Helena Drysdale


Alone through China and Tibet,

published by Constable 1986, Ulverscroft 1988 (illustrated),
The Long Riders' Guild Press 2006

Alone Through Tibet And China
The orient, with its utterly different customs and beliefs, still retains an air of deep mystery, and until recently it was almost inconceivable for a young woman in her early twenties to travel alone to such 'outlandish' places as China and Tibet. But in 1985, in time for Chinese New Year and all the accompanying celebrations, Helena Drysdale arrived in Canton and spent the next five months working her way from the lush hills of Hainan Island, across the wastelands of the north west to Tibet, and thence to Nepal.

Wanning, Xining, Golmud, Sagya - the names of some of the places are as unfamiliar as the distances between them are vast. Her experiences along the way range from the hilarious to the macabre: hailed as a visiting VIP in the remote hills of Hainan; taking part in a spectacular Lantern Festival; witnessing the dawn Sky Burial in Tibet. Exploring back streets, markets, temples, on bicycles, buses and trains, she travelled and lived with ordinary people - teachers, sailors, black marketeers, monks - making friends and visiting their families. The result is a vivid and authentic picture of life in China, as it emerges from the rigorous doctrines of Chairman Mao.

She discovered too the exhilaration - and occasional anxiety - of travelling alone; the contradictory urge to go on, and yet sometimes to turn and run for home. Other travellers crossed her path: Patrick, a Belgian, who had rescued her from hospital in Nepal; Martin, a rootless Swiss communist; and for part of her journey she followed the steps of the stalwart Alexandra David-Neel, the first western woman to reach Lhasa.

'Here's one traveller with whom I look forward to sharing many more vicarious trips.'
New Statesman

Part I. 1. Guangzhou at New Year; 2. To Hainan Island; 3. Haikou: the capital; 4. Sanya and Boating: the countryside; 5. Gui Gian and the Lantern Festival; 6. Mo Chui Shao; 7. Travelling; 8. Shanghai; 9. Suzhou and Beijing.Part II. 10. Datong; 11. Xian; 12. Xining to Golmud; 13. Golmud to Lhasa.Part III. 14. Lhasa at last; 15. Drepung and Nechung; 16. The Sky Burial; 17. Farewell to Lhasa; 18. Across Tibet to Nepal; 19. Kathmandu.; maps and photograph

© Helena Drysdale 2006
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