Charlie Carroll’s fascinating account of his recent trip to “the roof of the world” is no ordinary travelogue but also an extremely detailed version of the history of Tibet and its relationship with China.
The book begins with Lobsang, whose family must flee Tibet for exile in Nepal when he is just a child. Each chapter then alternates between Carroll’s narrative and Lobsang’s story as he grows up in a foreign land, then move to study in India, then fall in love with his Nepalese girlfriend and fellow student Drolma. Carroll’s childhood obsession to visit ‘the plateau’ is matched by that of Lobsang who, after a visit to meet his country’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, longs to return to his place of birth.
The Friendship Highway is unique in its style and content. This is an adventure, thriller and political history book all rolled into one. Lobsang’s tale comes across as a piece of fictional prose but is a true story as noted in Carroll’s journal when he meets Lobsang near the end of his expedition. The sinicisation of Tibet is a strong theme that runs through the book from the Chinese invasion in 1959 to the present day. The author describes how arrest, imprisonment and torture are as prevalent today as they were in the time of the cultural revolution over 57 years ago when monasteries were torched, Buddhist temples destroyed and tens of thousands of Tibetans suffered a brutal clampdown on their traditional way of life. At times his anti-Chinese sentiment may come across as biased but the apparent meticulous research cannot be denied.
Carroll’s vibrant description of his experience in Tibet, from the stunning scenery to its eclectic mix of people, is enough to inspire the most reluctant traveller but one of the most moving moments is saved for the last few pages and the story of the ‘memory stones’. This is a mighty read.
Reviewed by Gerard O’Hare We Love This Book, Publisher: Summersdale/Published: 05/05/2014/ISBN: 9781849535908/RRP: £9.99