I should have read the title ...
OK, so I was amused (when I finally got around to reading
this book) at the fact that I was surprised
that the book was primarily about mountain climbing
! This is another of my old "coffee table books" that I used to have out in my previous apartment (some 15+ years ago), largely for its very cool images of Tibet (most notably, the awesome cover shot of a huge rainbow smacking right into the Potala).
I mean, I might
have gotten a clue from the sub-title in Mountains of the Middle Kingdom: Exploring the High Peaks of China and Tibet
that adventure photojournalist Galen Rowell was actually talking mountaineering
, rather than "just poking around up in the mountains and taking awesome pictures", which, needless to say, was my
mental image (after all, one would be "exploring" amid the "high peaks" just to be up in Tibet). As such, I learned a lot about stuff to which I'd had no previous exposure (although, admittedly, it did take me a while to stop wondering why the author seemed so clueless about Vajrayana Buddhism!).
Actually, the book is an interesting window into "the Chinese side" of a lot of Tibetan issues, as Rowell seems to have far more exposure to that than to the "international Tibetan community". Lots of pretty pictures of mountains, nomads, and (less pretty) ruined monasteries. He does note that out of the 3,000 or so Tibetan monasteries in existence before the Chinese invasion, only a scant handful survived the insanity of "The Cultural Revolution", and these are the current "Disneyland-like" tourist spots operated by the Chinese in the interest of hard currency.
The book swings back and forth between historical information on who climbed which peak when and how, and his own experiences on or around the various mountains. To be honest, I'd only heard of one of these (Everest, duh!
), but the "adventure" stories were fascinating. The take-away that a desk slug like me gets, though, is that climbing up a mountain is a real good way to get dead in various (none particularly pleasant) ways. Heck, even attempting to get to
most of these mountains was traditionally an invitation to have your guts removed and eyes torn out, while today you'll just be bureaucracied to death, and charged 10x what the going rate would be on the Nepal side of the hill.
The pictures in Mountains of the Middle Kingdom
are, of course, spectacular
. Rowell is a frequent National Geographic
contributor, and certainly knows how to drag the best image out of a vista. That cover shot, by the way, wasn't photoshopped or anything ... he ran
out on a road heading away from the Potala in Lhasa just to get to the place where this amazing rainbow would look like it was coming right down on the Dalai Lama's old palace. Frankly Rowell and his associates do way
too much high-altitude running for my liking (I was getting winded just reading
about it), but if it gets shots like the one on the cover, I guess it can't be all bad.
This does appear to be out of print currently, so if you want a copy, you're at the mercy of the new/used vendors (and even there, it's slim pickings), with $10.00 getting you a "very good" copy, and around $20.00 for "like new". Part of the problem with this is that it's a large format (12"w by 10"h) paperback, which is always an invitation for bends, curls, and edge-wear. It's a great picture book, though, and would no doubt be a gripping read for outdoorsy types!