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Lost in Tibet
Phayul[Sunday, August 29, 2004 18:50]
Reviewed by Yangchen Dolkar

Lost in Tibet by Starks and Murcutt is an engaging tale of the ordeal of five American airmen who find themselves, quite unwillingly, in the Tibetan territory in 1943, by a sheer twist of fate and nature. The five American airmen get caught in an aweful weather while returning from China to their base in Calcutta in India. They jump off their C-87 when it runs out of fuel mid-air and land themselves on the cold and treacherous mountain landscape of Tibet.

It is along the same line as the book, The Spirit catches you and you fall down. The five American airmen not only suffer through the effect and bruises of the fateful jump but also experience a cultural shock as they eventually come across the culture, the poverty and the strangeness of the Tibetan people. They find a wide, dichotomous society where poverty is as worse as poverty can get and wealth is as shiny and brilliant as wealth can be. They find a strange relationship between the poor and the rich where the poor are not conscious of their poverty and therefore not envious of the rich and the rich, in their turn, are oblivious to the rags of the poor, regarded their wealth as their second nature and thought nothing about the possibilities and the implications of their wealth. They also find an amazing partnership between the resilience of the Tibetan people and the unforgiving nature of the Tibetan altitude.

It is a refreshing book on the culture, habits and the nature of the Tibetan people as it was in the early to the middle of the 1900s. The authors are simple in their use of words and the story is told in a very straight-forward manner with simple examples and funny anecdotes, as is the way of the Americans. The book is, therefore, very attractive to anyone who is curious about the Dalai Lama and Tibet. It offers an 'easy to comprehend' picture of Tibet as a culture and a nation prior to the Chinese invasion and occupation in 1959.

The book also illuminates certain natures of the Tibetan politics at that time and moment in Tibetan history which comes across like an ‘inside story’ and therefore, very intriguing to the Tibetan mind as it is enlightening in information.

The book also provides some unique pictures. For example, the picture of a street in Lhasa is as illuminating as a 100 words or a full chapter on one of the most holy and commercially most busy streets in Tibet in those times (Barkhor), as we (read Tibetans) know from the 1959-ers; our parents, grandparents and the older Tibetans in general.

The book is written in a light and humorous manner. It is well-researched and provides a bibliography at the end. The book begins with a map of the land route that the five American airmen took as they made their way out of Tibet across the border into India and it ends with the map of the air route that they were supposed to take to get back to their base in India in Calcutta. The maps are helpful in visualizing the Americans’ ordeal both in the air and later, on the road as they prod across the many passes of Tibet to get to India. It is fascinating to the lesser-traveled and I, for once, wished that their adventure though involuntary as it was, and many a times life threatening, lasted much longer or extended into more chapters. The book is very appealing to the standard non-fiction reader.

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