whether it be that I am partial to hills or not, I beheld the opposite part of the prospect with much greater pleasure. The rapid descent, the deep glens, the hills covered with trees the most lofty and luxuriant, the town of Buxa-Duar immediately below at a great distance, and behind nothing but mountains with their tops hid in the clouds. [61]


The mountains, whose immense height was to be greeted with disbelief when it was estimated a few years later, marked an abrupt break, a discontinuity that was geographical cultural and imaginative.

4. The Passage across the Threshold

Whilst Tibet was by no means the sacred landscape it was later to become in Western fantasies, nevertheless the moment of entry for Bogle and Turner was replete with pregnant symbolism. As they stepped out from the frontier, and crossed over the last summit before Tibet, both were confronted by the plain of Phari. There was a certain irony in this first glimpse of Tibet. The expectation was of mountainous country, yet by comparison with what they had just come through, Tibet seemed quite flat. Bogle complained that this plain, whilst surrounded by hills and mountains, was 'on every account abundantly bleak, and bare and uncomfortable'. [62] Even the Tibetans seemed less robust and well-built than the people of the mountain frontier. [63]

Also, by one of those quirks of fate that seem to occur in history, the route by which Britain first gained access to Tibet entered that country at a place set aside for funerals. Bogle commented: 'The first object that strikes you as you go down the hill into Tibet, is a mount in the middle of the plain. It is where the people of Pari-jong expose their dead.' [64] Turner, nine years later made exactly the same observation. Bogle also happened to arrive just as a body was being carried to the hill: 'Eagles, hawks, ravens, and other carnivorous birds were soaring about in expectation of their prey.' [65]

When considering these kinds of phenomena it is tempting to endow them with deep symbolic significance, with a presentiment far beyond that of mere chance. So, Tibetans are Tartars; the word 'Tartar' comes from Tartarus, the river of the Netherworld; and here guarding the threshold of that landscape is a scene of desolation and death, etc., etc. Obviously such an approach could be facile, yet we must tread carefully. Bogle's and Turner's attention was drawn to this phenomenon. At that precise moment of entry they selected that specific feature to focus upon. Both men quickly seized the opportunity to deliver a short resume on Tibetan burial practices. Bogle's was well informed and discussed the general variations in this custom, whereas Turner was obviously quite struck solely by the one immediately in front of him. Is it significant that the first paragraphs written directly about Tibet by British travelers should be devoted to the unusual funeral rites of that country?

Travel journals create places rather than discover them. They construct these places from selective perceptions, from unequal weight given to various themes and from the manner in which all these are then placed in relationship to each other. From such a perspective, these first moments, these first glimpses, are crucial. We can often look back at the initial moments in a new place -- a country, a town, or a work situation -- and smile at our first impressions. They may have an intuitive truth about them, a crisp freshness, yet they subsequently seem to belong to a different world once we become familiar with the new environment. Such initial impressions and observations clearly tell us as much about our own fantasies as about the place itself. The question, then, is not what Bogle and Turner saw, but what they selected to be of significance; not what was presented to them, but what they chose to comment upon, and in what order. As we have seen right from the start, even before British travelers had reached Tibet, it was imagined as a place of difference. If it was not yet a place of mystery and fascination (qualities which became dominant only in a later cultural milieu), then at least Tibet represented an extreme of Otherness. It was a truly unknown place. The bizarre funeral -- which, as Turner remarked, 'is in direct opposition to the practice of almost all other nations' -- was an ideal signifier for eighteenth-century British fantasies about Tibetan Otherness. [66]

For the next two weeks, Bogle made his way towards his planned rendezvous with the Panchen Lama. Such was the subsequent intensity of this encounter that it overshadowed this first part of his journey, yet these two weeks marked his entry into Tibet. Unlike the long period of close personal contact with Tibetans and his almost uneventful and settled life, these initial weeks were full of constant travel and of hasty but perceptive glimpses along the route. In rapid succession we are introduced to most of the themes that were to fascinate Europeans for the next hundred and fifty years --funerals, dogs, diplomacy, bureaucracy, religion, polyandry, national character, dirt, landscape views and lamaistic power. [67]

The Imagination of Mountains

From the inception of British involvement, Tibet and its religion were imagined geographically. Landscape, culture and place were inextricably enmeshed. Whilst Tibetan religion was given a geographical basis, mountain landscape was given a spiritual basis.

In these travel texts, the passages of landscape description are critical for understanding the prevailing attitude towards nature. In the days before photography, such word-images were the main resource of explorer-travelers, but it would be a mistake to read these descriptive passages (sketches and photographs too) as if they were merely objective accounts of the landscape. They express an imaginative relation to the environment and reveal the fantasies of the author as much as they depict the object of description. We are used to discussing landscape paintings in terms of artistic style -- Rococo, Romantic, Expressionist, Impressionist, Cubist, Surrealist, and so on. Passages of word-painting (as it later became known) must also be read stylistically in terms of their root-metaphors. In the early eighteenth century, for example, it was generally believed that natural landscape could not improve the mind and hence was not so worthy of artistic portrayal as mythological and biblical themes. [68] Such a devaluation continued to exert its presence right through the century. Landscape painting continued to be placed low on the scale of artistic values until the success of the Romantic revolution; hence we find an ambivalence in Bogle's and Turner's accounts. The actual passages of evocative landscape description are surprisingly few as compared with later travel texts. Also, most of them are restrained attempts at an objective realism. Bogle wrote:

On the former part of the journey there were nothing but glens, now there are valleys. But the sides of the mountains are more bare; there are few large trees, mostly fir; the road is more level except at two or three places ... [69]


Alternatively, the budding sciences of botany and geology were used for landscape description: 'pine-apples, mango tree and saul timber are frequently to be met with in the forests or jungles. Find many orange trees towards the foot of the hills, ...' [70] Or again, 'The mountain is composed in some places of clay; but for the most part it consists of a flinty stone, striated with talc, and intermixed with marble.' [71] Such descriptive passages highlight the eclectic 'scientific' curiosity towards nature so characteristic of these early travelers. However, they are generally only lists of things. Only vague attempts are made to compose them into a coherent story. (The discovery of the concept of 'environment', for example, as an organizing schema lay some years in the future.)

But here, amidst these sober, restrained and studied appraisals, we come across glimpses of other landscape aesthetics. Turner exclaimed:

The prospects, between abrupt and lofty prominences, were inconceivably grand; hills, clothed to their very summits with trees, dark and deep glens, and the tops of the highest mountains, lost in the clouds, constituted a scene of extraordinary magnificence and sublimity. [72]


He was invoking the sublime, the Romantic imagination of landscape. The essence of such a perspective depended upon four factors; an immense scale; a sense of natural power; contrasting extremes; and a dynamic verticality. Only nine years earlier, Bogle had been slightly hesitant about revealing his feelings about the landscape. Almost apologetically, he commented:

Whether it be that I am partial to hills or not, I beheld the opposite part of the prospect [the mountains rather than the plains] with much greater pleasure. The rapid descent, the deep glens, the hills covered with trees the most lofty and luxuriant ... and behind nothing but mountains with their tops hidden in the clouds. [73]


Similar themes echo through both Bogle's and Turner's accounts. Both travelers, whilst passing through the mountain frontier, experienced something entirely new, something largely outside European sensibility. Even in Europe, the Alps were only just beginning to attract travelers and explorers rather than mere mountain-viewers and sightseers. It has been said that in 1755 the fashion of climbing mountains and reviewing glaciers had not yet been introduced into Switzerland, but by 1783 the first rush of travelers and sightseers had occurred. [74] The European imagination was just beginning to accommodate itself fully to the Alps. The Himalayas, like the Carpathians, the Rockies and the Andes, were to demand another, future revolution in landscape aesthetics.

In another passage Turner writes;

The weather was serene, the atmosphere clear, and the sun shone full upon the distant mountains. In the rear of all swelling high above the rest, the mountains of Ghassa were distinctly visible, clothed in perpetual snow, whose smooth unsullied surface was nobly contrasted by the deeply shaded rocky eminences in the foreground. A few luminous and fleecy clouds hung on the border of the horizon, which as they verged towards the snow assumed a darker and thicker appearance, adding much to the effect of this beautiful view. [75]


Here is delight in variety and contrast -- high/low, light/dark. This contrast reveals a certain ambivalence towards the landscape mountains. These high summits had traditionally been imagined as the dwelling-places of both malevolent and benevolent supernatural beings. In Bogle's and Turner's accounts, the dark glens, the deep shadows, were integral to their mountain aesthetics. [76] The image had not yet been irrevocably split into pure peaks and unwholesome valleys, but the beginnings of such a one-sided attitude can be detected in the passage from Turner quoted above, where the 'unsullied' snow increases in nobility when contrasted with the darker regions of the landscape.

Each of these three descriptions of mountain views provides evidence of the new Romanticism, with its emphasis on expansiveness and an uplifting emotional response to landscape. There was still a human scale to such a mountain appreciation: one was filled with the sense of the sublime. [77] But the barren immensity and the a-human Otherness of the Himalayas still eluded even this radically new aesthetic. Bogle continually complained about the incessant 'bleak bare hills' and their failure to inspire a fine prospect. [78] Turner similarly wrote: 'The country now opened and improved ... and the view of the trees and houses, afforded a very grateful change from the dreariness of our late prospects.' [79] Later, he commented: 'I took an opportunity to ascend the rock, but my expectations were by no means realized by the view I had from it. Bare narrow valleys, naked hills, and a biting frosty air, impressed my senses with a picture inhospitable, bleak, sterile in the extreme.' [80] Such awful barrenness had clearly not yet acquired its connotations of majesty, nor of revealing God's power and human insignificance. [81]

The picturesque is still encountered in these passages, and frequently Bogle and Turner retreated to its safe familiarity:

The banks of the river are lined with willows and the surrounding mountains have some timbered trees, inter-mixed with the fir and pine; whilst a number of single houses and some monasteries, having orchards and hanging fields of corn about them, ornament the finely romantic views, with which we were delighted from every part of this valley. [82]


Such an evaluation of landscape was well established and was familiar territory to the late-eighteenth-century traveler.

The illustrations in Turner's account, drawn by his companion, Samuel Davis, reveal a mixture of naturalism and Rococo artificiality. [83] An illustration showing the Palace of Punukka in Bhutan, for example, has two small figures in the foreground -- one lying relaxed under a tree, the other walking unhurriedly by the side of a lake. Such a view is an embodiment of the Rococo pastoral dream; warm, romantic landscapes, and tranquility. In Kirkpatrick's book, an illustration of Kathmandu is similarly elegaic and Arcadian. Small figures are sitting in groups; travelers leisurely cross a bridge or stand in conversation by the river's edge. These illustrations followed established formulae: the clouds are obviously decorative, the mountains are clearly hovering between a realism derived from close observation and a certain vague boldness of outline used purely for effect. [84]

In these sketches there is also the unmistakable orderliness and geometric regularity so dear to the eighteenth century. Irregularity was abhorred. Turner wrote: 'Bootan presents to the view nothing but the most misshapen irregularities.' He then continued:

Tibet ... strikes a traveler, at first sight, as one of the least favored countries under heaven ... It exhibits only low rocky hills, without any visible vegetation, or extensive arid plains, both of the most stern and stubborn aspect. [85]

Such aesthetics were also applied to Tibetan architecture: 'the windows, regular, flat-roofed and of good appearance from without; within, irregular and smoked'. [86] At one point Turner was refreshed by a welcome display of 'regularity and softness of feature, that is seldom seen in the wild but sublime scenery of Bootan'. [87]

There are therefore four contending landscape aesthetics in these journals; the Classic (formal regular); the Picturesque (intimacy, delight, variety); the Romantic (uplifting, emotional sublime); and the Naturalistic (close attention to detail, objective, representative). Any land form which could not be encompassed by one of these four perspectives was either depreciated or simply ignored, but these were early days in Europe's involvement with mountains. Significantly, in these eighteenth-century texts, no direct comparisons were made with the Alps. Only with increasing Alpine familiarity in the nineteenth century do we find them constantly invoked as Europeans attempted to come to terms with the aesthetic challenge posed by the more immense Himalayas.

The late eighteenth century was a time of transition and evolved its own synthesis of restrained Romantic-Picturesque. Turner wrote:

We were presented with many beautiful and highly romantic views. The sides of the mountains thinly clothed with unthrifty pines, rapid flow and hollow roar of the river, partly concealed by clustering trees, enclosed in high verdant banks, which rose, as they receded, into bold rocks, with here and there a fir stirring from a crevice, whilst other ridges appeared completely covered with them, served to combine the most striking features of wild nature in her barren, as well as her most luxuriant dress. [88]


At this point we can see the basis being laid for a genuine, if somewhat restrained, mountain mysticism. Critical developments in this process included the emancipation of landscape from the evaluations of a dogmatic theology, the increasing attention given to detailed observation (encouraged by the popularity of geology, geography and botany, as well as by the close encounter between mountaineer and landscape), and the sudden availability of a variety of mountain ranges for the purposes of comparison (Alps, Carpathians, Himalayas, Rockies, Andes). [89] The earlier love of the picturesque and of geometric formality began to be supplemented by a desire for direct attention to details -- either outwardly, towards the objective sensual landscape, or inwardly, towards the experiential response.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE W

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:35 am

Part 2 of 2

The Mythology of Mountain Air and Peoples

Whilst the Romantic vision of splendid mountains and sublime experiences seems to be of most obvious relevance to notions of sacred landscape, it would be an error to leave the apparently more restrained fantasies of the eighteenth century with too much haste. The Romantic imagination, in one form or another, will dominate the story of Tibetan travel for the remainder of its duration, so this 'eighteenth-century Tibet' offers a singular opportunity to examine a different and earlier aesthetic. In addition to the passages of landscape description discussed above, two other themes provide clues to the mythological nature of this pre-Romantic sensibility: the quality of mountain air, and the character of the indigenous people.

When de Saussure, that pioneer of Alpine exploration, climbed Mont Blanc just a few years after Turner's return from Tibet, he took with him a large number of scientific instruments. He wished to determine the effect of rarefied air on breathing. On his visit to Monte Rosa in 1789 he used mules to carry, among other instruments, 'a glass sphere, a foot in diameter, for measuring the density of the air, a weighing machine, [and] a tent to use it in ...' [90] As James Hillman points out, the eighteenth century was the age when air was the prime focus of scientific fascination. Beginning with Boyle's studies in the late seventeenth century, the attention given to airs and gases reached its peak by the close of the eighteenth. [91]

Turner's account is more restrained and formal than Bogle's. It harks back to the closing phases of the Enlightenment, whereas Bogle's anticipates the dawn of the Romantic era. Throughout his account Turner makes repeated observations about various airs. At one point on his journey he comments: 'The most luxuriant trees ... clothe the skirts only of the loftiest mountains; these before us ... carry their heads into an atmosphere, too rare to afford nourishment to the great and flourishing productions of the vegetable kingdom.' He notices that recluses seem to prefer 'these pure regions and ... judiciously abandon the low hollows, with their putrid and humid exhalations ...' [92]

The ancient ambivalence towards mountain peaks had shifted from a belief in various demons into a concern about the different qualities of air. At high altitude the 'air' cannot provide nourishment; it is almost too pure. At low altitude the air is malevolent. Later, as he crosses the last pass into Tibet, Turner comments on the superstitions of the Tibetans. They believe in genii loci or spirits:

No mountain is thought to be wholly exempt from their influence; but they are particularly given to range in the most elevated regions; where, drenched with dews, and worried by tempestuous weather, they are supposed to deal around them, in ill-humor, their baneful spells, to harass and annoy the traveler. [93]


Turner quite clearly believed he was from a culture that had left such superstitions behind, yet the evidence clearly shows that the same metaphor, the same ambivalence, remains, albeit in a scientific guise. For example, later he writes distastefully about a flat, swampy region: 'The exhalation', from such a surface of vegetable matter and swamps, increased by an additional degree of heat from the reflection of the hills, affect the air to a considerable extent, and render it highly injurious to strangers ...' [94] In Turner's imagination it was the air which was harmful, not spirits or bacteria; it was the air which failed to sustain rich vegetation, not the soil or the climate, nor the genius loci.

Mountain air was unexplored territory. At one point Turner was anxious not to linger upon a lofty summit overlooking the low humid plains of Bengal. He reasoned that such a peak, 'from its superior elevation, stands in the way, to intercept much of the vapor exhaled from the extensive waste, that lies spread far and wide beneath its base'. [95] He was particularly fascinated by the prevalence among mountain-dwellers of goitre, the disease which causes a massive glandular swelling at the throat. The usual theory traced its cause to snow water, but Turner thought otherwise, and suggested that the disease proceeded 'from a peculiarity in the air of situations in the vicinity of mountains ...' [96] The lower classes, he argued, are most open to risk because they are the 'most exposed to the unguarded influence of the weather, the various changes that take place in the air of such situations'. Quite clearly the air served Turner as a vessel for something unresolved in his imagination.

The Enlightenment stands between the older use of demons as an objective explanatory principle and the Romantic's proto-psychological celebration of subjective experience. An earlier traveler would have attributed uncomfortable or exalted feelings totally to the influence of nature spirits residing at that particular place. The later Romantics would attribute such experiences to a subtle yet profound interaction between the imagination of the traveler and the landscape. Turner never resorted to spirits and only occasionally to personalistic psychology. Instead he used the explanations of a materialistic science: he blamed the air. But within such a seemingly objective process we can detect the imagination at work. [97]

Even though Turner assigned ambivalent properties to the 'air' at both high and low altitudes, he seemed consistently to favor the pure air of the mountain heights. He was quite surprised that the Tibetans, living at a higher altitude than the Bhutanese, were less robust. He argued that they were exposed to more pure and rarefied air; also, they were at a remove from 'stagnant waters' which 'charge the air with noxious vapours'. [98] He consistently mentioned the low lands in terms of 'noxious exhalations'. [99] He was almost surprised that such regions and such air could support any life at all', and commented: 'its influence hath wholly debased in them the form, the size, and the strength of human creatures.' [100] We can sense here the beginnings of that theme which was to dominate future Tibetan travel literature: the relation between altitude and cultural personality. So Turner contrasted 'the feeble bodied and meek spirited native of Bengal and their active and Herculean neighbors, the mountaineers of Bootan'. [101] In later texts we shall find an almost unequivocal division between the positive qualities of those who live at the highest altitudes and the negative attributes of those who live down in the valleys or on the plains. Tibetans living at the highest altitudes are considered to be naturally favorably endowed. The complex concept of 'environment' is evoked in the nineteenth century to help provide a scientific explanation for this phenomenon, but Turner did not have this concept at his disposal.

Turner did not irrevocably separate the pure heights from the noxious depths. There is a slight tension in his account. Nevertheless, 'up there' live the spiritual recluses, 'up there' one expects to find the most perfectly formed race of individuals; down in the forests and jungles one finds 'debased' humans. Also in Turner's imagination, such characteristics, whether wholesome or not, were confined to physical qualities and did not, as in subsequent accounts, include mental and spiritual ones. The bias favoring the people of the mountains in both Bogle's and Turner's accounts was fundamentally related to the imagination of landscape. The local people were figures in a landscape; from the landscape they derived their qualities.

For Bogle, it was not so much the air as the isolation and protection they afforded from the cultural contamination of civilization that gave mountains their special significance, but such an attitude emerged from precisely the same Enlightenment milieu that gave rise to Turner's fascination with air. Bogle pictured common sense, security, comfort and simple life as existing in the remote mountains. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the high mountains gradually supplemented, if not replaced, remote islands as the imagined location of idealized communities. This process culminated in the twentieth-century fantasy of Shangri-La.

Fascination with air images of unsullied mountain peaks, uncontaminated simplicity of mountain life: all share a common thread. They are all images of aspiration -- of a desire to transcend, or just to escape from, a materialistic world. Whilst Turner's repetitive brooding over the various kinds of air may seem far removed from religious questions, we have seen its continuity with traditional landscape mythologizing. Indeed, his fantasies provide an important link between an older nature worship and Romantic nature mysticism. Both his studied ruminations and Bogle's Arcadian enthusiasms are two sides of the same coin. They express, at its fullest tension, the eighteenth- century spiritual dilemma concerning nature, a tension that was to be resolved only with the Romantic solution.

Tibetan Religion and the Geopolitical Imagination

Even in the eighteenth century Tibetan religion and landscape followed parallel trajectories in Western imaginings. Subsequently we find fantasies about the one influencing and reinforcing fantasies about the other. However, at this early stage the religion did not even have a name. Hastings, in his memorandum on Tibet, stated: 'Any information with regard to the antiquity and to the creed of this religion, as well as to the authority, civil and ecclesiastical, of the lamas, could not fail to be extremely interesting.' [102] In this passage he was posing a series of questions that would preoccupy the West for most of the next two centuries. The issue of power was pivotal. In addition, there was the question of where to locate this religion within the broad spectrum of known faiths. Finally, Hastings was curious about its antiquity and its origins. Tibetan religion, like that of Ancient Egypt, was increasingly to become a vital link in the West's imaginative connection with memoria, with the past, with the Ancients. However, in the eighteenth century Tibetan religion had a low priority in the minds of the British, and despite the curiosity Hastings showed in his memorandum no mention was made about it in either of the two official directives issued to Bogle.

At this stage in the century, Eastern religion was still predominantly the object of either scorn by Christian fundamentalists or superficial curiosity by social dilettantes. Hastings was one of a select few who valued its spiritual insights. He had encouraged a translation of the Bhagavad-Gita, the first direct translation from Sanskrit into English. He used to quote passages from it in letters to his wife. [103] The great founder of Western Sanskrit scholarship, William Jones, received much assistance and support from Hastings. Both would have been familiar with the detailed accounts of Tibetan religion given by the earlier Jesuit and Capuchin missionaries to Tibet. But it was to be Turner's journal which was to provide the West with its only direct observation of Tibetan religion by a non- ordained traveler for many years.

Hastings wrote: 'We are told that the Dalai Lama is held to be an incarnation of the legislator prophet, or god Buddha or Fa, who over all Hindustan gives his name (like Thauth or Mercury, the prophet legislator and god of the Egyptians) to the planet Mercury, and to the fourth day of the week.' [104] Buddhism as a distinct religion was as yet unknown; instead, Hastings attempted to relate the Buddha to known archaic, Classical and Hindu mythology. Here he was prefiguring later work by Jones, who in many ways founded comparative mythology. He compared the Indian gods and philosophers with those of Classical Greece. Maru was Saturn and Indra was Jupiter, whilst Vilimic, Vyasa and Kalidasa were the Hindu equivalents of Homer, Plato and Pindar. [105] Jones identified the Buddha with Odin, whilst Chambers, in the first mention of Buddhism in the 1780s, correlated the Buddha with Mercury, thus agreeing with Hastings. In addition to inaugurating comparative mythology and Indo-European studies, Jones, perhaps inadvertently, realised that any East-West dialogue had to strike a note which resonated on a deep symbolic level. On such a level it is unimportant whether Indra can be truly substituted for Jupiter. Greek culture was held in almost uncritical and reverent esteem in England; it was viewed as the exemplary model of philosophy, art and culture. [106] Jones's comparison touched upon a root-metaphor of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century European belief. It struck a chord in the mythological foundations of European ideals, and helped to raise the status of Indian culture in the West.

Surprisingly, Turner's otherwise detailed account contains only a single reference to the Buddha and Buddhism. When he mentions the Buddha and Tibetan religion, he does so in the context of world religion: 'It seems then, to be the schismatical offspring of the religion of the Hindoos, deriving its origin from one of the followers of that faith, a disciple of Budh, who first broached the doctrine which now prevails over the wide extent of Tartary.' [107] Turner observed that the name of the founder varies in different countries: 'he is styled Godama or Gowtama, in Assam and Ava; Samana, in Siam; Amida Buth, in Japan; Fohi, in China; Budha and Shakamuna, in Bengal and Hindostan; Dherma Raja and Mahamoonie in Bootan and Tibet.' Twenty years after Hastings's memorandum, Kirkpatrick, in his account of Nepal referred to 'the Boudhite system of theology, at present so little understood'. [108] Clearly the closing two decades of the eighteenth century were critical in the formation of Western ideas about Buddhism as a world religious system, and in particular about the Tibetan version of it.

The notion of Buddhism as a distinct world religion emerged in the context of four other such faiths: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism. The last, seen purely as a system of ethics and morals, and as clearly unique to China, was seldom invoked in a direct comparison with Tibetan religion. References to the other three occur continually throughout these early travel texts. Christianity, of course, was the 'known' religion and was subjected to a wide range of attitudes; from scorn and indifference by sceptical philosophers, to a fervent belief in its sole claim to spiritual truth. Hastings, Bogle and Turner lay somewhere in between these positions, but Bogle, in particular, overlooked no opportunity to use Tibetan values as a way of critically reflecting back upon European culture. All three men showed a remarkable tolerance and open-mindedness towards Tibetan religion. Hastings went so far as to encourage the building of a Tibetan temple in Bengal albeit primarily for commercial reasons. Travel accounts from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth constantly compared Tibetan religion with Roman Catholicism. Bogle, for example, suggested a parallel between the Dalai Lama and

the ancient Roman Pontiffs. The situation of the former, with respect to the monarchs of China, might well be compared with the protection and authority, which the successors of St. Peter derived from the German emperors. Their pretensions to infallibility, the veneration in which they are held by the people, the wide extent of their spiritual dominion ... are perfectly similar.


Turner, too, was struck by a similarity between Tibetan ritual and the Catholic Mass. [109]

Hinduism was, of course, the religion of the people over which the British ruled, and whilst Tibetan religion was clearly related to Hinduism, the travelers were also quick to point out how they differed. Despite Hastings's and Jones's respect for Hindu scriptures, the general attitude towards the Hindus themselves, in both Bogle's and Turner's accounts, was somewhat derogatory. Bogle wrote: 'The Gentoo [Hindu] Fakirs, as far as I can judge, are in general a very worthless set of people, devoid of principle ...' [110] They were contrasted unfavorably with the high ideals of Hindu religion. Bogle also contrasted 'the plain, honest manners of the Tibetans' with 'the fulsome compliments and cringing humility' of some Hindu visitors. [111] In addition, Turner observed with relief the Tibetans' relative freedom from prejudices and complexities of caste. In contrast to the apparent confusion in Hinduism between worldly and spiritual authority, he praised the 'system and order' of the Tibetans, and their 'sober and reflecting character'. [112] In eighteenth-century comparisons with Hinduism, Tibetan religion always came out best on the level of daily practice, despite the respect shown to Hindu texts. It was as if the orderly religion of the mountains, like its lofty air, was preferable to that of the plains, with its attendant murky and debilitating vapors.

Islam was the old enemy of Christian culture against which Europe had struggled to define itself for nearly a thousand years. As Europe expanded its geographical horizons in the eighteenth century, far beyond Islamic countries, it still used the old relationship to orientate itself. Whilst Islamic literature had begun to occupy a respected place in eighteenth-century European intellectual thought, in these accounts of Tibet Islam is presented in a less auspicious light. [113] For Turner Islam meant 'fanatical zeal' and a 'hostility ... against all who are not its professors'. [114] Compared with Tibetan religion, Islam was one of militant intolerance. Observing the Panchen Lama's compassion towards some 'Mussul man fakirs', despite Islamic hostility towards Tibetan religion, Bogle exclaimed: 'he is possessed of much Christian charity'. [115] Clearly Islam was being invoked in order to highlight the gentle and tolerant qualities of Tibetan religion.

The wide influence of Tibetan religion throughout Central Asia, and its kinship with Asian religions generally, was consistently remarked upon. [116] Turner commented that the Panchen Lama was 'respected and obeyed through all the region of Tartary; nor was his influence bounded, but by the limits of the extensive empire of China'. [117] China's prestigious place in the Western imagination also gave added lustre to the authority of this strange, unknown Tibetan religion, to which even the Celestial Emperor bowed his head. Tibetan religion therefore became firmly integrated into Britain's new global geopolitical awareness.

Religious System and Secular Power

Turner was initially struck by how conspicuous and extensive religious practices were in Tibet; obviously religion was central to the daily coherence of Tibetan life. [118] At the heart of this social coherence, he observed a symbiotic relationship between two entirely different cultural orders:

The Nation is divided into two distinct and separate classes, those who carry on the business of the world, and those who hold intercourse with heaven. No interference of the laity ever interrupts the regulated duties of the clergy. The latter ... take charge of all their spiritual concerns; and the former by their labors, enrich and populate the 'state'. [119]


He made it quite clear that he respected such a clearly regulated social system: 'Both, united in one common bond of union, the one part to labor, the other to pray, enjoy peace and harmony, the fruits of their industry.' [120] Turner, that late representative of the Enlightenment, was clearly drawn to this union between two discrete, mutually non-interfering, complementary divisions of society. He claimed that because of such a harmonious system, the Tibetans 'find it unnecessary to support a single man in arms'. Throughout their accounts both Bogle and Turner make it abundantly clear that they felt religion and commerce should refrain from any interference in each other's sphere of influence. At one point, for example, Bogle was obliged to discuss Christianity with the Panchen Lama; 'I had no mind to attempt an explanation of the mysteries of the Trinity. I felt myself unequal to it ... The answer I gave him was in the same tolerant spirit [as he had shown], for I am not sent as a missionary ...' [121] Turner wrote in a similar vein: 'with the errors of their opinions or their practice, I had no concern'. [122] Both men reassured the Tibetans that the British clergy stay in Britain and have no inclination towards missionary activity.

Both travelers belonged to the vanguard of an elite bureaucracy that was to figure so prominently and proudly in British fantasies of Victorian India. The gentleman bureaucracy of the East India Company had not yet become the formidable imperial Indian Civil Service, but even at this early stage interest was being shown in other traditions of orderly and well-regulated administration. China, with its Confucian ideals of government, was considered exemplary. Its vast bureaucracy, apparently based solely upon examination and merit, drew the admiration of many, including Voltaire. [123] The diplomatic nuances and cultured manners of Tibetan officials had already been noticed and seemed to complement the smooth-running system of mutual exchange between secular and spiritual life. In addition, the system of election by reincarnation drew Bogle's admiration:

The apparent wisdom of this system is evident. In other governments, to qualify a person for the supreme administration requires a course of study and observation too long for human life; and after all, the waywardness of subjects will dispute his comments; but in Bhutan the Chief Magistrate is instructed by the experience of ages and his orders carry with them all the weight which on this account they deserve. [124]


Bogle seemed to be entranced by a vision of well-regulated government administered by divine elites. Turner, too, was drawn to the order and authority so characteristic of this religious system, which seemed to embody a synthesis between Platonic elite inspiration and the Classical era's love of system, order and regulation. [125] But Turner was less sure than Bogle about the reincarnation lineage, with its absolute authority. He reflected that 'the mind readily obeys the superiority it has been accustomed to acknowledge'. He raised questions about the absoluteness of the Lama's power, and whilst not overtly passing judgment seemed reticent about giving it unqualified approval:

A sovereign-Lama, immaculate, immortal, omnipresent, and omniscient is placed at the summit of their fabric. He is esteemed the vice-regent of the only God, the mediator between mortals and the Supreme ... He is also the centre of all civil government, which derives from his authority all its influence and power. [126]


This Tibetan blend of an absolute power legitimated by mystical doctrines, combined with a well-regulated and orderly administration was to fascinate Westerners for the next two hundred years. As we shall see, attitudes towards it would fluctuate between the extremes of approval and repugnance. If geography and religion were inseparable from the start of British imaginings on Tibet, so too were the unlikely partners of bureaucratic power and religion. [127]

Lhasa: the City of Power

Perhaps the single most important discovery that Bogle made -- and Turner subsequently confirmed -- was the critical importance of Lhasa. In this city seemed to be concentrated all the supreme authority of Tibet: both spiritual and secular, both actual and symbolic. In these eighteenth-century accounts, Lhasa as the unreachable quintessence of Tibet was born. Whilst neither man reached this remote and aloof city, its presence brooded continually over their journeys. The extraordinary centralization of power in Tibet -- not just in the Dalai Lama but also in the city of Lhasa -- had not previously been emphasized, [128] but it was to become an obsession with both the British and the Tibetans. The former increasingly saw Lhasa as the key to meaningful and influential communication with supreme Tibetan authority; the latter regarded the protection, sanctity and isolation of this city as essential for the maintenance of national and religious integrity. From this moment on, Lhasa emerged as a central character in the story of Tibetan exploration. It was to take its place alongside Mecca and the source of the Nile as one of the fabled places, one of the supreme goals, of nineteenth-century European exploration. The extreme reverence shown by the Chinese Emperor towards Tibetan religion also helped to create the fantasy of Lhasa as the Rome of Central Asia, [129] but for these early travelers, who perhaps could have easily reached Lhasa with more persistence, Peking was more of a prized goal.

At the centre of Rome is of course the Pope, and whilst neither Bogle nor Turner had an audience with the Dalai Lama, they both made an intense connection with the Panchen Lama, the second most powerful figure in Tibet. Both men were familiar with working and interacting with aristocracy and easily attuned themselves to the Tibetan variant. The ritual life of Tibetan court ceremonial was a drama for which Bogle and Turner quickly learnt their (not so unfamiliar) parts. The way to acceptance was therefore already prepared for the Panchen Lama, who sat at the centre of an impressive and conspicuous display of reverence, power and authority. This theatre of ritual was the dominant landscape of Tibet experienced by Bogle and Turner. They entered that world far more than the world of mountain landscape or peasant life. Whilst no traveler in Tibet was completely to elude this tightly orchestrated symbolic drama, Bogle and Turner were the first -- and the last for over a century -- to be welcomed into it and interact deeply with it. Appropriately enough, they came from that era in British cultural life when the commercial bourgeoisie had not yet seriously challenged aristocratic hegemony. The revolutionary events in France five years after Turner's return were to mark the watershed between the old and new regimes in the European imagination.

The Panchen Lama

The principal character in this ceremonial theatre, as presented in the narratives of Bogle and Turner, was the Panchen (Teshoo) Lama. Whilst Bogle struck up a close friendship with him as a young man, Turner was the participant in an extraordinary encounter with his reincarnated infant successor. Both Bogle and his Panchen Lama friend died suddenly only a few years after their meeting. Turner was later introduced to the eighteen-month-old child who was considered to be the reincarnation of the Lama. [130]

Here was a strange re-enactment as the successor to Bogle, a pragmatic and mature military man chosen in typical Western style, supposedly on proven ability, met the 3rd Tashi Lama's successor, a child chosen in typical Tibetan fashion by oracles and a mystical system of reincarnation. So, whilst British hopes were never to be fulfilled in trade from Tibet, Turner brought back something else which was to prove far more durable than material goods: an idea, a fantasy, a tale of the marvelous. In his strangely formal and unemotional report Turner presented Britain and Europe with one of the first detailed and first-hand experiences of the Tibetans' living system of reincarnate lamas.

Turner was assured that the eighteen-month-old child could understand what was said even though he could not speak. In a scenario that was both moving and bizarre, this soldier, diplomat and trade agent delivered a formal address to the infant whilst unsure how much credence to give to the stories of this child's unspoken wisdom and ancient lineage. Certainly Turner was impressed by his calm presence, and had nothing to gain by disputing the Tibetans' claims. His was a position of respectful curiosity and suspended judgment. In an extraordinary speech to the child Turner said:

The Governor-General, on receiving the news of his decease in China, was overwhelmed with grief and sorrow, and continued to lament his absence from the world, until the cloud that had overcast the happiness of this nation was dispelled by his reappearing ... The Governor ... was hopeful that the friendship which had formerly subsisted between them, would not be diminished ...


He reported that 'The little creature turned, looking steadfastly towards me, with the appearance of much attention while I spoke, and nodded with repeated but slow movements of the head as though he understood and approved every word.' [131] During the course of the following century the system of reincarnate lamas -- the living gods, as they were so often called -- was the subject of wide-ranging assessments from Western observers. Initially, the attitudes towards these all-powerful reincarnate lineages varied from quizzical curiosity to sceptical indifference.

Bogle gave the Panchen Lama nothing but praise, and could find no defect whatsoever in his character. He even found himself caught up in the general veneration and joy evoked in his followers by the Lama's presence. [132] In a comparison with the Pope's position in Roman Catholicism, Bogle adjudicated in favor of the Tibetans: 'this influence over the minds of the people, possessed by both, has been exercised by the Lamas, perhaps, in a manner more conducive to the happiness of mankind.' [133] Even Turner, whilst not as effusive, passed favorable judgment upon the results of lamaistic authority. [134]

Amidst Gods and Whirligigs: Religion in Practice

Whilst monasticism was regarded favorably as a general system of authority and government, it was viewed less kindly in its internal details. Bogle commented on the monks: 'They seem to lead a joyless, and, I think, an idle life.' [135] He used the term 'monkish' in a playful but critical way and at one point exclaimed: 'of a truth, an ounce of mother-wit is worth a pound of clergy.' [136] He became increasingly frustrated living in a quasi-monastic situation, and moaned:

What can I do to break the thread of these tiresome ceremonies? And how can I render the account of the tedious and uniform life I spent at Teshu Lumbo agreeable? It was monastic to the greatest degree. Nothing but priests: nothing from morning to night but the chanting of prayers, and the sound of cymbols and tabors. [137]


Whilst the idea of order and regularity appealed to Bogle's idealized fantasies, the experience of its tedious routines was insufferable. Even the halting conversations he looked forward to whilst learning the language 'yielded an entertainment listless and insipid when compared with the pleasures of society'. [138]

Both travelers were curious about the extensive use of ritual but were hardly excited by it. At one point, for example, Turner exclaimed:

On every third day, the morning was devoted to proclaiming aloud the attributes and praises of the supreme Being, a service which was performed with a vehemence of vociferation perfectly astonishing, and, as I thought, altogether inconsistent with the decorum of a well-regulated assembly. [139]


For him the close-up actualities of monastic life seemed at odds with the monks' wider role in sustaining a regulated social harmony. For Bogle its boring routinization contrasted with the inspiration evoked by the lamas, the system's elite. For both men there was a split between the idealized fantasy and the unpleasant details. But neither seemed disturbed by this kind of contradiction; contradictions were integral to Tibet as a special place in the British imagination.

In addition to high lamas and ordinary monks, both travelers also commented upon two other groups of religious practitioners -- hermits and ordinary folk. Each of these four sections of the Tibetan population would suffer mixed fortunes in the estimations of future British travelers. As we shall see, by the beginning of the twentieth century the high lamas would be out of favor -- as also, indeed, would the religious system itself. Religious recluses also drew a varied response over the years. Only the ordinary folk consistently commanded respect for their religious sincerity throughout the nineteenth century. In these eighteenth-century accounts, however, the ordinary Tibetans, whilst liked for their basic personal qualities, were not treated seriously in terms of their religiosity. They were portrayed as devoted but superstitious: collecting the Dalai Lama's excrement to be sold as charms; rushing to kiss the Panchen Lama's cushion immediately he vacated it. [140] Turner commented on their 'absurd' and 'ridiculous' ceremonies to placate nature spirits. The prevalence of demonology and a blind adherence to ritual prompted him to exclaim: 'religion, especially among a people so bigoted to its forms, was a subject to which I adverted, with ... scrupulous caution.' [141] The idealized simple mountain peasant, whilst enviable at the level of physical and emotional naivety, had not yet become the focus of European spiritual admiration.

Religious recluses fared somewhat better than either monks or ordinary folk in these travel accounts. A possible reason for this was their aloofness and isolation from the tedious regimentation of monastic life, from the noisy excesses of devotion and its myriad forms and rituals, and from the mass of popular superstition. More than any other religious group, the recluses seemed to echo the emerging Romantic vision of the landscape. Bogle observed that high up on a particular mountain, 'some solitary cottages, the retreat of dervises, are here and there dropped as from clouds. In these airy abodes they pass their days in counting their beads, and look down with indifference on all the business and bustle of the world from which they are entirely excluded.' [142] He affectionately and playfully referred to them as 'these self-denying sons of abstinence'; and clearly they partook of the Romantic sense of the sublime, of the contemplative solitariness of mountain peaks. Even the more restrained Turner, using his characteristic language of air, seemed favorably disposed towards them: 'Many of the sons of piety plant their dwellings in these pure regions, and in general, judiciously abandon the low hollows with their putrid and humid exhalations.' [143]

Whilst these comments are examples of an old anti-monk and pro-friar tradition in British religiosity, they also show the convergence of spiritual purity and mountain peaks in the imagination of these two eighteenth-century travelers. Recluses embodied the quintessence of both Bogle's and Turner's tentative landscape mysticism. As we have seen, Bogle regarded the mountains as special because they afforded isolation and protection, whilst enhancing a life of noble simplicity; it is therefore not surprising to notice that his recluses were 'aloof' and 'indifferent' to the 'bustle of the world'. On the other hand, Turner's mountaintop recluses breathed only the purest air, hence exactly expressing his vaporous landscape ideals.

But Tibetan religion, in all its forms, drew unqualified respect from Bogle and Turner for the high level of morality that it inspired. Bogle viewed even the frequent lapses from its high ideals as mere human weakness, not hypocrisy. Turner made special mention of the strict sexual restrictions of monastic communities. In his mind there was no doubt about their enforcement. Morality and the preservation of order and regularity were the two most admired characteristics of Tibetan religion. Was this religious system civilized or primitive? Where did sophistication end and tedium begin? When did natural simplicity become mere superstition? What was the difference between spiritual and political power?

The Absence of the Marvelous: Science and the Occult

When the Panchen Lama showed Bogle a knife that he claimed 'had fallen from the clouds', Bogle remarked: 'It was almost the only part of his conversations that was marvelous. [144] The category of 'the marvelous' was common in travel accounts both before and after Bogle's and Turner's but their texts lay poised between the earlier delight in strange forms (animals, plants, people, customs, uncanny phenomena and religious miracles) and the later nineteenth-century thirst for occult and mystical marvels. Bogle made his comment with relief because the absence of the marvelous enhanced the authenticity of the Tibetan Arcadia. It seems as if he was almost expecting to be inundated with the marvelous in Tibet. This absence is one of the most striking features of both accounts. One wonders what either earlier or later travelers would have made of the encounter with the reincarnate infant Lama? Even the restrained and aloof Turner could scarcely contain his enthusiasm at such a meeting. Neither traveler was particularly interested in looking for marvels in Tibet -- indeed, it would almost seem that they went out of their way not to see them: Bogle was excited by Tibetan simplicity, whilst Turner was enthusiastic about Tibetan organization.

In fact it was the scientific gadgetry carried by Bogle and Turner that excited the sense of the marvelous in the Tibetans. Turner remarked: 'A variety of mechanical, mathematical and optical instruments which I had with me, attracted the attention of my visitors, by their novelty, or their use.' [145] Hamilton, Bogle's travellng companion, aroused considerable interest with his microscope. Turner also recounts how he provoked amusement with his electrical apparatus. 'The quick and incomprehensible action of the electric fluid', he wrote, 'produced frequently a very laughable spectacle, among crowds of Booteeas, who were attracted by curiosity to our apartments. It was extremely entertaining to communicate the shock to a large circle.' [146] One can sense Turner's delight in playing with scientific gadgets in a way that was so popular in the salons back home. He later drew astonishment from the Tibetans with his ice-skates, as he challenged and outpaced a man on horseback. [147]

In one incident, whilst Turner was 'astonishing' the Tibetans with his telescope, a young lama seized him by the hand and proceeded to read his fortune. Turner was nonchalant about this and remarked: 'I submitted to his examination with no very serious apprehension from his profound knowledge of the occult science of palmistry.' [148] Turner belonged to an age that still delighted in its own scientific and rational achievements. An occult resurgence lay some time in the future, when delight in science had become transformed into a far more serious technological confidence.

Neither History nor Tradition: Geography and the Coherence of Knowledge

Geography held this bricolage of ideas and impressions together: it gave it coherence. Geographical and geological speculations were immensely popular at the close of the eighteenth century. [149] At the summit of one peak, Bogle was forced to exclaim: 'What fine baseless fabrics might not a cosmographer build on this situation, who, from a peat or an oyster-shell can determine the different changes which volcanoes, inundations and earthquakes have produced on the face of this globe.' [150] Such 'antediluvian reveries', he continued, 'make the head giddy'. The rapid proliferation of long-range journeys from Europe, and the sudden global expansion of British commercial interests, fed this revolution in geographical imagining. On being asked why the English leave their homeland so extensively, Turner rejected Tibetans suggestions that it was due to a great internal defect in their own country. Instead he replied to the Tibetan Regent that the English, 'prompted by curiosity, not less than by a desire of wealth, spread themselves over every region of the Universe'. [151] With some pride, he continued:

In these voyages, lands had been discovered, and nations explored, of which neither history, nor tradition, supplied the slightest information: and navigators, by publishing to the world their observations, and their accounts of these newly-discovered countries, had communicated much curious and important knowledge.


Turner was correct in his reply, for travel provided the basis of the next century's revolution in physical and social sciences. [152]

In eighteenth-century Britain a consistent, and increasingly coherent, global imagining began to emerge. Geopolitics was in its infancy, as was a kind of geosociology. Whilst the modern concept of 'environment' had not yet been formulated (in the sense of a defining milieu with which, and within which, an organism interacts), nevertheless a simplistic geographical context was consistently invoked as an explanatory principle. [153] Time and again, race, character, temperament, physical stature and civilizational status were attributed to geographical circumstance. As the nineteenth century progressed, Tibetan religion in particular was to be constantly explained in terms of geography; but in these late-eighteenth-century travel narratives, most speculation was confined to racial character and physique.

Bogle suggested that the widely differing geographical milieu between Bhutan and Bengal produced 'robust and hearty' inhabitants in the former, but 'weak and thin-skinned' natives in the latter. [154] Turner constantly used similar reasoning, but he also extended his reflections from physique to philosophical and mechanical advancement. In pursuit of such enquiry, he conjured up some fine imaginative landscapes. For example, he reasoned that perfection could not be expected 'in an inland region, remote from intercourse with strangers, and shut out from the rest of the world by inaccessible mountains, by Imaus [Himalayas], on the one hand, and by the inhospitable deserts of Gobi, on the other'. [155] Clearly he did not share Bogle's celebration of isolation but instead subscribed to cultural cosmopolitanism as an explanation of civilizational progress. Among the nomads to the far north of Tibet even less could be hoped for, Turner reflected:

... in more northerly regions, where one half of the year is a season of profound darkness, and the wretched inhabitants are compelled to seek refuge from the severity of the seasons, in deep and gloomy caverns: where, possibly, the powers and faculties of the mind, are in some degree benumbed by the same powerful operation of intense cold.


Such reasoning dovetailed with the prevailing landscape aesthetic and its failure to embrace wilderness. Once the idea of barren majesty entered British landscape imagining, precisely the same geographical conditions would be used to explain the attributes of Tibetan culture and mysticism; the evaluation would be entirely reversed. [156]

Such geographical reflections brought order to the influx of impressions that threatened to overwhelm the old classification systems and the encyclopaedic approach to knowledge, [157] but the new geographical imagination also helped to define Britain as a nation. For whilst a cultural universalism, a global humanism, pervaded eighteenth-century philosophical reflections, this was soon to be replaced by nationalism as the basis of ethnographic explanation. [158] In the nineteenth century history became defined as the progress of European nations, not as the story of world culture. For Bogle and Turner, however, progress in the attributes of civilization (philosophy, arts, sciences, manners) was due primarily to the accident of geographical circumstance and not to some inherent racial or cultural superiority.

Said suggests that four eighteenth-century elements were crucial in helping to lay the basis for modern Orientalism as a Western fantasy: 'Global expansion, historical confrontation, sympathy and classification'. [159] Tibetan exploration clearly takes its place within such an emerging structure. These four elements in their turn were supported upon the new global geographical imagination. Said writes:

these elements had the effect of releasing the orient generally ... from the narrow religious scrutiny by which it had hitherto been examined (and judged) by the Christian West ... Reference points were no longer Christianity and Judaism, with their fairly modest calendars and maps, but India, China, Japan, and Sumer, Buddhism, Sanskrit, Zoroastrianism, and Manu. [160]


Travel and geography emancipated non-Western cultures, and hence European self-identity, from the confines of textual religious authority. Global definition was increasingly displaced from tradition and text to broadly geographical observations and historical research. As we shall see, these became the basis for a new, uniquely European, creation of sacred landscape.

Conclusions: the Closure of the Vessel

Tibetan landscape focused and concentrated several imaginative discourses: those of ethnography, geography, government and personal experience. In particular the religion, unlike Buddhism elsewhere, was enmeshed in its cultural, geographical and political origins. It was inseparably part of the place of Tibet, a place that had to a significant extent been shaped by the engaged imagination of these eighteenth-century travelers. This place did not provoke any sudden challenge to entrenched British values at the time; nor, initially, did it inspire the intense excitement that China or Tahiti evoked. But Tibet promised to be a place of sufficient imaginative complexity to satisfy the radical demands of the next century. In a very real sense, Britain needed such a place. Whilst these eighteenth-century travelers may have been unsuccessful in opening Tibet to commerce, instead they brought back something of equal value: a place of crucial importance for the British imagination. As the highest country in the world, bounded by the highest mountains on the globe, Tibet was ideally situated to play a leading part in the extraordinary nineteenth-century upsurge of British and European mountain Romanticism. The Himalayas were a region of novelty and fascination for these early travelers, for whom Tibet was little more than a curious rumor. Initially it was this mountain frontier that bestowed its imaginative power on Tibet. Only subsequently did the reverse occur and the fantasy of Tibet intensify Western fascination with the Himalayas.

Tibet adjoined the sensitive frontiers of what was to become Britain's most prestigious overseas possession, India. Even in the eighteenth century the East India Company felt itself vulnerable from this northern direction, yet Tibet constantly lay just beyond the reach of British power and influence. It was kept firmly in the British imagination by its geographical location at a time of intense geopolitical rivalry between imperial powers. It would not go away; it could not be ignored. It sat there, a vast unknown land at the very limits of British expansion. Geographically it lay at the meeting point of British, Russian and Chinese imperial aspirations. Each of these three powers had its own unique relationship to Tibet, and to each other. For the next two hundred years Tibet would play a small but significant role in the restructuring of geopolitical fantasies. It was like a vacuum that simultaneously demanded, yet refused, to be filled.

As we have seen, the timing of the 'discovery' of Tibet, late in the eighteenth century, was also critical for its subsequent place in the British imagination. Historically and mythologically, Tibet connected nineteenth-century global imagining with more ancient world mappings. Old empires and imaginative landscapes were disintegrating, whilst new ones had yet to emerge. Tibet provided an archaic continuity for the modern world.

Tibet seemed to contain a strange mixture of opposites: the religion appeared rational yet thoroughly superstitious; to combine a high level of morality with rampant demonology and occultism. As a system it seemed exemplary in terms of its organization and its attainments in diplomacy and manners; yet dirt, idleness and mindless uniformity were conspicuous on a daily level; the leadership of the high lamas was, on every account, singularly inspiring yet carried with it dark overtones of spiritual and political absolutism; on the surface the country seemed naively content, but radiating out from Lhasa was a web of political and religious intrigue.

Whilst apparently closed off and isolated from the mainstream of the world, Tibet seemed to exert an extraordinarily far-reaching spiritual influence. Even the landscape was at one and the same time exhilarating and boring. There always seemed to be more of Tibet -- more of it geographically, and more of it in terms of its contradictions. Rationalists, Utopians, Romantics, primitivists, Humanists, Moralists and Mystics would each be irresistibly drawn to something exemplary in Tibet, yet at the same time puzzled or repelled by something else that just could not be ignored. It presented the West with a true complexio oppositorum, a rich complexity of contradictions and oppositions. [161] This complexio oppositorum was to provide the basis of Tibet as a sacred place in the western imagination.

Upon his return from Tibet, Turner wrote: I am sorry to add too, that events ... have concurred to throw almost insuperable difficulties in the way of re-establishing our intercourse with Tibet, at least for some considerable time to come.' [162] It is doubtful whether even Turner would have realized that over a century would elapse before official intercourse would be re-established. The circumstances of the break in relations -- a series of Gurkha invasions of Tibet, repulsed by a huge Chinese army; British indecision about aiding Tibet and seeming to support the Nepalese -- are not so important as the break itself. Britain and Europe became exiled from the first coherent Tibetan landscape in Western fantasies. The subsequent history of Tibetan exploration is, to a significant degree, the story of this exile. Turner's account was to be the main reference for over half a century. These eighteenth-century journeys themselves became located within the fantasy landscape of Tibet: they came to be viewed as part of a lost golden age in Tibetan exploration. Hastings, recalled and humiliated in London, became the misunderstood and persecuted visionary.

This deep gap in sustained, direct communication with Tibet sealed Western fantasies into an almost closed vessel. All the imaginative ingredients were contained within it. The mountainous walls of this sealed vessel increasingly became the focus of exploration; their majestic presence and the mysteries that lay hidden behind them mutually enhanced each other. Whilst the closure of Tibet was essentially political, it came to symbolize its cultural, geographical and spiritual Otherness.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE W

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:42 am

Part 1 of 2

Chapter 3: Inventing The Threshold (1792-1842)

The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes two worlds -- and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.
-- (Mircea Eliade [1959, p. 25])


In 1825 a certain Lieutenant George White took advantage of the easier access to the Himalayas that followed the Gurkha Wars of 1815 by going on a short journey to contemplate the views. His travels took him to 'the provinces of Sirmour, Gurwhal and Kumaon', all of which had recently been 'annexed' by Britain following the conclusion of the difficult and costly, but otherwise successful, war in Nepal. This war marked the beginning of Britain's long struggle to contain the rival expansion of the vigorous, militant Gurkha people. At one point, whilst traveling through these new additions to the burgeoning Indian Empire, White was moved to comment: 'The view of the Himalaya from a spot in the vicinity of Saharunpore, is of that dreamy, poetical description, which, though full of beauty, presents little that is definite ...' [1] He then went on to rhapsodize about

... the pyramidal snow-capped heights, which seem to lift themselves into another world, crowning the whole with almost awful majesty. From this site, the mountain ranges have all the indistinctness which belongs to the land of faerie, and which, leaving the imagination to luxuriate in its most fanciful creations, lends enchantment to the scene. The pure dazzling whiteness of the regions of eternal snow, give occasionally so cloud-like an appearance to the towering summits, as to induce the belief that they form a part of the heaven to which they aspire.


Clearly we have entered a different world to that imagined by Bogle and Turner. Here, in White's account, is landscape Romanticism in its first full flowering. Bogle's descriptions of Himalayan landscape, written only fifty years earlier, seem restrained and hesitant alongside White's endless flourishes, his obsession both with views and with a kind of detached, rather gratuitous sense of the sublime. The district of Saharunpore gave White his first glimpse of the mountains, and in addition to inspiring an enthusiastic but dreamy Romanticism, it set him speculating on the value of the region for 'scientific travel': extensive fossil remains have been found in the hills; the cultivation of the tea plant looks favorable. [2]

These comments in White's journal underline the shift that was occurring in the British relationship with the Himalayas during the first half of the nineteenth century. The years between 1792 and 1842 were highly significant politically for this immense mountain region. 1792 had seen the audacious Gurkha invasion decisively defeated by the remote Chinese overlords, whose presence and authority in Tibet and the Himalayas was thereby enhanced and subsequently reached an unprecedented intensity. Relations between Britain and China over this war were severely strained; the Chinese ever suspicious, the British vacillatory. Suddenly the border with Tibet was firmly closed. As Lamb comments: 'a decisive change had taken place in the political alignments of the Himalayas'. [3] The following years saw Britain nervously but steadily consolidating its control of the Indian subcontinent, whilst simultaneously the Himalayas increasingly became imagined as its northern bastion.

The difficult war with the Gurkhas (1814-16) was merely the most dramatic event in a series by which Britain extended its power and influence into the Himalayan region of northern India. Kumaon, Garwhal, the Sutlej valley, Spiti and Lahul were those districts most effectively subsumed by this policy of expansion, containment and stabilization, but Kashmir, Ladakh, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan and Assam were also similarly drawn deeply into British imperial policy-making. The war brought British territorial influence into direct contact with Tibet for the first time. White's journey in search of sublime views shows just how quickly the military and political appropriation of these regions was followed by an aesthetic one. This early Romantic engagement with the Himalayas was also accompanied by an amateurish scientific curiosity that scanned the landscape for both knowledge and profits.

The Himalayan Tour

As early as 1822, seasoned travelers and explorers were taking the first tourist groups up into 'the snowy range', in the vicinity of what would soon become the hill-station of Simla. [4] Lieutenant White, too, clearly saw himself as charting out a kind of 'Grand Tour' of the Himalayas, as simply transposing the well-established appreciation of picturesque and sublime mountain views, forged in the European Alps, on to the newly acquired Himalayan regions of the British Empire. At the front of his book, for example, he placed a quotation from Captain Skinner's earlier dash through the same landscape:

I have beheld nearly all the celebrated scenery of Europe, which poets and painters have immortalized, and of which all the tourists in the world are enamored; but I have seen it surpassed in these infrequented and almost unknown regions.


There are numerous such references to early European landscape painters in contemporary Himalayan journals. In 1805, for example, one traveler exclaimed:

These two mornings exhibited a spectacle which in sublimity and beauty surpassed all power of description and to which even the pencil of Claude would have been incapable of doing justice. [5]


The passage refers to Claude Lorrain (1600-84), a seminal figure in the history of landscape painting, with his 'nostalgic dreams of lands of enchantment'. [6] In his landscapes Claude concentrated upon capturing an almost mythic and religious sense of ideal Nature: 'the pure and trembling light seemed to dissolve all structure and form'. [7] Along with Salvator Rosa (1615-73), who specialized in wild and dramatic landscapes, Claude played an essential role in shaping eighteenth-century mountain aesthetics. Certainly the names of both Claude and Salvator Rosa had become adjectives for describing landscape in the vocabulary of eighteenth-century travelers on the 'Grand Tour' of Europe. [8]

Such references also draw attention to a problem when reading travel texts. Before the age of photography, the traveler had recourse to four ways of capturing landscapes: by sketching and painting; by descriptive prose passages (later known as word-painting); by comparison with well- known European landscapes, especially the Alps; or by referring to previous landscape portrayals, either in poetry or painting. Any single travel text usually encompassed most of these methods. As Michel Le Bris points out, landscape painters in general tended to lag behind other forms of dramatic painting in the portrayal of the natural sublime. They were, he writes, 'still too subject to the temptation of the picturesque'. [9] The Picturesque-Romantic appreciation of mountain landscapes and of the people who inhabit such places still exerts its dominance today. In the early nineteenth century it seemed to mesmerize the imagination of travelers and cast its floating sense of beauty over most attempts to describe the Himalayas. References either to familiar European landscapes or to famous illustrations were generally conservative. Avant-garde landscape painters such as Caspar Friedrich (1774 -1810) or Joseph Turner (1775-1851) were seldom evoked. Even seminal landscape poets such as Wordsworth were rarely mentioned. Sketching and painting of the Himalayas, too, never freed themselves from the demands of representation and illustration. They never played a leading role in the development of landscape painting as did, for example, the Alps, North Africa or, much later, the American West. Only in passages of descriptive prose did the Himalayas gradually force a radical reevaluation of European landscape aesthetics in the nineteenth century.

The Savage and the Sublime

The geopolitical and Romantic imaginations converged in the Himalayas during this period. White is equally comfortable in both. He is as thoroughly at home in the Romantic imagination as he is out of place in the unknown mountains. Whilst the Himalayas pressed their unfamiliar presence upon him he was on totally familiar ground within his own sentiments. Imperial identity and mountain appreciation were clearly commonplace to him. He knew what he was looking for in the mountains. His evaluation of 'views' was unquestioned and in no need of justification. The Himalayas did not challenge White's imaginative map of landscape aesthetics, they confirmed it. Such a challenge -- and with it a new, deeper, and richer phase of Romantic landscape appreciation -- would have to wait until late into the century. But even though such a challenge lay some decades away with the rise of true mountain-explorers, White still experienced occasional moments of unease, moments when his mountain aesthetics seemed inadequate for his experiences:

From this point we might be said to traverse a land whose savage aspect was seldom redeemed by scenes of gentle beauty, the ranges of hills crossing, and apparently jostling each other in unparalleled confusion, being all rugged, steep and difficult to tread ... [10]


He draws a clear distinction between the picturesque, the sublime, the savage and the dismal, [11] and he was not alone with such categorizations. The British surveyor Herbert, whilst attempting to cross a pass in 1819, commented:

Those who have traveled through such desolate and unfrequented parts will alone understand ... the sight of even the first straggling sheep ... was hailed almost as that of a friend. An animal, even a bird, any living thing in fact, serves to take from such a scene the almost ... death-like character of solitude. ... [12]


Desolation and solitude combine with an overwhelming immensity of landscape confusion to produce a sense of dismal savagery. Lieutenant Alexander Gerard, another British soldier-explorer of the Himalayan passes, wrote in 1818: 'Here the rocks are more rugged than any we had yet seen, they are rent in every direction, piled upon one another in wild disorder ...' [13] Later he comments:

The country ... has a most desolate and dreary aspect, not a single tree or blade of green grass was distinguishable for near 30 miles, the ground being covered with a very prickly plant ... this shrub was almost black, seeming as if burnt, and the leaves were so much parched from the arid wind of Tartary, that they might be ground to powder by rubbing them between the hands.


The landscape was also deceptive in terms of distance. It produced frequent headaches; nausea was common; ravines and precipices abounded:

A single false step might have been attended with fatal consequences, and we had such severe headaches, and were so much exhausted, that we had hardly strength sufficient to make the effort, and it required no inconsiderable one to clear the deep chasms which we could scarcely view without shuddering. I never saw such a horrid looking place, it seemed the wreck of some towering peak burst asunder by severe frost. [14]


'Confused jumble[s] of gigantic masses of rock': [15] endless barren vistas: these lay outside the embrace of the new Romantic aesthetic forged over the turn of the century in the European Alps and in the English Lake District. As late as 1871 the well-known Victorian mountaineer Leslie Stephen argued for the superiority of the Alps over the Caucasus, the Carpathians, the Rockies and the Himalayas. 'All beautiful scenery ...', he writes, should be dashed with melancholy, but the melancholy should not be too real.' [16] For Stephen, mountains could be a little too wild, too bleak and stern, really needing some sign of human habitation or labor to enhance their beauty. The English scholar-eccentric Thomas Manning, on his 1811 journey to Tibet, shared this sentiment:

We continued along the barren valley, seeing no diversity, but the ever-varying shapes of the still more barren mountains, whose color, where it was not actually sand, slate or granite, was a melancholy pale moldy green. [17]


There was, however, a tradition for appreciating certain details of wild landscape, a kind of savage splendor. One of White's fellow-travelers, overlooking a mountain torrent, exclaimed:

Those who have brains and nerves to bear the frightful whirl, which may assail the steadiest head, plant themselves on the bridge that spans the torrent, and from this point survey the wild and awful grandeur of the scene, struck with admiration at its terrific beauty, yet, even while visions of horror float before them, unable to withdraw their gaze. [18]


This safe -- albeit seemingly precarious -- experience masks the outermost limit of early-nineteenth-century landscape aesthetics. As early as the mid-eighteenth century, Rousseau had exclaimed: 'I must have torrents, rocks, pines, dead forests, mountains, rugged paths to go up and down, precipices beside me to frighten me.' [19] As Michel Le Bris points out, here was a fundamental shift in Western imagining: 'a whole age that was coming to an end shunned mountains because they were horrible, while the ... [next] sought out their ravines and waterfalls precisely in order to be carried away by their thrilling horror.' [20]

'Natural sublimity' differed from both the Baroque sublime and the classical sublime: it expressed the ability of nature to unleash the deepest passion, to transcend reasoning, to transport the soul. [21] Terror in the face of some overpowering aspect of nature was integral to this natural sublimity. However, this sense of the sublime had more to do with the subjective experience of the observer than with the particularities of the geographical place. The precise forms of the place were incidental, only a platform for the intensification of individual experiences. It was these experiences that were being acclaimed in early Romanticism, rather than natural wilderness landscape. In these early Himalayan accounts we have not yet reached that decisive point when the imaginal balance shifts: that point where the immensity of nature, rather than exalting or filling the human soul, dwarfs and crushes it.

If we step back just a little from gazing with exquisite horror at the wild splendor of nature, the early-nineteenth-century aesthetic is once again on firm ground, with a kind of noble sublimity:

On the right, the snowy ranges shoot up their hoary peaks to a tremendous height ... shewing an endless variety of forms ... Imagination, however vivid, can scarcely figure to the mind a prospect so grand and thrilling ... [22]


Distance brings order to the irregular chaos; a variety of forms redeems barren sameness. [23] The early accounts of Himalayan travel are full of 'grand prospects', 'solemn majestic' views, picturesque scenes and, of course, 'glorious landscape':

There is no possibility of conveying to the mind of the reader the gratification which we have experienced in some new burst of scenery, when, emerging from the sombre labyrinths of a thick forest, we come suddenly upon one of those glorious landscapes which fill the whole soul with ecstasy! [24]


These early travelers were not only engaging with an unfamiliar and overwhelming outer landscape, they were also struggling to chart a corresponding set of inner experiences. Wherever possible, individual experience and landscape scenes were constantly being brought into alignment, and when the effect was undesirable the result was summarily abandoned. Nevertheless, as we have seen in these few examples, the Himalayas inevitably drew European travelers to the boundary of their known aesthetic paradigm, constantly demanding new modes of appreciation. Unlike those who journeyed in Europe, Himalayan travelers could not judiciously avoid dismal, chaotic and disturbing places: these were inevitable. Slowly a second generation of landscape Romanticism was emerging, one that combined sweeping experiences with close attention to particularities and details. A new way of looking, observing, experiencing -- of engaging with the landscape -- was slowly gathering strength: one that was disgusted with the rampantly indulgent subjectivity of earlier mountain appreciation. [25] But the extremes of barren, dismal and endless wildernesses would have to wait even longer, until eventually redeemed by a subtle appreciation of light and space that appeared only towards the very end of the nineteenth century. [26]

In 1841-2, early British confidence in the 'naturalness', of their imperial presence in Asia received a series of major setbacks. Wars in Afghanistan and China, with a crushing defeat in the former, were only the most visible of manifestations. The Sikh nation under its vigorous leader Gulab Singh, rivaled the Gurkhas in both military ability and expansionist desires. Both powers threatened to reconcile their differences and unite, a possibility that sent shudders through British Himalayan aspirations. The Sikhs had already successfully invaded Ladakh in 1834, thus coming into direct contact with China; then, in 1841, they invaded western Tibet. With an army recently annihilated in neighboring Afghanistan, British moves towards Himalayan hegemony had reached a critical stage.

One Tibet or Many

Lieutenant White's journal stands exactly midway through this highly formative period in the British relationship with the Himalayas and Tibet, but the self-assurance of his text is deceptive. In some ways White's confidence points forward to the mid-century, mid-Victorian synthesis, to the popular excursions from the hill-stations of Simla and Darjeeling. On the other hand, in its naivety it harks back to a simpler time when the Himalayas seemed to lie outside complex political intrigue: to a time before their full integration into Western history, into the new global, geopolitical map. White's journal is not typical, but in fact the period produced no typical Himalayan travel accounts. We have not yet reached the stage in Himalayan exploration when the selection of texts for interpretation becomes a problem. Travel texts during these years are both extremely limited in number and highly idiosyncratic. Nevertheless they do fall into certain patterns and each helped, in some essential way, to lay the foundations for the Western creation of a Tibet that was imaginatively rich, complex and substantial.

Although there were comparatively few of them, the travelers among the Himalayas during the first half of the nineteenth century formed a highly diverse group. Manning, the only Englishman actually to reach Lhasa during the whole of the century, was an eccentric devotee of Chinese culture who had little interest in Tibet and was instead totally preoccupied with reaching the 'forbidden' city of Peking from India. [27] The French Lazarist priests Huc and Gabet, the only other Europeans to reach the capital of Tibet, were also unorthodox. Journeying from northern China and through Mongolia, they were the final representatives of a line of intrepid Catholic missionaries to Lhasa extending back into the seventeenth century. [28]

But what constituted an orthodox Himalayan traveler? Moorcroft was one of the most famous, yet he was spurned by the British administration in India. A mixture of adventurer, meticulous observer and trader, with his warnings about the Russians he was also one of the first British travelers with a global, imperialist perspective on the politics of the region. [29] The wandering Transylvanian hermit-scholar Csoma de Koros had his British, scholarly counterpart in Brian Hodgson. [30] Compared with the enigmatic brilliance of the Hungarian, who died in poverty in 1842, Hodgson steadily exerted his powerful presence as a Himalayan scholar, administrator and innovator throughout most of the century.

Each individual represented a new kind of Himalayan traveler: the British officers Lieutenant Webb, Captains Raper and Hearsey; the Austrian botanist Baron Carl von Hugel: the renegade Scotsman Dr. John Henderson and the Harrow-educated English sportsman Godfrey Vigne; the three Gerard brothers from Aberdeen; the French botanist, dilettante and socialite Victor Jacquemont; the enigmatic, cosmopolitan adventurer Colonel Alexander Gardiner, half Scottish, quarter English and quarter Spanish; the religious eccentric Joseph Wolff, son of a Bohemian rabbi. [31] Caught up in the beginnings of the 'Great Game', the imperial rivalry between Britain and Russia, they combined adventure and trading with a mixture of surveying, mapping and spying. Among the other travelers, James Fraser and George White were like adventurous tourists. On the other hand, Francis Hamilton and Captain Pemberton were engaged on straightforward diplomatic missions to the independent Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. [32] Henry and Shipp were soldiers, whereas Herbert was a surveyor. [33]

Whilst they were highly individualistic, these early travelers nevertheless shared a common sense of kinship of which Moorcroft and Gardiner were the acknowledged founding fathers. [34] In 1835 von Hugel and Henderson met in Kashmir; earlier Jacquemont and von Hugel had crossed paths in Poona; Moorcroft and Trebeck had, by chance, encountered the solitary Csoma de Koros whilst traversing Ladakh in 1820; [36] the Hungarian subsequently died in the company of Hodgson in Darjeeling. These encounters and the familiarity with each other's work helped to lay the foundations for a coherent tradition of Himalayan travel writing. [37]

During this period Tibet was closed off, sealed in. It was becoming a hermetic vessel for Western projections. The frontier, the boundary, of this potentially sacred place began to be invented. At the same time a new and crucial element was introduced into Himalayan travel: concern about the validity both of the travelers and of their texts. Evaluations began to be made about the relative value of different travelers and their reports.

Any fantasy about a particular place always rests upon ideas about the particular route followed and the traveling style adopted, but above all on the type of people who travel and the kind of observations they make. Almost ritual notions came to exist as to the status and validity of any journey to Tibet. Indeed, as we shall see, women, non-Europeans, lower classes, amateurs, eccentrics and young people all, at some stage, had their journeys discounted. By selecting and encouraging one style of travel and reporting, whilst discouraging others, the British exerted the power of their fantasies over 'the Himalayas' and 'Tibet', creating a very specific type of place. At the same time they legitimized an equally specific way of looking at the landscapes of the world, an aesthetic of geopolitical Romanticism.

In the creation of a place, a critical point is always reached with a struggle over the selection and evaluation of texts. Assessment is made about their relative usefulness in the creation of a particular, desired landscape. Struggle over texts is always a struggle between contending landscape fantasies. In the case of the Himalayas and Tibet, this issue was never to be completely resolved; there would always be many Tibets. But imperialism and nineteenth-century scientificity demanded systematic, cultural, commercial, political and geographical surveys, and these quickly gained the ascendancy. Britain needed and created a coherent, rational and well-mapped Tibet as the century progressed. The geopolitical rivalry with Russia provided the impetus for the hegemony of this kind of travel text, whilst the establishment of the Royal Geographical Society in 1830 furnished this landscape perception with a powerful and efficient headquarters. The only exception to these systematic, scientific, political and commercial perspectives that was looked upon with some favor was the aesthetic, but even this would not receive dedicated attention until much later.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Tibet and the Himalayas were 'known' territory, not in terms of geographical and cultural details but by virtue of their absorption into the established rhetoric of travel and exploration. Blank spot or not, early in the century Tibet had been located, at least within the grid and coordinates of Britain's global map. When that most ungeographically aware traveler Thomas Manning wrote, whilst in Tibet in 1811: 'the latitude and longitude of Lhasa ... are pretty well ascertained', he was implying a symbolic, as well as a geographical, location. [38]

Whilst its full impact would not be felt until the second half of the nineteenth century the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), after its founding in 1830, soon began to shape the contours of British exploration. India and the Himalayas received considerable attention as a region where 'British interests were most intensely concentrated'. [39] Between 1830 and the end of the century, explorers of the Western Himalayas received twelve of the Society's Gold Medals; a number unmatched anywhere else in the world, [40] but the RGS's intense interest in the Himalayas was still only a part of its more global geographical concern. It has been said that 'to know the world and to map it were clear responsibilities of the RGS'. [41] The Society's preference for 'scientific' and useful travel was also made fairly clear as early as 1835, when its journal contained an article that was bitingly critical of what it called the 'travelers' tales' type of geography. [42]

Moorcroft: A Traveler without a Place

Towards the middle of the century, the British, anxious about the security of their Indian possessions, were desperately attempting to collect and collate extant information about Tibet and the Himalayas. The authorities began to search the earlier accounts for 'useful' facts. In most cases they were to be sorely disappointed; Manning's diaries were full of 'gossip and complaints'; [43] Huc and Gabet clearly used poetic licence quite freely to improve their story; [44] Gardiner reached for geography only when he thought he was lost and in need of directions. [45] None of these travelers was desperately concerned about geographical accuracy. Moorcroft's massive journals, whilst packed with cultural details, were not of the kind British imperialism felt it needed. In 1873 Wilson, their patient editor, lamented: 'To say the truth, Mr. Moorcroft's writings were so voluminous, so unmethodical, and so discursive, that the chance of meeting with any person willing to ... [collect and edit] them was remote'. [46]

Wilson, a member of the Royal Asiatic Society (founded in 1823), also exclaimed:

The whole of the intervening country between India and China is a blank; and of that which separates India from Russia, the knowledge which we possess is but in a very slight degree the result of modem European research, and is for the most part either unauthentic or obsolete.


Under the pressure of imperial demands, travel journals began to be arranged chronologically; older accounts were considered unreliable, outdated, relegated to the realms of the 'amusing' and the 'curious'. Earlier in the century the British had been conspicuously indifferent towards seminal accounts such as Moorcroft's (1819-25) or Manning's (1811), yet in 1837 Wilson was seriously complaining that the journeys of the Catholic missionaries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gathered 'very little useful information'. [48]

Towards the middle of the century, Tibet and the Himalayas became increasingly drawn into the grid of Western history and its attendant global geography. As Baudet comments in his perceptive study of European ideas about non-Europeans, eighteenth-century social and human universalism was replaced in the nineteenth century by the myth of the nation. Fundamental to this change was the notion of national history: 'History ... was first and foremost the history, the growth of their own nation ... there was no place here for the non-European world unless it served the interests of the national idea.' [49] A decisive shift was taking place in British identity throughout the first half of the century. Travel in the Himalayas, Tibet and Central Asia played a small but critical role in this transformation.

By 1837, along with the founding of the RGS, the concept of 'modern travel' was already becoming established. Moorcroft's journals did not easily fit into this mold and, as we have seen, took a long time to be published. They were not entertaining, nor were they full of the sublime uplifting quality that had come to be expected from descriptions of wild mountain landscapes. Again the weary Wilson groans: 'Much that recommends travels in the present day -- liveliness of general description, moving incidents by flood or field, and good-humored garrulous self-sufficiency -- are not to be looked for.' [50] It was to individuals such as Lieutenant Alexander Burns of the Bombay army that fame would be extended in this period. His Travels into Bokhara (1833) combined extensive, carefully checked observations with an inspired narrative and assessments that were 'portentous but modest and discreet'. [51] It impressed the general public as well as political and scientific circles. Burns was introduced to the king at court in London, elected a member of both the prestigious Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Geographical Society, and awarded the latter's Gold Medal. He was acclaimed in Europe and his book, in three volumes, sold 900 copies on the day of publication. Clearly the contrasting fate of these two explorers, Moorcroft and Burns, and of their journals, reveals much about the British expectations of travel in the first half of the nineteenth century.

As Keay points out, when Moorcroft was in the field 'there was no Royal Geographical Society to acknowledge ... [his journey]; even the concept of the explorer was not current.' [52] It was argued, too, that Moorcroft was not scientifically trained in geography, 'neither was he an oriental scholar or an antiquarian'. [53] Between Moorcroft's mysterious disappearance in 1825 and Burn's journey to Bokhara in 1832 much had changed. Burns was an exemplary figure of the new era: a scholar, a diplomat and adventurer with a good sense of what the time and place wanted. As the mid-century approached, there was a demand for accounts that contained precise and scientifically accurate observations on politics, geography and culture -- facts that would be useful, for British imperial aspirations. At the same time such accounts should, ideally, reinforce the unquestioned exuberance and self-confidence of the new British global presence and identity.

Thomas Manning in Tibet

It is somewhat ironic that even by the idiosyncratic standards of early Himalayan travelers, the only Englishman to reach Lhasa during the whole of the nineteenth century was an eccentric among eccentrics. Thomas Manning seems to defy any categorization as a traveler. Indeed, so at variance was he with the demands of nineteenth-century British geopolitics that his journal becomes a valuable social document almost by default; it is the exception that proves the rule. By virtue of its position outside the 'common-sense' ideas about travel, it serves as a critical vantage point from which to observe the logic behind the nineteenth-century British creation of 'Tibet'. Manning was like the fool to the subsequently established 'court' of the Royal Geographical Society. His journal always seemed to be greeted with a sense of frustration, as if it represented an opportunity wasted. As Markham, who edited it for the first time in 1871, wrote: 'good or bad it stands alone'. [54] He suggested that Manning had the ability to 'have written a good account of his remarkable journey but never did'. Markham grudgingly conceded that Manning's journal does contain some insights into the social habits of the local people, but overall it was clearly unsatisfactory: 'His narrative is to a great extent filled with accounts of personal troubles and difficulties.' [55]

Thomas Manning was the first Englishman to visit the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Yet before this achievement many regarded him as a hopeless eccentric with as much hope of reaching Lhasa as of travelling to the moon.

Manning was a brilliant academic and a friend of the essayist Charles Lamb and the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. He was a classical scholar versed in Latin and Greek and taught mathematics and algebra at the university level. While studying at Cambridge University he began to brood over the mysterious empire of China and studied the language and arts of that country. He resolved at all costs to enter China, at that time a country firmly closed to foreigners.

He studied Chinese in Paris, then the European centre of Oriental studies. When war broke out between France and England in 1803, such was the esteem in which Manning was held among French orientalists and mathematicians that he was the only Englishman to be allowed to leave France -- with a passport personally signed by Napoleon.

With a letter of recommendation from the great scientific patron, Sir Joseph Banks, in 1806 Manning sailed for Asia, where he resided first in the East India Company trading outpost on the outskirts of Canton and later in Calcutta. In Canton he immersed himself in Chinese culture, wrestling with "veiled mysteries of the Chinese language" and even adopting Chinese dress to the dismay of other expatriates. He also wore a full and flowing beard.

Frustrated in his objective of entering China from Canton, he proceeded to Calcutta in 1810 where he appealed for assistance from Lord Minto, the Governor General of India. Unfortunately, he was ignored by the government and was given no recognition of any kind. The result was that Manning decided to undertake on his own and in disguise a journey to Tibet and hopefully from there to Peking. Amazingly he succeeded in reaching Lhasa, where he resided for several months and where he had interviews with the Dalai Lama. Though he did not succeed in the rest of his plans, what he actually did achieve places him in the first rank of English travellers.

Manning left a diary of his journey which was discovered and published 26 years after his death.

-- Thomas Manning: Eccentric or Extraordinary?, by Pilgrimsbooks.com


Whilst Markham was writing in 1871 and is most representative of that time, his sentiments, as we have seen, are not alien from those expressed earlier, around the middle of the century. It would be difficult to find two individuals so diametrically at odds in their understanding of what constituted useful information about Tibet. Factual details -- whether about geography, politics, religion, trade or landscape -- all succumb to Manning's delightful eccentricity. No wonder Markham, the exemplary Victorian systematizer on Tibet, continually felt thwarted by Manning's odd text.

One night, having finally reached Lhasa, Manning lay ill with rheumatism. He felt an obligation to go on to the roof of his 'miserable' little house so as to take bearings from the stars, but quickly persuaded himself against any exposure to the night air: 'there was nothing I could do for geography that would compensate the risk I must run.' [56] Manning was no hero, nor a martyr for science; he was ill, and went into an extended discussion about his illness. Despite repeatedly calling for help, he had been left alone all night in his bed. Finally his Chinese traveling companion came into his room and told him to be quiet. Manning wanted to beat their servant for his neglect, but his Chinese companion objected. Manning faithfully recorded their argument:

You can't strike anyone here in Lhasa.
Can't? Oh, we will see.
You can't.
But I will beat him.
You can't. [57]


One can imagine Markham's frustration with page after page of these apparently domestic trivia. Manning's endless disputes and complaints, whilst obviously vital to Manning himself, hardly seemed the stuff of Tibetan exploration to Markham. Indeed, so obscurely tangential is Manning's mind that he actually footnotes this argument: 'In Latin', (Manning and his Chinese companion always spoke to each other in Latin) 'he used the words "non Potes". He ought to have said, "non licet". My response was, "at verberabo". [58]

Meanwhile Markham desperately scanned these endless anecdotes for a hard, geographical fact. He attempted to deal with Manning's whimsy by employing his own 'rigorous' style of footnotes. So in contrast to Manning's pedantic footnote about Latin grammar, Markham, seemingly desperate to put some backbone into the narrative, inserts one of his own:

The pundit of 1866 reached Lhasa on January 12, and remained until April 21. He says that city is two and a half miles in circumference, in a plain, surrounded by mountains. It is in 29° 39' 17" N and 11,700 feet above the sea according to the Pundit. [59]


This particular 'scientific' footnote is prompted by the bizarre opening of Manning's chapter on Lhasa. Here is the first eyewitness account of this fabled city by an Englishman -- and indeed, the only one for well over a hundred years. How does Manning open the chapter? With exclamations about the architecture, or the colorful people? Comments about the dirt or perhaps a date, or just a tidbit of geographical detail? No. He writes: 'Our first care was to provide ourselves with proper hats.' [60] Are proper hats really that important in Lhasa, or are we confronting another strange twist in Manning's mind? Whatever the answer, he provides us with details about what was considered to be a 'proper' hat among the Chinese community in Lhasa in the winter of 1811. Clearly these were not the kind of details that Markham considered useful.

Manning was like a Laurence Sterne, an Irish raconteur, let loose in Tibet. [61] In fact, not only did the geographers and scientists have grounds for complaint with his journal, so too did the lovers of mountain scenery. When he climbed to the top of a prominent hill, instead of describing the view he wrote: 'When I got to the top, my servant had palpitation, sweated profusely, eruption broke out, and the next day he said his skin peeled away. I told him it would do him good and prevent fever. Next day I bargained for people to carry us in our chairs.' [62] We are left none the wiser about the scenery.

Even the highly conspicuous religion of Tibet becomes almost invisible behind Manning's delightful preoccupation with his own experiences. He delayed visiting a temple until he could find someone to explain it. He was under pressure to make such a journey, for he was disguised as a lama from Bengal. People began to wonder why this strange foreign lama, who had been in Lhasa for several months, had not yet visited a temple. After much characteristic vacillation he finally arrived at one, but immediately became involved in a loud argument with his servant who exclaimed Manning, 'was ignorant as a beast'. [63] Frustrated by his servant's lack of religious knowledge, Manning became angry and made a scene in front of numerous Tibetan devotees. In the end we learn absolutely nothing about the religion except for a totally vague footnote: he cannot recall the name of a Tibetan deity and, leaving a blank space in the body of hid narrative, writes: 'This is the name of their great saint or religious lawgiver. I never could rightly make out his story.' [64] Of the religion we are still ignorant, but of Manning's complex relationship to it we have a rich store of anecdotes.

It would be easy to isolate Manning and consider his travel diary as an oddity, an aberration; but in reality his text belongs firmly within a tradition of Himalayan travelers and travel writing which presents the 'inside story' of Tibet. This tradition is concerned less with big views, or with scientific and geographical exactitude, than with the journey itself as an experience, a series of daily events. As we have already seen, such a development can already be found in the intimate corners of Bogle's account, but with Manning it reached an unequivocal intensity. A twentieth-century representative of this tradition, Fosco Maraini, called his book Secret Tibet. [65] In this he was referring not to occult rituals but to the small, everydayness of Tibetan life which so frequently eluded Western travelers and hence remained secret.

This tradition also includes that officer-comedian in Britain's eventual invasion of Tibet in 1904, Powell Millington. With a measured irony, given the desperate attempts to reach the capital of Tibet, he called his account To Lhassa at Last. [66] No military record of Powell Millington exists, and his true identity has never been discovered. Robert Byron's account, First Russia: Then Tibet, is similarly full of humor and extensive sidetracks. [67] Peter Matthiesson's The Snow Leopard (1980) is another of these almost inside- out accounts. [68] Here geographical details merely provide the springboard for introspection, or are reduced to a suitable location for the intriguing details of everyday life. However, under the early hegemony of the Royal Geographical Society and pressing imperial demands, this other way of imagining Tibet was to be ridiculed and trivialized: its authors were constantly criticized for being unscientific, even selfish and narcissistic. [69] Yet these few texts were an important antidote to the overwhelming number that were preoccupied with the 'Great Game', with the grandiose creation of global geopolitical fantasies, with Tibet as a heroic or occult proving- ground.

Manning clearly offered no mapping of Tibet, but did he offer anything other than the mapping of his own idiosyncracies? Even Markham suggested that 'for those who know how to find it, there is much wheat to be gathered from amongst Mr. Manning's chaff.' [70] As well as Markham's wheat, what does Manning's chaff offer?

As we have noted, Manning presents an inside view of Tibet, a perspective from the early-nineteenth-century Chinese community in Lhasa. His account takes its place with other ethnographic portraits such as Bogle's intimate glimpse of late-eighteenth-century Tibetan court life, or the Japanese monk Kawaguchi's detailed experience of Tibetan monasticism at the end of the nineteenth century. [71] Like these other travelers, Manning felt at home in his small corner of Tibetan society, sympathetic to the mundane details that made up its everyday life. He had an acute ear for the gossip, slander and other tales that abounded in such an isolated, semi-exiled community as the Chinese in Lhasa. We hear, for example, a story about the animosity between a 'Tartar dog' and a 'crack-brained mandarin': another about the execution of 'a good mandarin', told from both the Chinese point of view and the Tibetan; about the Chinese spies and informers that kept close watch on the community in Lhasa: 'my bile used to rise when the hounds looked into my room', exclaimed Manning. [72] He operated as a doctor, both to the Chinese and to the Tibetans. At one stage he even treated the Dalai Lama's own physician. The Tibetan doctor refused to take Manning's medicine: 'He was childish, they said; he did not like the taste or the smell.' [73] A short while later, to Manning's genuine sorrow, he died.

Manning's account also contains numerous short essays -- on clothing, food, beards, translations, horses. [74] At first glance these too may seem to be as trivial as his poignant glimpses into the small Chinese subculture in Lhasa, but many of his observations are acute and pertinent. We must not be misled by his gentle humor and his outrageous irritations: for example, two pages devoted to the problems with his horse and saddle were quite relevant in an age before motor vehicles. [75] His reflections about clothing were not just whimsy but sensitive and astute. He praised the local costume and ridiculed European stubbornness in continuing to wear inappropriate clothing. [76] He also reflected, whilst wearing the local Chinese gown, how such a dress -- similar in many respects to that worn by a Western woman -- restricted movement, engendered caution and took away boldness. It would be some years before women explorers arrived at similar conclusions.

Manning's view is from the back streets of Lhasa and is not overly concerned with the scientific, political or geographical needs of British imperialism, nor with its landscape aesthetics. Recovered and reviewed late in the nineteenth century when such attitudes were assumed to be self-justifying, when heroism and self-sacrifice for the good of the nation -- or at least for science -- were expected, Manning's account was treated as a weird curiosity. Yet he upheld the tradition of the 'little' traveler, one who does not presume to be the mouthpiece and representative of an entire nation. In Lhasa he was desperately poor, often ill, generally afraid and virtually friendless. In his diary he constantly gives rein to his anxieties, yet his story has a poignant dignity. Forced to sell nearly all his meagre possessions, he reassures himself: I managed so as to keep up a certain respectability; and though I was not invited anywhere to dinner ... wherever I went I was treated as a gentleman.' [77]

Inventing the Frontier

In 1818, some seven years after Manning's journey to Lhasa, Lieutenant Alexander Gerard of the Bengal Native Infantry set out to explore the Himalayan passes in the vicinity of the Sutlej river, hoping eventually to enter Tibet itself. His narrative begins:

From Soobathoo, in latitude 30° 58' and longitude 77° 2' situated about twenty miles from the plains, and 4,260 feet above the level of the sea, I marched to Mumleeg nine miles, three and a half miles from Soobathoo, crossed the Gumbur, an inconsiderable stream, but it had swollen so much from late rain, that its passage was effected with great difficulty. [78]


Gerard, with his crisp precision and concern for geographical exactitude was clearly a different traveler to Manning. At the end of his narrative he assures the reader: 'Throughout the ... tour, the road was surveyed with some care, and a number of points were fixed trigonometrically ...' [79] Gerard belonged to a tradition of scientific exploration that, whilst not new, was to assume increasing importance as the century progressed. His journey to discover, explore and map the Himalayan passes was a model of its kind, and in following its progress we can gain access to some basic landscape fantasies of that period. Like the equally seminal account of the journey to Lake Manasarovar in Tibet by Moorcroft and Hearsey in 1812, Gerard's is highly eclectic in its concerns. He presents a continual series of vignettes: about the villages, crops, temples, dogs, plants, religion, people, administration and languages. Both scope and detail are breathtaking. In quick succession we move from the pleasure of grapes --

In the summer season, from the reverberation of the solar rays, the heat in the bed of the Sutlej, and other large streams is oppressive, and quite sufficient to bring to maturity grapes of a delicious flavor. [80]


-- to the study of languages:

The Koonawur language, of which we made a collection of nearly 1,000 words, differs much from the Hindee, most of the substantives ending in -ing and ung, and the verbs in -mig and nig. [81]


Unlike the scientific specialists who were to dominate the second half of the century, these earlier travelers were eclectic amateurs. Their capacity for observing, noting and collecting was relentless. At one state in his journey, Moorcroft had reached utter exhaustion: 'though I climbed as slowly as possible, I was obliged to stop every five or six paces to take breath'. Nevertheless he still had energy to discover 'two kinds of rhubarb -- one I took for the Rheum palmatum, the other was much smaller'. [82] He went into extensive details about these plants. Then, the next day, he again embarked upon 'a toilsome ascent of five hours'. After a brief but appreciative comment on the view, Moorcroft immediately set about collecting plant specimens from 'a dark green carpet formed by a short narrow leaved grass of a springy nature, and enameled with small blue polyanthuses in tufts, with anemones and ranunculuses ...' [83]

The most striking thing about this exercise is its totally random character. Moorcroft simply gathered 'all the varieties within ... reach'. Here was a veritable plenitude -- wherever one happened to glance, discoveries could not help but be made. Indeed, in the face of this over-abundance, how does one go about 'scientific' exploration? What actually is important; what should one look for and collect? In the early nineteenth century such questions were still wide open, despite the underlying pressure generated by the growing needs of British imperialism.

Both Moorcroft's and Gerard's journeys were ostensibly undertaken to satisfy very specific questions. Moorcroft's was concerned with trade, particularly the lucrative wool from the shawl goat. Geography, let alone botany, was clearly secondary. Even finding the exact location of the fabled and sacred Lake Manasarovar assumed importance only later. Gerard, too, was primarily concerned with mapping precisely some of the major Himalayan passes:

This pass [The Brooang] is situated in latitude 31° 23; and longitude 78° 12:, it separates Choara from Koonawur, another of the grand divisions of Busahir, which lies on both banks of the Sutlej, extending from latitude 31° 30: to 32°, and from longitude 77° 53' to 78° 46' It is a secluded, rugged and barren country ... It is terminated on the north and NW by a lofty chain of mountains covered with perpetual snow, upwards of 20,000 feet high ... [84]


As the Himalayas became increasingly imagined as a protective frontier, the British avidly set about locating and evaluating all the major and minor passes through them. The early-nineteenth-century enthusiasm about possible trade routes was replaced by the late-nineteenth-century concern about potential invasion routes. Confidence in the expansion of trans-Himalayan communication was replaced by a paranoiac need to be in complete control of the passes. Gerard's journey was merely the forerunner of many that would be made throughout the century with the purpose of locating and evaluating any possible weak points in the mountain frontier-wall.

We get only glimpses of the 'romance' of travel in these early accounts. Gerard, for example, writes:

We should have afforded an amusing spectacle, seated upon blankets near a fire in the open air, surrounded by our servants, dissecting the partridges with the kookree, or short sword worn by the Goorkhalees, and smoking plain tobacco out of a pipe little better that what is used by the lowest classes. [85]


Not only does such a comment remind us of the aristocratic and bourgeois domination of Himalayan travel throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, it also presents us with an early example of an exploration anecdote. Exploration, as it would be understood and celebrated in the second half of the century, had scarcely been formulated in 1818, and there is still a certain pleasing naivety about Gerard's self-conscious reflections on his novel experiences. Such anecdotes would become increasingly familiar as the century progressed, finally ending their days in the twentieth century as tourist cliches.

Eventually Gerard found his path blocked by Chinese officials. Such an experience would become commonplace to Westerners throughout the century, as Tibet became a hermetically sealed-in landscape. In the history of Tibet as a sacred place, such moments of attempted entry assume crucial proportions. [86] The era of the unopposed, let alone welcomed, entrance experienced by Bogle and Turner would be a long time returning. For over a hundred years Western travelers resorted to disguise, bluff and other such subterfuge, in an attempt to enter Tibet. Moorcroft and Hearsey for example, also found the way denied them, but with a mixture of disguise (as Hindu pilgrims), stubbornness, diplomacy and, above all, the liberal use of Western medical skills, they overcame the opposition to their journey. [87] As we have seen, Manning also resorted to disguise and to the supreme bargaining power of Western medicine. Gerard used neither and was forced to turn back.

But it would be a mistake to imagine the mountain passes blocked by desperate and ferocious anti-European warriors. Whilst this image had some substance further West, on the borders with Afghanistan and Dardistan, it was almost the opposite in the Buddhist Himalayas. Gerard writes: 'The Tartars pleased us much, they have none of that ferocity of character so commonly ascribed to them.' [88] Even the incidents which finally led him to abandon his goal of entering Tibet were full of humor and good feeling. The Chinese official admitted that he did not have the means physically to prevent Gerard and his party from continuing, but in such an eventuality he, as the official in charge, would probably lose his head. All he could do was withhold provisions. This firm, but non-violent, closure of the Tibetan passes added its own qualities to the mysterious and unknown land that lay beyond.

One result of this closure was that Gerard was forced to turn back into the Himalayan frontier and to direct all his astute observational powers on to this mountain region. The Himalayas became increasingly seen as a region in their own right. Through the travels of Gerard, Moorcroft, Hearsey and others, they were shown as imaginatively alive and inhabited, as culturally and geographically rich.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE W

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:42 am

Part 1 of 2

Chapter 3: Inventing The Threshold (1792-1842)

The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes two worlds -- and at the same time the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.
-- (Mircea Eliade [1959, p. 25])


In 1825 a certain Lieutenant George White took advantage of the easier access to the Himalayas that followed the Gurkha Wars of 1815 by going on a short journey to contemplate the views. His travels took him to 'the provinces of Sirmour, Gurwhal and Kumaon', all of which had recently been 'annexed' by Britain following the conclusion of the difficult and costly, but otherwise successful, war in Nepal. This war marked the beginning of Britain's long struggle to contain the rival expansion of the vigorous, militant Gurkha people. At one point, whilst traveling through these new additions to the burgeoning Indian Empire, White was moved to comment: 'The view of the Himalaya from a spot in the vicinity of Saharunpore, is of that dreamy, poetical description, which, though full of beauty, presents little that is definite ...' [1] He then went on to rhapsodize about

... the pyramidal snow-capped heights, which seem to lift themselves into another world, crowning the whole with almost awful majesty. From this site, the mountain ranges have all the indistinctness which belongs to the land of faerie, and which, leaving the imagination to luxuriate in its most fanciful creations, lends enchantment to the scene. The pure dazzling whiteness of the regions of eternal snow, give occasionally so cloud-like an appearance to the towering summits, as to induce the belief that they form a part of the heaven to which they aspire.


Clearly we have entered a different world to that imagined by Bogle and Turner. Here, in White's account, is landscape Romanticism in its first full flowering. Bogle's descriptions of Himalayan landscape, written only fifty years earlier, seem restrained and hesitant alongside White's endless flourishes, his obsession both with views and with a kind of detached, rather gratuitous sense of the sublime. The district of Saharunpore gave White his first glimpse of the mountains, and in addition to inspiring an enthusiastic but dreamy Romanticism, it set him speculating on the value of the region for 'scientific travel': extensive fossil remains have been found in the hills; the cultivation of the tea plant looks favorable. [2]

These comments in White's journal underline the shift that was occurring in the British relationship with the Himalayas during the first half of the nineteenth century. The years between 1792 and 1842 were highly significant politically for this immense mountain region. 1792 had seen the audacious Gurkha invasion decisively defeated by the remote Chinese overlords, whose presence and authority in Tibet and the Himalayas was thereby enhanced and subsequently reached an unprecedented intensity. Relations between Britain and China over this war were severely strained; the Chinese ever suspicious, the British vacillatory. Suddenly the border with Tibet was firmly closed. As Lamb comments: 'a decisive change had taken place in the political alignments of the Himalayas'. [3] The following years saw Britain nervously but steadily consolidating its control of the Indian subcontinent, whilst simultaneously the Himalayas increasingly became imagined as its northern bastion.

The difficult war with the Gurkhas (1814-16) was merely the most dramatic event in a series by which Britain extended its power and influence into the Himalayan region of northern India. Kumaon, Garwhal, the Sutlej valley, Spiti and Lahul were those districts most effectively subsumed by this policy of expansion, containment and stabilization, but Kashmir, Ladakh, Sikkim, Nepal, Bhutan and Assam were also similarly drawn deeply into British imperial policy-making. The war brought British territorial influence into direct contact with Tibet for the first time. White's journey in search of sublime views shows just how quickly the military and political appropriation of these regions was followed by an aesthetic one. This early Romantic engagement with the Himalayas was also accompanied by an amateurish scientific curiosity that scanned the landscape for both knowledge and profits.

The Himalayan Tour

As early as 1822, seasoned travelers and explorers were taking the first tourist groups up into 'the snowy range', in the vicinity of what would soon become the hill-station of Simla. [4] Lieutenant White, too, clearly saw himself as charting out a kind of 'Grand Tour' of the Himalayas, as simply transposing the well-established appreciation of picturesque and sublime mountain views, forged in the European Alps, on to the newly acquired Himalayan regions of the British Empire. At the front of his book, for example, he placed a quotation from Captain Skinner's earlier dash through the same landscape:

I have beheld nearly all the celebrated scenery of Europe, which poets and painters have immortalized, and of which all the tourists in the world are enamored; but I have seen it surpassed in these infrequented and almost unknown regions.


There are numerous such references to early European landscape painters in contemporary Himalayan journals. In 1805, for example, one traveler exclaimed:

These two mornings exhibited a spectacle which in sublimity and beauty surpassed all power of description and to which even the pencil of Claude would have been incapable of doing justice. [5]


The passage refers to Claude Lorrain (1600-84), a seminal figure in the history of landscape painting, with his 'nostalgic dreams of lands of enchantment'. [6] In his landscapes Claude concentrated upon capturing an almost mythic and religious sense of ideal Nature: 'the pure and trembling light seemed to dissolve all structure and form'. [7] Along with Salvator Rosa (1615-73), who specialized in wild and dramatic landscapes, Claude played an essential role in shaping eighteenth-century mountain aesthetics. Certainly the names of both Claude and Salvator Rosa had become adjectives for describing landscape in the vocabulary of eighteenth-century travelers on the 'Grand Tour' of Europe. [8]

Such references also draw attention to a problem when reading travel texts. Before the age of photography, the traveler had recourse to four ways of capturing landscapes: by sketching and painting; by descriptive prose passages (later known as word-painting); by comparison with well- known European landscapes, especially the Alps; or by referring to previous landscape portrayals, either in poetry or painting. Any single travel text usually encompassed most of these methods. As Michel Le Bris points out, landscape painters in general tended to lag behind other forms of dramatic painting in the portrayal of the natural sublime. They were, he writes, 'still too subject to the temptation of the picturesque'. [9] The Picturesque-Romantic appreciation of mountain landscapes and of the people who inhabit such places still exerts its dominance today. In the early nineteenth century it seemed to mesmerize the imagination of travelers and cast its floating sense of beauty over most attempts to describe the Himalayas. References either to familiar European landscapes or to famous illustrations were generally conservative. Avant-garde landscape painters such as Caspar Friedrich (1774 -1810) or Joseph Turner (1775-1851) were seldom evoked. Even seminal landscape poets such as Wordsworth were rarely mentioned. Sketching and painting of the Himalayas, too, never freed themselves from the demands of representation and illustration. They never played a leading role in the development of landscape painting as did, for example, the Alps, North Africa or, much later, the American West. Only in passages of descriptive prose did the Himalayas gradually force a radical reevaluation of European landscape aesthetics in the nineteenth century.

The Savage and the Sublime

The geopolitical and Romantic imaginations converged in the Himalayas during this period. White is equally comfortable in both. He is as thoroughly at home in the Romantic imagination as he is out of place in the unknown mountains. Whilst the Himalayas pressed their unfamiliar presence upon him he was on totally familiar ground within his own sentiments. Imperial identity and mountain appreciation were clearly commonplace to him. He knew what he was looking for in the mountains. His evaluation of 'views' was unquestioned and in no need of justification. The Himalayas did not challenge White's imaginative map of landscape aesthetics, they confirmed it. Such a challenge -- and with it a new, deeper, and richer phase of Romantic landscape appreciation -- would have to wait until late into the century. But even though such a challenge lay some decades away with the rise of true mountain-explorers, White still experienced occasional moments of unease, moments when his mountain aesthetics seemed inadequate for his experiences:

From this point we might be said to traverse a land whose savage aspect was seldom redeemed by scenes of gentle beauty, the ranges of hills crossing, and apparently jostling each other in unparalleled confusion, being all rugged, steep and difficult to tread ... [10]


He draws a clear distinction between the picturesque, the sublime, the savage and the dismal, [11] and he was not alone with such categorizations. The British surveyor Herbert, whilst attempting to cross a pass in 1819, commented:

Those who have traveled through such desolate and unfrequented parts will alone understand ... the sight of even the first straggling sheep ... was hailed almost as that of a friend. An animal, even a bird, any living thing in fact, serves to take from such a scene the almost ... death-like character of solitude. ... [12]


Desolation and solitude combine with an overwhelming immensity of landscape confusion to produce a sense of dismal savagery. Lieutenant Alexander Gerard, another British soldier-explorer of the Himalayan passes, wrote in 1818: 'Here the rocks are more rugged than any we had yet seen, they are rent in every direction, piled upon one another in wild disorder ...' [13] Later he comments:

The country ... has a most desolate and dreary aspect, not a single tree or blade of green grass was distinguishable for near 30 miles, the ground being covered with a very prickly plant ... this shrub was almost black, seeming as if burnt, and the leaves were so much parched from the arid wind of Tartary, that they might be ground to powder by rubbing them between the hands.


The landscape was also deceptive in terms of distance. It produced frequent headaches; nausea was common; ravines and precipices abounded:

A single false step might have been attended with fatal consequences, and we had such severe headaches, and were so much exhausted, that we had hardly strength sufficient to make the effort, and it required no inconsiderable one to clear the deep chasms which we could scarcely view without shuddering. I never saw such a horrid looking place, it seemed the wreck of some towering peak burst asunder by severe frost. [14]


'Confused jumble[s] of gigantic masses of rock': [15] endless barren vistas: these lay outside the embrace of the new Romantic aesthetic forged over the turn of the century in the European Alps and in the English Lake District. As late as 1871 the well-known Victorian mountaineer Leslie Stephen argued for the superiority of the Alps over the Caucasus, the Carpathians, the Rockies and the Himalayas. 'All beautiful scenery ...', he writes, should be dashed with melancholy, but the melancholy should not be too real.' [16] For Stephen, mountains could be a little too wild, too bleak and stern, really needing some sign of human habitation or labor to enhance their beauty. The English scholar-eccentric Thomas Manning, on his 1811 journey to Tibet, shared this sentiment:

We continued along the barren valley, seeing no diversity, but the ever-varying shapes of the still more barren mountains, whose color, where it was not actually sand, slate or granite, was a melancholy pale moldy green. [17]


There was, however, a tradition for appreciating certain details of wild landscape, a kind of savage splendor. One of White's fellow-travelers, overlooking a mountain torrent, exclaimed:

Those who have brains and nerves to bear the frightful whirl, which may assail the steadiest head, plant themselves on the bridge that spans the torrent, and from this point survey the wild and awful grandeur of the scene, struck with admiration at its terrific beauty, yet, even while visions of horror float before them, unable to withdraw their gaze. [18]


This safe -- albeit seemingly precarious -- experience masks the outermost limit of early-nineteenth-century landscape aesthetics. As early as the mid-eighteenth century, Rousseau had exclaimed: 'I must have torrents, rocks, pines, dead forests, mountains, rugged paths to go up and down, precipices beside me to frighten me.' [19] As Michel Le Bris points out, here was a fundamental shift in Western imagining: 'a whole age that was coming to an end shunned mountains because they were horrible, while the ... [next] sought out their ravines and waterfalls precisely in order to be carried away by their thrilling horror.' [20]

'Natural sublimity' differed from both the Baroque sublime and the classical sublime: it expressed the ability of nature to unleash the deepest passion, to transcend reasoning, to transport the soul. [21] Terror in the face of some overpowering aspect of nature was integral to this natural sublimity. However, this sense of the sublime had more to do with the subjective experience of the observer than with the particularities of the geographical place. The precise forms of the place were incidental, only a platform for the intensification of individual experiences. It was these experiences that were being acclaimed in early Romanticism, rather than natural wilderness landscape. In these early Himalayan accounts we have not yet reached that decisive point when the imaginal balance shifts: that point where the immensity of nature, rather than exalting or filling the human soul, dwarfs and crushes it.

If we step back just a little from gazing with exquisite horror at the wild splendor of nature, the early-nineteenth-century aesthetic is once again on firm ground, with a kind of noble sublimity:

On the right, the snowy ranges shoot up their hoary peaks to a tremendous height ... shewing an endless variety of forms ... Imagination, however vivid, can scarcely figure to the mind a prospect so grand and thrilling ... [22]


Distance brings order to the irregular chaos; a variety of forms redeems barren sameness. [23] The early accounts of Himalayan travel are full of 'grand prospects', 'solemn majestic' views, picturesque scenes and, of course, 'glorious landscape':

There is no possibility of conveying to the mind of the reader the gratification which we have experienced in some new burst of scenery, when, emerging from the sombre labyrinths of a thick forest, we come suddenly upon one of those glorious landscapes which fill the whole soul with ecstasy! [24]


These early travelers were not only engaging with an unfamiliar and overwhelming outer landscape, they were also struggling to chart a corresponding set of inner experiences. Wherever possible, individual experience and landscape scenes were constantly being brought into alignment, and when the effect was undesirable the result was summarily abandoned. Nevertheless, as we have seen in these few examples, the Himalayas inevitably drew European travelers to the boundary of their known aesthetic paradigm, constantly demanding new modes of appreciation. Unlike those who journeyed in Europe, Himalayan travelers could not judiciously avoid dismal, chaotic and disturbing places: these were inevitable. Slowly a second generation of landscape Romanticism was emerging, one that combined sweeping experiences with close attention to particularities and details. A new way of looking, observing, experiencing -- of engaging with the landscape -- was slowly gathering strength: one that was disgusted with the rampantly indulgent subjectivity of earlier mountain appreciation. [25] But the extremes of barren, dismal and endless wildernesses would have to wait even longer, until eventually redeemed by a subtle appreciation of light and space that appeared only towards the very end of the nineteenth century. [26]

In 1841-2, early British confidence in the 'naturalness', of their imperial presence in Asia received a series of major setbacks. Wars in Afghanistan and China, with a crushing defeat in the former, were only the most visible of manifestations. The Sikh nation under its vigorous leader Gulab Singh, rivaled the Gurkhas in both military ability and expansionist desires. Both powers threatened to reconcile their differences and unite, a possibility that sent shudders through British Himalayan aspirations. The Sikhs had already successfully invaded Ladakh in 1834, thus coming into direct contact with China; then, in 1841, they invaded western Tibet. With an army recently annihilated in neighboring Afghanistan, British moves towards Himalayan hegemony had reached a critical stage.

One Tibet or Many

Lieutenant White's journal stands exactly midway through this highly formative period in the British relationship with the Himalayas and Tibet, but the self-assurance of his text is deceptive. In some ways White's confidence points forward to the mid-century, mid-Victorian synthesis, to the popular excursions from the hill-stations of Simla and Darjeeling. On the other hand, in its naivety it harks back to a simpler time when the Himalayas seemed to lie outside complex political intrigue: to a time before their full integration into Western history, into the new global, geopolitical map. White's journal is not typical, but in fact the period produced no typical Himalayan travel accounts. We have not yet reached the stage in Himalayan exploration when the selection of texts for interpretation becomes a problem. Travel texts during these years are both extremely limited in number and highly idiosyncratic. Nevertheless they do fall into certain patterns and each helped, in some essential way, to lay the foundations for the Western creation of a Tibet that was imaginatively rich, complex and substantial.

Although there were comparatively few of them, the travelers among the Himalayas during the first half of the nineteenth century formed a highly diverse group. Manning, the only Englishman actually to reach Lhasa during the whole of the century, was an eccentric devotee of Chinese culture who had little interest in Tibet and was instead totally preoccupied with reaching the 'forbidden' city of Peking from India. [27] The French Lazarist priests Huc and Gabet, the only other Europeans to reach the capital of Tibet, were also unorthodox. Journeying from northern China and through Mongolia, they were the final representatives of a line of intrepid Catholic missionaries to Lhasa extending back into the seventeenth century. [28]

But what constituted an orthodox Himalayan traveler? Moorcroft was one of the most famous, yet he was spurned by the British administration in India. A mixture of adventurer, meticulous observer and trader, with his warnings about the Russians he was also one of the first British travelers with a global, imperialist perspective on the politics of the region. [29] The wandering Transylvanian hermit-scholar Csoma de Koros had his British, scholarly counterpart in Brian Hodgson. [30] Compared with the enigmatic brilliance of the Hungarian, who died in poverty in 1842, Hodgson steadily exerted his powerful presence as a Himalayan scholar, administrator and innovator throughout most of the century.

Each individual represented a new kind of Himalayan traveler: the British officers Lieutenant Webb, Captains Raper and Hearsey; the Austrian botanist Baron Carl von Hugel: the renegade Scotsman Dr. John Henderson and the Harrow-educated English sportsman Godfrey Vigne; the three Gerard brothers from Aberdeen; the French botanist, dilettante and socialite Victor Jacquemont; the enigmatic, cosmopolitan adventurer Colonel Alexander Gardiner, half Scottish, quarter English and quarter Spanish; the religious eccentric Joseph Wolff, son of a Bohemian rabbi. [31] Caught up in the beginnings of the 'Great Game', the imperial rivalry between Britain and Russia, they combined adventure and trading with a mixture of surveying, mapping and spying. Among the other travelers, James Fraser and George White were like adventurous tourists. On the other hand, Francis Hamilton and Captain Pemberton were engaged on straightforward diplomatic missions to the independent Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan. [32] Henry and Shipp were soldiers, whereas Herbert was a surveyor. [33]

Whilst they were highly individualistic, these early travelers nevertheless shared a common sense of kinship of which Moorcroft and Gardiner were the acknowledged founding fathers. [34] In 1835 von Hugel and Henderson met in Kashmir; earlier Jacquemont and von Hugel had crossed paths in Poona; Moorcroft and Trebeck had, by chance, encountered the solitary Csoma de Koros whilst traversing Ladakh in 1820; [36] the Hungarian subsequently died in the company of Hodgson in Darjeeling. These encounters and the familiarity with each other's work helped to lay the foundations for a coherent tradition of Himalayan travel writing. [37]

During this period Tibet was closed off, sealed in. It was becoming a hermetic vessel for Western projections. The frontier, the boundary, of this potentially sacred place began to be invented. At the same time a new and crucial element was introduced into Himalayan travel: concern about the validity both of the travelers and of their texts. Evaluations began to be made about the relative value of different travelers and their reports.

Any fantasy about a particular place always rests upon ideas about the particular route followed and the traveling style adopted, but above all on the type of people who travel and the kind of observations they make. Almost ritual notions came to exist as to the status and validity of any journey to Tibet. Indeed, as we shall see, women, non-Europeans, lower classes, amateurs, eccentrics and young people all, at some stage, had their journeys discounted. By selecting and encouraging one style of travel and reporting, whilst discouraging others, the British exerted the power of their fantasies over 'the Himalayas' and 'Tibet', creating a very specific type of place. At the same time they legitimized an equally specific way of looking at the landscapes of the world, an aesthetic of geopolitical Romanticism.

In the creation of a place, a critical point is always reached with a struggle over the selection and evaluation of texts. Assessment is made about their relative usefulness in the creation of a particular, desired landscape. Struggle over texts is always a struggle between contending landscape fantasies. In the case of the Himalayas and Tibet, this issue was never to be completely resolved; there would always be many Tibets. But imperialism and nineteenth-century scientificity demanded systematic, cultural, commercial, political and geographical surveys, and these quickly gained the ascendancy. Britain needed and created a coherent, rational and well-mapped Tibet as the century progressed. The geopolitical rivalry with Russia provided the impetus for the hegemony of this kind of travel text, whilst the establishment of the Royal Geographical Society in 1830 furnished this landscape perception with a powerful and efficient headquarters. The only exception to these systematic, scientific, political and commercial perspectives that was looked upon with some favor was the aesthetic, but even this would not receive dedicated attention until much later.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, Tibet and the Himalayas were 'known' territory, not in terms of geographical and cultural details but by virtue of their absorption into the established rhetoric of travel and exploration. Blank spot or not, early in the century Tibet had been located, at least within the grid and coordinates of Britain's global map. When that most ungeographically aware traveler Thomas Manning wrote, whilst in Tibet in 1811: 'the latitude and longitude of Lhasa ... are pretty well ascertained', he was implying a symbolic, as well as a geographical, location. [38]

Whilst its full impact would not be felt until the second half of the nineteenth century the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), after its founding in 1830, soon began to shape the contours of British exploration. India and the Himalayas received considerable attention as a region where 'British interests were most intensely concentrated'. [39] Between 1830 and the end of the century, explorers of the Western Himalayas received twelve of the Society's Gold Medals; a number unmatched anywhere else in the world, [40] but the RGS's intense interest in the Himalayas was still only a part of its more global geographical concern. It has been said that 'to know the world and to map it were clear responsibilities of the RGS'. [41] The Society's preference for 'scientific' and useful travel was also made fairly clear as early as 1835, when its journal contained an article that was bitingly critical of what it called the 'travelers' tales' type of geography. [42]

Moorcroft: A Traveler without a Place

Towards the middle of the century, the British, anxious about the security of their Indian possessions, were desperately attempting to collect and collate extant information about Tibet and the Himalayas. The authorities began to search the earlier accounts for 'useful' facts. In most cases they were to be sorely disappointed; Manning's diaries were full of 'gossip and complaints'; [43] Huc and Gabet clearly used poetic licence quite freely to improve their story; [44] Gardiner reached for geography only when he thought he was lost and in need of directions. [45] None of these travelers was desperately concerned about geographical accuracy. Moorcroft's massive journals, whilst packed with cultural details, were not of the kind British imperialism felt it needed. In 1873 Wilson, their patient editor, lamented: 'To say the truth, Mr. Moorcroft's writings were so voluminous, so unmethodical, and so discursive, that the chance of meeting with any person willing to ... [collect and edit] them was remote'. [46]

Wilson, a member of the Royal Asiatic Society (founded in 1823), also exclaimed:

The whole of the intervening country between India and China is a blank; and of that which separates India from Russia, the knowledge which we possess is but in a very slight degree the result of modem European research, and is for the most part either unauthentic or obsolete.


Under the pressure of imperial demands, travel journals began to be arranged chronologically; older accounts were considered unreliable, outdated, relegated to the realms of the 'amusing' and the 'curious'. Earlier in the century the British had been conspicuously indifferent towards seminal accounts such as Moorcroft's (1819-25) or Manning's (1811), yet in 1837 Wilson was seriously complaining that the journeys of the Catholic missionaries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gathered 'very little useful information'. [48]

Towards the middle of the century, Tibet and the Himalayas became increasingly drawn into the grid of Western history and its attendant global geography. As Baudet comments in his perceptive study of European ideas about non-Europeans, eighteenth-century social and human universalism was replaced in the nineteenth century by the myth of the nation. Fundamental to this change was the notion of national history: 'History ... was first and foremost the history, the growth of their own nation ... there was no place here for the non-European world unless it served the interests of the national idea.' [49] A decisive shift was taking place in British identity throughout the first half of the century. Travel in the Himalayas, Tibet and Central Asia played a small but critical role in this transformation.

By 1837, along with the founding of the RGS, the concept of 'modern travel' was already becoming established. Moorcroft's journals did not easily fit into this mold and, as we have seen, took a long time to be published. They were not entertaining, nor were they full of the sublime uplifting quality that had come to be expected from descriptions of wild mountain landscapes. Again the weary Wilson groans: 'Much that recommends travels in the present day -- liveliness of general description, moving incidents by flood or field, and good-humored garrulous self-sufficiency -- are not to be looked for.' [50] It was to individuals such as Lieutenant Alexander Burns of the Bombay army that fame would be extended in this period. His Travels into Bokhara (1833) combined extensive, carefully checked observations with an inspired narrative and assessments that were 'portentous but modest and discreet'. [51] It impressed the general public as well as political and scientific circles. Burns was introduced to the king at court in London, elected a member of both the prestigious Royal Asiatic Society and the Royal Geographical Society, and awarded the latter's Gold Medal. He was acclaimed in Europe and his book, in three volumes, sold 900 copies on the day of publication. Clearly the contrasting fate of these two explorers, Moorcroft and Burns, and of their journals, reveals much about the British expectations of travel in the first half of the nineteenth century.

As Keay points out, when Moorcroft was in the field 'there was no Royal Geographical Society to acknowledge ... [his journey]; even the concept of the explorer was not current.' [52] It was argued, too, that Moorcroft was not scientifically trained in geography, 'neither was he an oriental scholar or an antiquarian'. [53] Between Moorcroft's mysterious disappearance in 1825 and Burn's journey to Bokhara in 1832 much had changed. Burns was an exemplary figure of the new era: a scholar, a diplomat and adventurer with a good sense of what the time and place wanted. As the mid-century approached, there was a demand for accounts that contained precise and scientifically accurate observations on politics, geography and culture -- facts that would be useful, for British imperial aspirations. At the same time such accounts should, ideally, reinforce the unquestioned exuberance and self-confidence of the new British global presence and identity.

Thomas Manning in Tibet

It is somewhat ironic that even by the idiosyncratic standards of early Himalayan travelers, the only Englishman to reach Lhasa during the whole of the nineteenth century was an eccentric among eccentrics. Thomas Manning seems to defy any categorization as a traveler. Indeed, so at variance was he with the demands of nineteenth-century British geopolitics that his journal becomes a valuable social document almost by default; it is the exception that proves the rule. By virtue of its position outside the 'common-sense' ideas about travel, it serves as a critical vantage point from which to observe the logic behind the nineteenth-century British creation of 'Tibet'. Manning was like the fool to the subsequently established 'court' of the Royal Geographical Society. His journal always seemed to be greeted with a sense of frustration, as if it represented an opportunity wasted. As Markham, who edited it for the first time in 1871, wrote: 'good or bad it stands alone'. [54] He suggested that Manning had the ability to 'have written a good account of his remarkable journey but never did'. Markham grudgingly conceded that Manning's journal does contain some insights into the social habits of the local people, but overall it was clearly unsatisfactory: 'His narrative is to a great extent filled with accounts of personal troubles and difficulties.' [55]

Thomas Manning was the first Englishman to visit the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Yet before this achievement many regarded him as a hopeless eccentric with as much hope of reaching Lhasa as of travelling to the moon.

Manning was a brilliant academic and a friend of the essayist Charles Lamb and the poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. He was a classical scholar versed in Latin and Greek and taught mathematics and algebra at the university level. While studying at Cambridge University he began to brood over the mysterious empire of China and studied the language and arts of that country. He resolved at all costs to enter China, at that time a country firmly closed to foreigners.

He studied Chinese in Paris, then the European centre of Oriental studies. When war broke out between France and England in 1803, such was the esteem in which Manning was held among French orientalists and mathematicians that he was the only Englishman to be allowed to leave France -- with a passport personally signed by Napoleon.

With a letter of recommendation from the great scientific patron, Sir Joseph Banks, in 1806 Manning sailed for Asia, where he resided first in the East India Company trading outpost on the outskirts of Canton and later in Calcutta. In Canton he immersed himself in Chinese culture, wrestling with "veiled mysteries of the Chinese language" and even adopting Chinese dress to the dismay of other expatriates. He also wore a full and flowing beard.

Frustrated in his objective of entering China from Canton, he proceeded to Calcutta in 1810 where he appealed for assistance from Lord Minto, the Governor General of India. Unfortunately, he was ignored by the government and was given no recognition of any kind. The result was that Manning decided to undertake on his own and in disguise a journey to Tibet and hopefully from there to Peking. Amazingly he succeeded in reaching Lhasa, where he resided for several months and where he had interviews with the Dalai Lama. Though he did not succeed in the rest of his plans, what he actually did achieve places him in the first rank of English travellers.

Manning left a diary of his journey which was discovered and published 26 years after his death.

-- Thomas Manning: Eccentric or Extraordinary?, by Pilgrimsbooks.com


Whilst Markham was writing in 1871 and is most representative of that time, his sentiments, as we have seen, are not alien from those expressed earlier, around the middle of the century. It would be difficult to find two individuals so diametrically at odds in their understanding of what constituted useful information about Tibet. Factual details -- whether about geography, politics, religion, trade or landscape -- all succumb to Manning's delightful eccentricity. No wonder Markham, the exemplary Victorian systematizer on Tibet, continually felt thwarted by Manning's odd text.

One night, having finally reached Lhasa, Manning lay ill with rheumatism. He felt an obligation to go on to the roof of his 'miserable' little house so as to take bearings from the stars, but quickly persuaded himself against any exposure to the night air: 'there was nothing I could do for geography that would compensate the risk I must run.' [56] Manning was no hero, nor a martyr for science; he was ill, and went into an extended discussion about his illness. Despite repeatedly calling for help, he had been left alone all night in his bed. Finally his Chinese traveling companion came into his room and told him to be quiet. Manning wanted to beat their servant for his neglect, but his Chinese companion objected. Manning faithfully recorded their argument:

You can't strike anyone here in Lhasa.
Can't? Oh, we will see.
You can't.
But I will beat him.
You can't. [57]


One can imagine Markham's frustration with page after page of these apparently domestic trivia. Manning's endless disputes and complaints, whilst obviously vital to Manning himself, hardly seemed the stuff of Tibetan exploration to Markham. Indeed, so obscurely tangential is Manning's mind that he actually footnotes this argument: 'In Latin', (Manning and his Chinese companion always spoke to each other in Latin) 'he used the words "non Potes". He ought to have said, "non licet". My response was, "at verberabo". [58]

Meanwhile Markham desperately scanned these endless anecdotes for a hard, geographical fact. He attempted to deal with Manning's whimsy by employing his own 'rigorous' style of footnotes. So in contrast to Manning's pedantic footnote about Latin grammar, Markham, seemingly desperate to put some backbone into the narrative, inserts one of his own:

The pundit of 1866 reached Lhasa on January 12, and remained until April 21. He says that city is two and a half miles in circumference, in a plain, surrounded by mountains. It is in 29° 39' 17" N and 11,700 feet above the sea according to the Pundit. [59]


This particular 'scientific' footnote is prompted by the bizarre opening of Manning's chapter on Lhasa. Here is the first eyewitness account of this fabled city by an Englishman -- and indeed, the only one for well over a hundred years. How does Manning open the chapter? With exclamations about the architecture, or the colorful people? Comments about the dirt or perhaps a date, or just a tidbit of geographical detail? No. He writes: 'Our first care was to provide ourselves with proper hats.' [60] Are proper hats really that important in Lhasa, or are we confronting another strange twist in Manning's mind? Whatever the answer, he provides us with details about what was considered to be a 'proper' hat among the Chinese community in Lhasa in the winter of 1811. Clearly these were not the kind of details that Markham considered useful.

Manning was like a Laurence Sterne, an Irish raconteur, let loose in Tibet. [61] In fact, not only did the geographers and scientists have grounds for complaint with his journal, so too did the lovers of mountain scenery. When he climbed to the top of a prominent hill, instead of describing the view he wrote: 'When I got to the top, my servant had palpitation, sweated profusely, eruption broke out, and the next day he said his skin peeled away. I told him it would do him good and prevent fever. Next day I bargained for people to carry us in our chairs.' [62] We are left none the wiser about the scenery.

Even the highly conspicuous religion of Tibet becomes almost invisible behind Manning's delightful preoccupation with his own experiences. He delayed visiting a temple until he could find someone to explain it. He was under pressure to make such a journey, for he was disguised as a lama from Bengal. People began to wonder why this strange foreign lama, who had been in Lhasa for several months, had not yet visited a temple. After much characteristic vacillation he finally arrived at one, but immediately became involved in a loud argument with his servant who exclaimed Manning, 'was ignorant as a beast'. [63] Frustrated by his servant's lack of religious knowledge, Manning became angry and made a scene in front of numerous Tibetan devotees. In the end we learn absolutely nothing about the religion except for a totally vague footnote: he cannot recall the name of a Tibetan deity and, leaving a blank space in the body of hid narrative, writes: 'This is the name of their great saint or religious lawgiver. I never could rightly make out his story.' [64] Of the religion we are still ignorant, but of Manning's complex relationship to it we have a rich store of anecdotes.

It would be easy to isolate Manning and consider his travel diary as an oddity, an aberration; but in reality his text belongs firmly within a tradition of Himalayan travelers and travel writing which presents the 'inside story' of Tibet. This tradition is concerned less with big views, or with scientific and geographical exactitude, than with the journey itself as an experience, a series of daily events. As we have already seen, such a development can already be found in the intimate corners of Bogle's account, but with Manning it reached an unequivocal intensity. A twentieth-century representative of this tradition, Fosco Maraini, called his book Secret Tibet. [65] In this he was referring not to occult rituals but to the small, everydayness of Tibetan life which so frequently eluded Western travelers and hence remained secret.

This tradition also includes that officer-comedian in Britain's eventual invasion of Tibet in 1904, Powell Millington. With a measured irony, given the desperate attempts to reach the capital of Tibet, he called his account To Lhassa at Last. [66] No military record of Powell Millington exists, and his true identity has never been discovered. Robert Byron's account, First Russia: Then Tibet, is similarly full of humor and extensive sidetracks. [67] Peter Matthiesson's The Snow Leopard (1980) is another of these almost inside- out accounts. [68] Here geographical details merely provide the springboard for introspection, or are reduced to a suitable location for the intriguing details of everyday life. However, under the early hegemony of the Royal Geographical Society and pressing imperial demands, this other way of imagining Tibet was to be ridiculed and trivialized: its authors were constantly criticized for being unscientific, even selfish and narcissistic. [69] Yet these few texts were an important antidote to the overwhelming number that were preoccupied with the 'Great Game', with the grandiose creation of global geopolitical fantasies, with Tibet as a heroic or occult proving- ground.

Manning clearly offered no mapping of Tibet, but did he offer anything other than the mapping of his own idiosyncracies? Even Markham suggested that 'for those who know how to find it, there is much wheat to be gathered from amongst Mr. Manning's chaff.' [70] As well as Markham's wheat, what does Manning's chaff offer?

As we have noted, Manning presents an inside view of Tibet, a perspective from the early-nineteenth-century Chinese community in Lhasa. His account takes its place with other ethnographic portraits such as Bogle's intimate glimpse of late-eighteenth-century Tibetan court life, or the Japanese monk Kawaguchi's detailed experience of Tibetan monasticism at the end of the nineteenth century. [71] Like these other travelers, Manning felt at home in his small corner of Tibetan society, sympathetic to the mundane details that made up its everyday life. He had an acute ear for the gossip, slander and other tales that abounded in such an isolated, semi-exiled community as the Chinese in Lhasa. We hear, for example, a story about the animosity between a 'Tartar dog' and a 'crack-brained mandarin': another about the execution of 'a good mandarin', told from both the Chinese point of view and the Tibetan; about the Chinese spies and informers that kept close watch on the community in Lhasa: 'my bile used to rise when the hounds looked into my room', exclaimed Manning. [72] He operated as a doctor, both to the Chinese and to the Tibetans. At one stage he even treated the Dalai Lama's own physician. The Tibetan doctor refused to take Manning's medicine: 'He was childish, they said; he did not like the taste or the smell.' [73] A short while later, to Manning's genuine sorrow, he died.

Manning's account also contains numerous short essays -- on clothing, food, beards, translations, horses. [74] At first glance these too may seem to be as trivial as his poignant glimpses into the small Chinese subculture in Lhasa, but many of his observations are acute and pertinent. We must not be misled by his gentle humor and his outrageous irritations: for example, two pages devoted to the problems with his horse and saddle were quite relevant in an age before motor vehicles. [75] His reflections about clothing were not just whimsy but sensitive and astute. He praised the local costume and ridiculed European stubbornness in continuing to wear inappropriate clothing. [76] He also reflected, whilst wearing the local Chinese gown, how such a dress -- similar in many respects to that worn by a Western woman -- restricted movement, engendered caution and took away boldness. It would be some years before women explorers arrived at similar conclusions.

Manning's view is from the back streets of Lhasa and is not overly concerned with the scientific, political or geographical needs of British imperialism, nor with its landscape aesthetics. Recovered and reviewed late in the nineteenth century when such attitudes were assumed to be self-justifying, when heroism and self-sacrifice for the good of the nation -- or at least for science -- were expected, Manning's account was treated as a weird curiosity. Yet he upheld the tradition of the 'little' traveler, one who does not presume to be the mouthpiece and representative of an entire nation. In Lhasa he was desperately poor, often ill, generally afraid and virtually friendless. In his diary he constantly gives rein to his anxieties, yet his story has a poignant dignity. Forced to sell nearly all his meagre possessions, he reassures himself: I managed so as to keep up a certain respectability; and though I was not invited anywhere to dinner ... wherever I went I was treated as a gentleman.' [77]

Inventing the Frontier

In 1818, some seven years after Manning's journey to Lhasa, Lieutenant Alexander Gerard of the Bengal Native Infantry set out to explore the Himalayan passes in the vicinity of the Sutlej river, hoping eventually to enter Tibet itself. His narrative begins:

From Soobathoo, in latitude 30° 58' and longitude 77° 2' situated about twenty miles from the plains, and 4,260 feet above the level of the sea, I marched to Mumleeg nine miles, three and a half miles from Soobathoo, crossed the Gumbur, an inconsiderable stream, but it had swollen so much from late rain, that its passage was effected with great difficulty. [78]


Gerard, with his crisp precision and concern for geographical exactitude was clearly a different traveler to Manning. At the end of his narrative he assures the reader: 'Throughout the ... tour, the road was surveyed with some care, and a number of points were fixed trigonometrically ...' [79] Gerard belonged to a tradition of scientific exploration that, whilst not new, was to assume increasing importance as the century progressed. His journey to discover, explore and map the Himalayan passes was a model of its kind, and in following its progress we can gain access to some basic landscape fantasies of that period. Like the equally seminal account of the journey to Lake Manasarovar in Tibet by Moorcroft and Hearsey in 1812, Gerard's is highly eclectic in its concerns. He presents a continual series of vignettes: about the villages, crops, temples, dogs, plants, religion, people, administration and languages. Both scope and detail are breathtaking. In quick succession we move from the pleasure of grapes --

In the summer season, from the reverberation of the solar rays, the heat in the bed of the Sutlej, and other large streams is oppressive, and quite sufficient to bring to maturity grapes of a delicious flavor. [80]


-- to the study of languages:

The Koonawur language, of which we made a collection of nearly 1,000 words, differs much from the Hindee, most of the substantives ending in -ing and ung, and the verbs in -mig and nig. [81]


Unlike the scientific specialists who were to dominate the second half of the century, these earlier travelers were eclectic amateurs. Their capacity for observing, noting and collecting was relentless. At one state in his journey, Moorcroft had reached utter exhaustion: 'though I climbed as slowly as possible, I was obliged to stop every five or six paces to take breath'. Nevertheless he still had energy to discover 'two kinds of rhubarb -- one I took for the Rheum palmatum, the other was much smaller'. [82] He went into extensive details about these plants. Then, the next day, he again embarked upon 'a toilsome ascent of five hours'. After a brief but appreciative comment on the view, Moorcroft immediately set about collecting plant specimens from 'a dark green carpet formed by a short narrow leaved grass of a springy nature, and enameled with small blue polyanthuses in tufts, with anemones and ranunculuses ...' [83]

The most striking thing about this exercise is its totally random character. Moorcroft simply gathered 'all the varieties within ... reach'. Here was a veritable plenitude -- wherever one happened to glance, discoveries could not help but be made. Indeed, in the face of this over-abundance, how does one go about 'scientific' exploration? What actually is important; what should one look for and collect? In the early nineteenth century such questions were still wide open, despite the underlying pressure generated by the growing needs of British imperialism.

Both Moorcroft's and Gerard's journeys were ostensibly undertaken to satisfy very specific questions. Moorcroft's was concerned with trade, particularly the lucrative wool from the shawl goat. Geography, let alone botany, was clearly secondary. Even finding the exact location of the fabled and sacred Lake Manasarovar assumed importance only later. Gerard, too, was primarily concerned with mapping precisely some of the major Himalayan passes:

This pass [The Brooang] is situated in latitude 31° 23; and longitude 78° 12:, it separates Choara from Koonawur, another of the grand divisions of Busahir, which lies on both banks of the Sutlej, extending from latitude 31° 30: to 32°, and from longitude 77° 53' to 78° 46' It is a secluded, rugged and barren country ... It is terminated on the north and NW by a lofty chain of mountains covered with perpetual snow, upwards of 20,000 feet high ... [84]


As the Himalayas became increasingly imagined as a protective frontier, the British avidly set about locating and evaluating all the major and minor passes through them. The early-nineteenth-century enthusiasm about possible trade routes was replaced by the late-nineteenth-century concern about potential invasion routes. Confidence in the expansion of trans-Himalayan communication was replaced by a paranoiac need to be in complete control of the passes. Gerard's journey was merely the forerunner of many that would be made throughout the century with the purpose of locating and evaluating any possible weak points in the mountain frontier-wall.

We get only glimpses of the 'romance' of travel in these early accounts. Gerard, for example, writes:

We should have afforded an amusing spectacle, seated upon blankets near a fire in the open air, surrounded by our servants, dissecting the partridges with the kookree, or short sword worn by the Goorkhalees, and smoking plain tobacco out of a pipe little better that what is used by the lowest classes. [85]


Not only does such a comment remind us of the aristocratic and bourgeois domination of Himalayan travel throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, it also presents us with an early example of an exploration anecdote. Exploration, as it would be understood and celebrated in the second half of the century, had scarcely been formulated in 1818, and there is still a certain pleasing naivety about Gerard's self-conscious reflections on his novel experiences. Such anecdotes would become increasingly familiar as the century progressed, finally ending their days in the twentieth century as tourist cliches.

Eventually Gerard found his path blocked by Chinese officials. Such an experience would become commonplace to Westerners throughout the century, as Tibet became a hermetically sealed-in landscape. In the history of Tibet as a sacred place, such moments of attempted entry assume crucial proportions. [86] The era of the unopposed, let alone welcomed, entrance experienced by Bogle and Turner would be a long time returning. For over a hundred years Western travelers resorted to disguise, bluff and other such subterfuge, in an attempt to enter Tibet. Moorcroft and Hearsey for example, also found the way denied them, but with a mixture of disguise (as Hindu pilgrims), stubbornness, diplomacy and, above all, the liberal use of Western medical skills, they overcame the opposition to their journey. [87] As we have seen, Manning also resorted to disguise and to the supreme bargaining power of Western medicine. Gerard used neither and was forced to turn back.

But it would be a mistake to imagine the mountain passes blocked by desperate and ferocious anti-European warriors. Whilst this image had some substance further West, on the borders with Afghanistan and Dardistan, it was almost the opposite in the Buddhist Himalayas. Gerard writes: 'The Tartars pleased us much, they have none of that ferocity of character so commonly ascribed to them.' [88] Even the incidents which finally led him to abandon his goal of entering Tibet were full of humor and good feeling. The Chinese official admitted that he did not have the means physically to prevent Gerard and his party from continuing, but in such an eventuality he, as the official in charge, would probably lose his head. All he could do was withhold provisions. This firm, but non-violent, closure of the Tibetan passes added its own qualities to the mysterious and unknown land that lay beyond.

One result of this closure was that Gerard was forced to turn back into the Himalayan frontier and to direct all his astute observational powers on to this mountain region. The Himalayas became increasingly seen as a region in their own right. Through the travels of Gerard, Moorcroft, Hearsey and others, they were shown as imaginatively alive and inhabited, as culturally and geographically rich.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Re: THE MYTH OF SHANGRI-LA: TIBET, TRAVEL WRITING AND THE W

Postby admin » Sat Mar 19, 2016 3:43 am

Part 2 of 2

The Liminal Zone

Heidegger has written that 'a boundary is not that at which something stops but ... is that from which something begins.' [89] Boundaries have two edges, and in between they have depth. Between the edge at which things stop and the edge at which things begin is a place of transition, of suspension: a liminal zone. [90] In such a space one is neither here nor there: one has left but not yet arrived. In the ensuing years the Himalayas gradually became imagined as such a boundary-place. At first such a fantasy was somewhat subdued, revealing itself only in isolated references or as a kind of fragmented background echo, but late in the nineteenth century, when imperial politics demanded a coherent boundary, the Himalayas would emerge, as if from nowhere, as a fully evolved 'frontier'. In 1774 such an image of the 'frontier of Empire' was almost meaningless, but a century later it had become fully established and integral to British identity.

In understanding the creation and maintenance of a sacred landscape, the genesis of the boundary deserves the closest possible attention. Its unique qualities are enhanced by the tension between its two edges; the known and the unknown. These complement, contradict and refract each other, causing some features of the boundary to be enhanced and others diminished. Fantasies about it are affected by the land on either side -- in this case the familiar, conquered, administered and controlled territory of British India, as compared with the evasive and aloof Tibet.

The most immediately striking quality about the Himalayan region is, of course, the immensity of its mountains. As we have seen, the first estimates of their height provoked disbelief. Only gradually, by around 1821, was it accepted that they were the highest in the world, higher even than the Andes. [91] Yet the Himalayas were more than just mountain peaks. The valleys and their inhabitants, the rich flora and fauna, the complex cultural and political networks, all played their part in the creation of the Himalayan 'frontier'. Scientific curiosity, political expediency, aesthetic delight, adventure and individual self-improvement, colonization and commerce, mystic aspiration and self-fulfilment have all fed, in one way or another, upon the contents of this region, and helped to shape its imaginative contours.

Three imaginative movements were apparent in the emerging fantasy of an Himalayan frontier: a concern with crossing it; a concern with establishing it as a known, controlled, well-defined boundary; and a fascination with it as a place in its own right.

Crossing the Threshold: Going Out

Before being imagined as the northern bastion of imperial India, the Himalayas merely lay at the crossroads of British aspirations for Central Asian trade and Far Eastern communications -- a place of crossings, of routes, both real and imagined. Most of the earlier travelers were more concerned with discovering ways through and across the mountains than with exploring them for their own sake.

In addition to a general curiosity about what lands lay on the other side, early-nineteenth-century British interest in the pathways across the 'snowy range' was especially motivated by an intense desire to find a channel of communication with Peking. As one diplomatic mission after another failed to be admitted at the front door of China, Tibet came to be imagined as a possible back door. [92] Using the route through Tibet to reach Peking had been vaguely considered as early as 1792, but twenty years later such a thought had more urgency about it. Compared with the firm and somewhat haughty closure of China, Tibet's exclusion of Westerners seemed easier to overcome. As we have seen, Manning nearly succeeded in taking the high road to Peking, through the back door of Lhasa.

Tibet and the Himalayas lay in the penumbra of the fascination evoked by the Celestial Empire in the West. The British gaze passed through Tibet on its way to Peking, firmly imprinting its trace across the landscape. In the first half of the nineteenth century the British were constantly reticent about their involvement in Himalayan politics, for fear of alienating China. British policy-making always had only one eye on the Himalayas whilst keeping the other on Peking. [93]

During this period, the British image of the Himalayas began to be differentiated into discrete regions. Attention shifted from one end of the mountain range to the other, depending on the imagined suitability of each region as a point of access to Lhasa, and hence ultimately to Peking. The early use of Bhutan was denied after 1792. Nepal then seemed to offer the best possibility, despite the violent unrest in that country. As the hopes held for Nepal slowly dimmed, attention became directed on Sikkim. [94]

This regionalization of the threshold marks a critical phase in its overall creation. The particular route taken, and the region traversed when crossing over the boundary, profoundly modify the final image of the sacred land. With a traditional temenos, whether holy city, sacred grove or temple precinct, it was always a matter of importance by which gate one entered or left: east, west, north or south. [95] In Tibet, such a formal orientation around the cardinal points was not so important as geographical and cultural directions. Images of Tibet were profoundly modified depending on whether the traveler approached from India in the south, with its abrupt change in landscape, culture and climate; or from China in the east, where the changes were more gradual. Alternatively, travelers entering from Ladakh would already have experienced an abrupt transition much further west when journeying from Kashmir, and would notice no change when entering Tibet. Similarly, explorers venturing from the north, from Russian territory, would have a completely different set of expectations and experiences. In addition to these objective geographical and cultural factors, there were also overriding elements of fantasy. Routes connect: they bring dissimilar places into alignment. To enter Tibet from the fabled Silk-Route to the north was quite different to approaching it from the south, from India, from the 'jewel in the crown'. But early in the last century, such well-defined regional differentiations did not exist. They were merely beginning to announce their presence.

In 1815 Sikkim's ruler was 'persuaded' to act as a link between Calcutta and Lhasa. The British viewed the relationship between Sikkim and Tibet primarily in terms of their shared religion. As the British government became more aware of the extended influence of Tibetan religion throughout the Himalayan region, its interest changed from one of detached fascination to one of intense concern. An understanding of this strange religion, so embedded in Tibetan cultural life, in aristocratic allegiances and intrigues of state power, steadily came to be viewed as essential to any successful political or economic involvement in the Himalayas. Gradually the lines of rival imperial policy shifted away from Peking and began to intersect at Lhasa. By the middle of the century Britain was attempting to communicate with Lhasa less in order to reach Peking than to improve its own Himalayan trade and to stabilize Himalayan politics.

But Sikkim, at once so rugged and so lush, was not to be fully exploited as a route to Lhasa until late in the century. In the meantime British interest shifted once again -- this time to the far western Himalayas, especially the barren, high-altitude deserts of Ladakh. This western region provided access to the lucrative shawl-wool trade which, as we have seen, was the explicit object of Moorcroft's journey to Lake Manasarovar. In addition, following the conclusion of the Gurkha War, Britain had a common frontier with Tibet in this region. Given its remoteness from Peking, and from Lhasa, the British also hoped that their involvement in the western Himalayas would not be subject to rigorous scrutiny from China. But perhaps the most important reason for their close attention to the Western Himalayas was the establishment of a hill-station at Simla. By 1827 the benefits Simla offered to European health had already been attested to by such personage as the Governor-General and his family. Suddenly, a vital centre of British imperial administration and cultural life became established in the foothills of the western Himalayas. At the same time, the acquisition of Kumaon and Garwhal brought the British into intimate contact with the complex and ancient ties that bound these regions with Tibet, Nepal, Ladakh, Sikkim and Bhutan.

Crossing the Threshold: Coming In

Increased British interest in the western end of the Himalayas was also the result of a quiet but critical shift in Britain's imperial political concerns. Early in the century Moorcroft had warned that the Himalayas around Kashmir were as much Russia's back door to India as they were Britain's back door to China. [96] With the conclusion of the wars against Napoleon, British anxiety about possible threats to their Indian possessions shifted towards the Russians, who were single-mindedly and vigorously expanding eastwards. It was the beginning of the 'Great Game', that nineteenth-century cloak-and-dagger precursor to the twentieth-century Cold War which was to affect every aspect of Himalayan imagining.

Both Moorcroft and Gerard were caught up in the earliest days of the 'Great Game', and mapping the passes of the western Himalayas was viewed as an increasingly urgent task. [97] The Russian victory over Persia in 1828 drew British attention to the unknown regions that formed the northern and northwestern frontier of their Indian possessions. As Russia moved its Asian frontier eastwards through the course of the nineteenth century, British fantasies about the Himalayas shifted accordingly. By the middle of the century, only the western end of this mountain chain was unduly affected by these insecure fantasies, but the second half of the century saw such fears extended to the central region and to Tibet itself, the eastern region of the Himalayas, on the other hand, always remained comparatively unaffected by the 'Great Game'.

Here is the beginning of a fundamental tension that would extend, with varying intensity, from one end of the Himalayas to the other. Were the numerous passes the gateways to China, to the fabled gold mines, to a lucrative trade with the vast, untapped markets of Central Asia, or were they the almost undefendable back doors into the always vulnerable British Indian Empire, its Achilles heel? Such contradiction and paradox was basic to the imaginative creation of the Himalayan frontier. As Britain became increasingly established in India and as the 'Raj' became a critical landmark of British identity, the fantasy of the Himalayan passes as the gateways to 'the Beyond' would be replaced almost entirely by a fortress mentality.

Such a nervous ambivalence is hinted at in the 1818 report by the surveyor Herbert. Whilst exploring one of these passes, he mused:

Neither this one or any of the others had been yet examined by Europeans; indeed, previous to the commencement of the present survey, the existence of such passes had not even been suspected, ...the Himmaleh having been always supposed to form an impenetrable barrier between Hindoostan and Chinese Tartary. [98]


Similarly, when Francis Buchanan Hamilton compiled his classic account of Nepal in 1819 for the East India Company, he wrote:

The ridge of snowy alps ... has few interruptions, and, in most places, is said to be totally insuperable. Several rivers that arise in Thibet pass through among its peaks, but amidst such tremendous precipices, and by such narrow gaps, that these openings are in general totally impracticable. [99]


As the century progressed closer attention to these mountains revealed a veritable honeycomb of passes. It must be remembered that mountaineering was in its infancy, and that apart from traversing well-worn trade and pilgrim routes, the inhabitants of the Himalayas were not mountaineers. The closer the British engaged with the mountains, the more passes appeared. What was considered impractical to the early-nineteenth-century traveler often came to be viewed as almost a highway by later, more experienced mountaineers. The very nebulousness of the Russian threat also encouraged a variety of fears. A pass that was too difficult for an army could still be of use to a small and determined band of saboteurs.

The Imaginative Gradient

Attention must be given to the two edges of the liminal zone that protects and defines a sacred space: the edge that leads from the known, and the edge that leads into the unknown. These two extremes create a steep imaginative gradient between them, a tension of opposites which intensifies the contradictions, ambivalences and paradoxes of the landscape that separates them. This coincidenta oppositorum, or meeting of opposites, expresses the mystery of passage, of passing over and of returning. The Himalayas increasingly became a place where a radical and abrupt change in consciousness was both expected and desired.

Throughout the whole of the nineteenth century a struggle ensued between European Romanticism, its enthusiasm reinforced by imperial confidence, and the Himalayas themselves, which continually refused to be constrained within such fantasies. The immense verticality of the mountains, with their steep contrast between perpetually silent, snow-clad peaks and dark, densely vegetated valleys, echoed the intense horizontal mystery of the frontier. Moving from one side of the boundary to the other was increasingly likened to entering a new world, a world outside time and space. So too, the ascent of these soaring mountains, whether physically or merely in the eye of the imagination, was likened to a passage between the realm of impermanence and that of immortality. Standing back on the plains and just gazing at the Indian edge of this threshold was sufficient to turn the mind to an intimation of higher things. As Robert Colebrook, the Surveyor-General, wrote in 1807: 'The weather was clear, and the whole range of snowy mountains was visible, and presented a scene which for grandeur can scarcely be rivaled.' [100] The Tibetans came to be viewed as the gentle guardians of the threshold, past whom only the most deserving could venture -- but this is to look ahead. As yet, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the 'frontier' lacked imaginative coherence. Even as late as 1849 that tireless explorer-scholar Brian Hodgson bemoaned that the Himalayas were 'quite without a plan'. [101]

We have seen that as the century progressed, British interests increasingly demanded a rational and systematic mapping of the Himalayas. The name of Hodgson was associated with two notable early attempts at achieving such a goal, but it belonged to two very different men and two very different enterprises. Between 1815 and 1818 John Hodgson began the first systematic survey along the length of the Himalayas, until illness obliged him to hand over the task to others. This mammoth undertaking, completed in 1822, produced an important map: The Mountain Provinces between the Rivers Sutlej and Ganges, and bounded on the North by Chinese Tartary and Ladak. [102] The Himalayas were now effectively connected to the grid which the Great Trigonometric Survey had thrown across India, and hence were now 'rationally' and tangibly joined to Britain and to its scientific and imperial aspirations.

The other mapping of the Himalayas associated with the name Hodgson was one which embraced the study of geology, languages, customs, religions, fauna, flora and politics. This project was begun by Brian Hodgson in the first half of the century and continued by him almost until its conclusion. Brian Hodgson's work was of seminal importance, not just for the Himalayas but also in the formulation of the new sciences -- from ethnography to linguistics. [10]3

But once again we have moved ahead just a little too quickly; the early nineteenth century was not yet obsessed with exhaustive and systematic scientific surveys. The collection of geological and ethnographic details, of landscape views and botanical specimens, was made only from what lay within immediate reach. Rather like Moorcroft hastily gathering plant specimens whilst lying exhausted on the ground, it was all a matter of chance encounters. Items tumbled over one another in a gloriously random profusion. Wherever one looked, whenever one stopped to gather, fresh discoveries were to be found. In most cases, only the route and chronology of the journey gave any semblance of order to the collection.

The attitude of many British early in the century was perhaps expressed best by Lord Moira, the Governor-General, on an official tour up-country in 1814: 'The sight was truly grand. The snow, illuminated by the beams, looked exquisitely brilliant ... Yet at this moment I am speculating on the trade which may be carried on beyond it ...' [104] Views and trade, trade and views -- these were the dominant sentiments of the age, both dovetailing delightfully in the Himalayan landscape.

The Dalai Lama, Lhasa, and the Creation of Tibet

And what of Tibet, the unknown land that lay on the other side of the newly emerging frontier? In fact, for most of the early nineteenth century the British were not unduly concerned with Tibet, except in so far as it was caught up in Anglo-Chinese communications. Of course, Tibet was still the place of rumors -- the sacred Lake Manasarovar mentioned by Pliny and Marco Polo, the source of the Ganges and of the Brahmaputra, the place of gold and silver mines. It was also viewed optimistically in terms of possible trading links with India. But by 1816 the Tibetan policy initiated by Warren Hastings had all but been abandoned. Nevertheless, scholarly research was still being supported, if not enthusiastically, as in Csoma de Koros's Tibetan dictionary and Brian Hodgson's collection of religious manuscripts.

In many ways, the British attitude towards the Dalai Lama mirrored all the ambiguities in their wider relationship to the whole of Tibet. While the Dalai Lama would have to wait until much later in the nineteenth century before assuming a central role in Britain's Tibetan drama, innumerable lines of influence were already beginning to converge on his Potala palace at Lhasa. The Dalai Lama was waiting in the wings, his script being prepared, until on cue he would step fully evolved into centre-stage. His physical elusiveness throughout the century was a crucial aspect of the evolving myth, forming a sharp contrast with the absolute centrality of his position within Tibetan culture and politics.

Only one British traveler actually met the Dalai Lama in well over a hundred years. Thomas Manning, like Bogle and Turner before him with the Tashi or Panchen Lama, underwent a profound experience upon his rare encounter.

The Lama's beautiful and interesting face and manner engrossed almost all my attention. He was at that time about seven years old: had the simple and unaffected manners of well-educated, princely child. His face was, I thought, poetically and affectingly beautiful. [105]


Manning left the interview deeply moved: 'I could have wept through strangeness of sensation.' Later he wrote, 'I strove to draw the Lama.' One of his characteristically eccentric yet most intimate footnotes reads:

1st Dec., 17th of tenth Moon. This day I saluted the Grand Lama! Beautiful youth. Face poetically affecting; could have wept. Very happy to have seen him and his blessed smile. Hope often to see him again. [106]


Manning, that exemplar of late Classical Europe, had made contact with an image of divine perfection. His adoring salutation to the Dalai Lama belongs, along with Bogle's to the Panchen Lama, to a past era of reason, order and spiritual ecstasy. Western adoration of the Dalai Lama then went into quiescence and reappeared only eighty years later, in the theosophical imagination. [107] In both Manning's diary and the writings of the founder of theosophy, Madam Blavatsky, the Grand Lama transcends any political, social and religious connections but never loses his unique Tibetan-ness. But Manning's image of the Lama comes as if from nowhere, whereas Blavatsky's, as we shall see, had been gathering the fragments of its form throughout the nineteenth century. Just as Manning's image of the Tibetan Lama's divinity simultaneously ended one era and initiated another, so too would Blavatsky's. Her Lama arose from the carefully gathered images that had been brought back from Tibet over nearly a hundred years. Images that had found increasingly fertile ground in the Western imagination.

After Manning's late, unpublished but ecstatic salutation, the Dalai Lama became a distant, elusive and enigmatic figure of power and authority in the journals of Western travelers. But for all his physical absence, he gradually came to exert a formidable imaginative presence. Travelers were constantly to encounter examples of his power and of Tibetan hegemony in their journeys through the Himalayas, yet the Dalai Lama like Tibet itself, was almost formless and shapeless. Tibetan hegemony, too, was seldom exerted by armed force. More often it was by unseen connections, through kinship, cultural ties and religious obligations. For example, more typical of the encounter with the Dalai Lama during this period than Manning's were those reported by Moorcroft and Hearsey during their journey to Lake Manasarovar. Whilst complaining about the past troublesome behavior of the 'independent Tartars of Ladak', Moorcroft observed that their deference to the Dalai Lama had resulted in a moderation of their behavior.

The sacredness of this personage, who is the head of the religion of the Tartars, caused them to desist from their incursions, and probably, would have the same influence in the event of any alteration in the current of trade. [108]


Later, in an exchange of gifts with an old lama, Moorcroft received 'some slips of gauze', which the Dalai Lama had sent to the old priest. In addition, he was given 'some red comfits made of flour, water, and some red coloring matter: they were insipid, but having been made by the holy hands of the head of the church of this country, were said to possess extraordinary virtues'. [109] In contrast to Manning's direct and intimate encounter with an individual who stood outside any particular social form, Moorcroft's Dalai Lama was an aloof and elusive presence exerting his power through the channels of religious ritual, trade, law and order.

Naturally, the Dalai Lama was also integral to British attempts to understand Tibetan religion. This in itself was complicated by European confusions about Buddhism and the exact relationship of Tibetan religion to it. Early in the century, the term 'Buddhism' was not even in common usage. Francis Buchanan Hamilton writes only of 'the followers of Buddh' or 'the sect of Bouddh': 'The Lamas are the priests of the sect of Bouddh, in Thibet and the adjacent territories ...' [110] He drew a distinction between a Guatama who lived in the sixth century B.C. and a Sakya who lived in the first century AD, and continued by pointing out that the Tibetans 'consider the Buddhs as emanations from a supreme deity, view many of their Lamas as incarnations of a Buddh, and accordingly worship them as living Gods, although they do not consider them equal to Sakya, who is the Lama of Lassa'. [111] Until the sudden availability of Sanskrit texts after 1830, made possible by Brian Hodgson's labors, the full nature of Buddhism, let alone the Tibetan variant, would remain obscure. Nevertheless, it was already becoming clear that Tibetan religion was not an isolated anomaly but part of a spiritual belief embraced by a considerable proportion of the world's population. In many ways it was this sheer scale of Buddhism that drew the attention of many Western observers. It also seemed that the Dalai Lama was a significant figure not only in Tibet but wherever the 'followers of Buddh' were to be found.

The relationship between Tibetan religion and Buddhism was to be a controversial issue throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, but as we shall see, by mid-century systematic studies of both had been attempted. However, it was easier for the West to produce a rational and coherent 'Buddhism' from textual sources than from the seemingly chaotic and cultural-bound practices of Tibetan religion. Tibetan Buddhism, unlike other forms, was never to be imagined independent of its land of origin. Travelers, rather than scholars, continued to dominate the shaping of Tibetan Buddhism in the Western imagination throughout the century. Their direct encounters with the religion's practitioners produced complex and contradictory impressions: attitudes towards monasticism were generally mixed and somewhat reserved; recluses and hermits were treated carefully and with some respect; the ordinary Tibetans, despite being the object of scorn for their superstitions and gullibility, evoked consistent respect for their all-pervading sincerity and faith. [112] At this stage, only a passing interest was shown in Tibetan metaphysics and ritual. The tireless labors of Csoma de Koros, for example, were as much inspired by linguistics and Hungarian nationalism as by religious curiosity.

Whenever the Tibetan religion was compared with Islam, no matter what was thought of its internal contradictions, it was always viewed most favorably. Moorcroft, for example, wrote that whilst Islam has encouraged temperance, 'it has introduced much more dissoluteness, dishonesty and disregard for truth, than prevails in those places where Lamaism still predominates'. [113] Yet, he continued, Lamaism itself is 'a strange mixture of metaphysics, mysticism, morality, fortune-telling, juggling and idolatory. The doctrine of the metampsychosis is curiously blended with tenets and precepts very similar to those of Christianity and with the worship of grotesque divinities.' [114] Here were all the contradictions that Tibetan religion aroused in the contemporary Western mind.

As the myriad images of Tibet and its religion slowly began to present themselves to the Western imagination -- although not yet to assemble themselves into any coherent shape -- they always seemed paradoxical, enticing yet distasteful. Moorcroft's comment that the monks at a monastery he visited 'seem a happy, good humored set of people, dirty, greasy and in good ease', was typical. [115] Yet this strange religious culture seemed to cast its net across the entire Himalayas -- was a unifying influence in the region that could not be ignored. It is understandable that intense efforts were later to be made to unravel it, to understand and evaluate it systematically.

No less prominent than the Dalai Lama, and just as elusive in the emerging fantasy of Tibet, was the city of Lhasa. Again, not until much later in the century would Lhasa appear as a fully evolved and coherent object of Western longing. Yet, as with the Dalai Lama, fragmentary images were slowly being deposited throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, images upon which the fabled city of the Western imagination would eventually arise. At this stage, however, Lhasa was viewed merely as either an important but provincial outpost of the Chinese Empire, or as a centre of influence among the small Himalayan hill states. [116] Only when British policy shifted and the Himalayas came to be regarded as important in their own right did Lhasa become imaginally emancipated from its subservience to Peking. Once again, despite his eccentricity, Manning's attitude towards Lhasa echoed that of many of his fellow-travelers. His impression in 1811 was of a dirty and desolate place of exile for out-of-favor Chinese bureaucrats. Whilst Lhasa was an important place for Tibetans and other people of the mountains and Central Asia, it was hardly a great centre of civilization. Manning's entry into the city is worth recording in detail, so sharp is its contrast with the golden fantasies of the future Victorian era.

When he arrived, he was reminded of Rome. Such an association would continually recur in the fantasies of later travelers, but would be based then upon its wide-ranging influence rather than any physical resemblance, for indeed no other nineteenth-century Briton would actually see the city. Ostensibly, Manning's association had nothing to do with the regional influence of Lhasa; it was also only marginally related to the city's architectural appearance. True to his whimsical imagination, Manning was impressed solely by the proximity of marshland to both capitals. But perhaps he was less naive than he appears, and his association of Lhasa with Rome was stimulated by the many earlier comparisons of Tibetan religion with Catholicism. Moorcroft echoes such sentiments: 'of the Paraphernalia of the temple, the resemblance with those of the Romish church was very striking.' [117] Any comparison with Roman Catholicism generally had a double edge, given the suspicion directed at that religion by most nineteenth-century British travelers. Manning, for example, comments: 'We are apt to think the Muhammadan religion eminently intolerable; but if it be fairly examined, it will be found much less so than the Roman Catholic, both in practice and in principle'. [118]

Manning was certainly impressed by the Potala palace. He commented that it produced a 'striking and grand effect' and continued: 'The road here, as it winds past the palace, is royally broad; it is level and free from stones ...' [119] But his admiration stopped there and his subsequent impressions reinforced the growing belief that the Tibetan landscape was disturbingly paradoxical. 'If the palace had exceeded my expectations', he wrote,

the town as far fell short of them. There is nothing striking, nothing pleasing in its appearance. The habitations are begrimed with smut and dirt. The avenues are full of dogs, some growling and gnawing bits of hide which lie around in profusion, and emit a charnel-house smell; others limping and looking livid; others ulcerated; others starved and dying, and pecked at by the ravens; some dead and preyed upon. In short everything seems mean and gloomy, and excites the idea of something unreal. Even the mirth and laughter of the inhabitants I thought dreamy and ghostly. [120]


One can only wonder how such a place would ever excite the desperate longings of generations of Europeans later in the century, especially when Manning's eyewitness description was readily available.

In these travel accounts, different levels of fantasy and association constantly slide across one another: the Dalai Lama and his Potala place, whilst obviously belonging to Lhasa and to Tibetan religion, were also somehow different; the monasticism, the religion, the people, their culture, even the landscape did not yet add up to a coherent whole. The Dalai Lama was respected, yet the monasticism was suspected; the Tibetans were liked, but their dirt and their customs -- such as polyandry -- evoked distaste; the austerity of the landscape was considered inspirational, but its barrenness was abhorred. Such contradictions and seemingly irrevocable dissociations were not easily resolved, and not until the very end of the nineteenth century would the West evolve a fantasy-place of sufficient complexity to embrace them all.

As British people's confidence in their imperial presence in the Himalayas increased and became a 'natural' part of their global identity, their curiosity became augmented by arrogance; the Classical era's sense of a common human brotherhood was replaced by a belief in racial and cultural differences. Manning, for example, enthusiastically embraced Asian habits in clothing and was even willing to give due respect to Asian religious formalities: 'Any form and ceremony that is required I shall go through and nothing further.' [121] However, despite his ecstatic encounter with the Dalai Lama, he never desired to embrace Tibetan religion. Such aspirations among Westerners would have to wait until the very end of the century. Manning mused:

All religions as they are established have a mixture in them of good and evil, and upon the whole they all perhaps tend to civilize and ameliorate mankind: as such I respect them. As for the common idea that the founders of all religions except our own were imposters, I consider it as a vulgar error. [122]


Manning's panhumanism belonged to a passing age: it was soon replaced by a Weltanschauung characterized by developing human sciences such as ethnography and sociology, with all their connotations of knowledge and power, assessment and evaluative schemas. [123]

If Manning ('When I entered the temples in Bengal, if there were natives about, I always made a salam') is the last representative of a bygone age, then Lieutenant White stands as a forerunner of the future. At the beginning of this chapter we saw how his 1825 journey into the newly 'acquired' territories of 'Sirmour, Gurwhal and Kumaon' marked the beginnings of an aesthetic appropriation of the Himalayas by the West. These mountains now firmly belonged to Britain in a way that lay outside the earlier imaginations of Bogle, Turner, Manning and even Moorcroft. White was visiting territory that had become merely an exciting, unknown extension of Britain. The inhabitants, with their cultures, were now to be administered, controlled and, perhaps, picturesquely admired. How different this world was from Manning's! White strongly advised Westerners to avoid visiting places where their values might be compromised. For example, he wrote that removing one's shoes at a Hindu temple 'is an acknowledgement of the sanctity of the place, which no Christian ought to give'. [124] On the other hand, he suggested, a European should not show 'the haughty superciliousness, arrogance and contemptuous conduct, too characteristic of Anglo-Indians'. He regretted that 'the influx of European travelers' was bringing to the hills these attitudes that were 'so prevalent in the plains'. White was attempting to sort out rules of conduct befitting a race which considered that it possessed superior knowledge, virtue, wisdom, science, etc. By the middle of the century such an elitist attitude would be fully engaged not only with the people and their cultures, but also with the mountains themselves.

Places and Styles of Travel

The first half of the nineteenth century was a formative period both for the creation of Tibet and the Himalayas as places, and also for the establishment of travel writing as a genre. Construction was begun not only on the Himalayan frontier but also on the core-image of Himalayan exploration, on its personae and its dramas. Such an image was never simple and at least seven main themes have been identified in this chapter: Manning exemplified the concern for details, for the intimate, inside stories of the journey, of the traveler and of the place itself; White's concern was with aesthetics; Moorcroft was primarily a commercial adventurer; Gerard prefigured the systematic, scientific explorers soon to be promoted by the Royal Geographical Society; Hamilton's journeys belonged to a tradition of diplomatic, fact-finding missions; Henry and Shipp offered experiences that would be typical of many soldiers who fought in Britain's nineteenth-century Himalayan campaigns; Herbert approached the mountains as a dedicated surveyor.

Notably absent were the expedition leaders and the mountaineers. The former would soon arrive on the scene, whereas the mountains would have to wait much longer for the latter. Finally, with the exception of the Frenchmen Huc and Gabet, the Himalayas and Tibet had not yet witnessed a nineteenth-century missionary, or mystic, assault from the West, and certainly not from Britain. All these styles of engaging with the landscape would add their images to the emerging place of Tibet, struggling to impose their own coherence on its contours. The mid-century would see all these struggles subsumed under the hegemony of systematic, comprehensive and scientific surveys.

A frontier imagination was being born, as critical to the Himalayas as it was to the American West. It would color every aspect of the mountains, from aesthetics to ethnography. But this was not a colonizing frontier, mobile and expanding, like the American West, but one whose main purpose, stability and containment, was quite the opposite.
admin
Site Admin
 
Posts: 17163
Joined: Thu Aug 01, 2013 5:21 am

Next

Return to Religion and Cults

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest