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Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet… (1983)

by Peter Hopkirk

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403544,644 (4.09)3
For nineteenth-century adventures, Tibet was the prize destination, and Lhasa, its capital situated nearly three miles above sea level, was the grandest trophy of all. The lure of this mysterious land, and its strategic importance, made it inevitable that despite the Tibetans' reluctance to end their isolation, determined travelers from Victorian Britain, Czarist Russia, America, and a half dozen other countries world try to breach the country's high walls. In this riveting narrative, Peter Hopkirk turns his storytelling skills on the fortune hunters, mystics, mountaineers, and missionaries who tried storming the roof of the world. He also examines how China sought to maintain a presence in Tibet, so that whenever the Great Game ended, Chinese influence would reign supreme. This presence culminated in the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s, and in a brief afterword, Hopkirk updates his compelling account of "the gatecrashers of Tibet" with a discussion of Tibet today--as a property still claimed and annexed by the Chinese.… (more)



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Showing 5 of 5
This is the story of how foreigners opened up the closed kingdom of Tibet and entered the forbidden city of Llhasa. It looks pretty well researched as the story covers some very obscure people as well as some well-known people. Focusing on the race to be the first Westerner to enter Llhasa, other Eastern explorers are covered as well. It roughly covers the period of about 1800 to 1950.

A good resource for games set in the Raj - a lot of the race was driven by the Tsarist expansion into Asia - as the first documented entrants were some 'pundits'.
  Maddz | Jul 12, 2018 |
I'm quite a fan of Peter Hopkirk and while "Trespassers on the roof of the world" is not his best I still found myself turning the pages long after my bedtime. When it comes to remoteness, few places can beat Tibet and for many people over the centuries it was the stuff of legends. Mt Everest, the Yeti, Shangri La, the Tibetan Blue Bear, flying monks, the highest altitude goldfields in the world and Lhasa to name just a few of the legends around the Forbidden Kingdom.

"Trespassers on the roof of the world" covers all the attempts by westerners to enter Tibet and be the first to clap eyes on Lhasa. Some did it for science while other, somewhat nuttier, explorers travelled there to convert the Dalai Lama to Christianity, be the first to reach Everest's peak by crashlanding a plane half way up and legging it the rest of the way, or similar, "trespassers" supplies a wealth of knowledge about Tibet. ( )
  MiaCulpa | Sep 1, 2017 |
I generally enjoyed Peter Hopkirk's look at the efforts of the West to invade Lhasa in his book "Trespassers on the Roof of the World." This book had been recommended to me on both of my reading websites, but I kept avoiding it, thinking I had read it before. It actually was new to me, though I've read many of the first-hand accounts that Hopkirk summarizes in his work.

He does a great job writing up the various attempts of the mainly British efforts to see Lhasa first-hand. They were mostly entertaining, (even as I shook my head and wondered why they couldn't just leave the Tibetans alone, as they requested.)

There is, however, something curiously Euro-centric about the book (especially as Hopkirk dismisses the Japanese man who lived in Tibet for years as the person to "win the race" to the Forbidden City.) This irked me in other places in the book as well.

Overall, it is, however, a good look at the history of Tibet (from a Western "I will conquer the world" perspective.) ( )
1 vote amerynth | Mar 19, 2017 |
This little book on the history of the infiltration of Tibet by the West is quite fascinating. Beginning in the mid-1800’s, a number of brave and/or crazy but ultimately unsuccessful explorers and missionaries from England, Russia, America, France, India, and China were “hell-bent” on being the first into the holy city of Lhasa – at 12,000 feet the world’s highest capital. The terrain was perilous, the weather worse, and the Tibetans resistant. It was not until a British mission was put together in 1903 with more than a thousand soldiers, 7,000 mules, 4,000 yaks, and 10,000 “coolies” that the mission was accomplished. The British had to fight a battle though to get through the last barrier, Karo Pass. At 16,000 feet, the skirmish was fought at a higher altitude than any other engagement in history. (The British, with their advanced weaponry, lost five men with another 13 wounded, while the Tibetans suffered more than four hundred dead and wounded.) Once the British crossed into Lhasa, however, they saw this squalid and unprepossessing city full of wild roaming pigs and dogs, and wondered what all the fuss had been about….

The story of the early attempts to get to Lhasa are pretty awe-inspiring, beginning with the Indian spies trained by the British. They wandered through Tibet for years disguised as holy men, with measuring and recording instruments hidden inside Buddhist prayer wheels and Tibetan rosaries. They never succeeded in getting to Lhasa however, as there was little incentive for locals to assist them: Tibetans who were discovered helping foreigners get to Lhasa, even by selling them food or providing shelter, would be tortured and killed. Then there was the young missionary couple whose newborn died as they trudged along at sixteen and seventeen thousand feet, not understanding that little lungs were inadequate to the challenge. A couple of the adventurers were even women traveling alone.

The book ends with the unfortunate story of the transfer of Tibet’s sovereignty to China in 1950, and the failure of the rest of the world to respond to Tibet’s pleas for help. Tibetans suffered religious and political persecution, and it is estimated that up to one million Tibetans may have died in the repression by the Chinese and attempts at resistance to it. In 1980, some reforms were instituted by the Chinese government, including the decision to allow tourists to visit certain areas. But calls for independence by Tibet halted the liberalization. China keeps a tight control over press coverage in Tibet, and it seems as difficult as it ever was for the West to know what is going on in Lhasa.

Discussion: I found this book very interesting, and I especially enjoyed learning about Tibetan Buddhism. As for Tibet's sad history, I’d have to agree with Hopkirk’s closing statement: "…it is hard not to feel some sympathy for this gentle, cheerful and long-suffering people who only ever asked one thing of the outside world. And that was to be left alone.”

Evaluation: This book was written in 1982 and updated in 1994, but while dated, it is still considered to be one of the better resources for understanding Tibet and the history of its exploration and conquest. ( )
3 vote nbmars | Nov 15, 2011 |
Trespassers on the Roof of the World is a narrative history of outside travel into Tibet during the period of about 1850 to 1950. It is not an exhaustive survey but retells some of the most well known and interesting stories for a popular audience. Hopkirk is a skilled journalistic story teller and he keeps the reader enthralled with one amazing story after the next, I hardly wanted to put the book down. As is the case in books like this, a lot of ground is covered at the expense of wanting to know more and not getting a good feel for the people involved. In the end the book is a popularizer of some really good travel literature about Tibet and it should send the reader off to explore in more detail some of these great and now obscure works.

--Review by Stephen Balbach, via CoolReading (c) 2008 cc-by-nd ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | May 24, 2008 |
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This book tells the story - often bizarre, sometimes tragic, frequently hair-raising - of the prising open of Tibet by an inquisitive outside world.
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Bundel reisverhalen, verzameld uit nog niet eerder verschenen en reeds gepubliceerde boeken van hoofdzakelijk uitgeverij Atlas. De bundel wil de lezer een breed beeld geven van het land, de natuur en de verschillende samenlevingsvormen. Pocketeditie.
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