I’m on a different journey these days. Travelling with Vikram Seth from Heaven lake, I’ve made my way through central China into Tibet, hitchhiking most of the way. It has been an exhilarating journey: across deserts, valleys, mountains and basins; encountering floods, extreme heat and cold, stubborn adherence of the Chinese to regulations, their curiosity towards a foreigner and their warm hospitality; experiencing the spectacular beauty of Chaidam Basin, the regal magnificence of the Potala and the melancholy ruins of a Buddhist temple in Lhasa; staring with wide-eyed disbelief at the ceremony where dead Tibetans are chopped, mixed with barley and fed to the eagles.
I’ve learned a bit about Seth too, on this journey. He’s a sensitive person, sometimes moved to tears by acts of kindness by Chinese folk. His knowledge of the Chinese language is enviable, and one cannot help admiring his capacity to negotiate and get what he wants from the regulation-bound Chinese authorities. His attitude – humble, compassionate and open-minded – makes him somewhat of an exception among writers (He does not denounce people or dismiss a culture the way Naipaul does, for instance. But that is perhaps an inappropriate example: Naipaul too is an exception, at the opposite end of the spectrum).
We’ve just left Lhasa, and are now making our way towards the Nepalese border. I look forward to this passage through Nepal – who knows what memories of the five childhood years I spent there will flash again before me.