Touching, humorous, and illuminating, this travelogue takes readers back in time to a remarkable, world-shaping moment. With rich language and the help of a remarkable journal, author Kate Teltscher traces two extraordinary journeys across some of the harshest and highest terrain in the world: the first British expedition to Tibet and the Panchen Lama’s state visit to mark the Emperor’s seventieth birthday.
In the late eighteenth century, with their empire expanding, the British sought a commercial opening to China. European traders were banned from China, but the cunning British East India Company saw a possible advocate in the Panchen Lama, the spiritual leader of the Buddhist people of Tibet. In the hopes of gaining access to Peking, they sent a young Scot named George Bogle as their envoy. Bogle was able to gain an audience with the Panchen Lama, and in him he found much more than a business partner; the Incarnate Lama was a friendly man who loved to discuss politics, science, art, and culture. Bogle gradually became less of a tourist and less of a colonist, growing comfortable and happy the longer he spent in Tibet even as his mission to open China failed. All the while, he kept a detailed journal—his prose by turn playful, self-deprecating, grandiose, and shrewd—and this revelatory document gives readers an exhilarating front seat to the beginnings of international relationships that exert their effects even now.
Teltscher’s portrayal of Bogle’s unique diplomatic relationship with the holy man is an admission that history is made by people—and people have emotions, flaws, and feelings that enrich and affect history.