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.'
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