China to Chitral

Mountains are the beginning and end of all scenery

Author: H.W. Tilman

Series title: H.W. Tilman: The Collected Edition

Paperback publication date: 26 Jan 2017

Paperback ISBN: 9781909461345

In China to Chitral H.W. ‘Bill’ Tilman completes one of his great post-war journeys. He travels from Central China, crossing Sinkiang, the Gobi and Takla Makan Deserts, before escaping to a crumbling British Empire with a crossing of the Karakoram to the new nation of Pakistan.

‘Upon this trackless waste of snow, cut by a shrewd wind they sat down and wept.’ In China to ChitralH.W. ‘Bill’ Tilman completes one of his great post-war journeys. He travels from Central China, crossing Sinkiang, the Gobi and Takla Makan Deserts, before escaping to a crumbling British Empire with a crossing of the Karakoram to the new nation of Pakistan. In 1951 there still persisted a legend that a vast mountain, higher than Everest, was to be found in the region, a good enough reason it seems for Tilman to traverse the land, ‘a land shut in on three sides by vast snow ranges whose glacial streams nourish the oases and upon whose slopes the yaks and camels graze side by side; where in their felt yorts the Kirghiz and Kazak live much as they did in the days of Genghis Khan, except now they no longer take a hand in the devastation of Europe’. Widely regarded as some of Tilman’s finest travel writing, China to Chitral is full of understatement and laconic humour, with descriptions of disastrous attempts on unclimbed mountains with Shipton, including Bogdo Ola—an extension of the mighty Tien Shan mountains— and the Chakar Aghil group near Kashgar on the old silk road. His command of the Chinese language—five words, all referring to food—proves less than helpful in his quest to find a decent meal: 'fortunately, in China there are no ridiculous hygienic regulations on the sale of food’. Tilman also has several unnerving encounters with less-than-friendly tribesmen … Tilman starts proper in Lanchow where he describes with some regret that he is less a traveller and more a passenger on this great traverse of the central basin and rim of mountain ranges at Asia’s heart. But Tilman is one of our greatest ever travel writers, and we become a passenger to his adventurers.

Harold William ‘Bill’ Tilman (1898–1977) was among the greatest adventurers of his time, a pioneering mountaineer and sailor who held exploration above all else. Tilman joined the army at seventeen and was twice awarded the Military Cross for bravery during WWI. After the war Tilman left for Africa, establishing himself as a coffee grower. He met Eric Shipton and began their famed mountaineering partnership, traversing Mount Kenya and climbing Kilimanjaro. Turning to the Himalaya, Tilman went on two Mount Everest expeditions, reaching 27,000 feet without oxygen in 1938. In 1936 he made the first ascent of Nanda Devi – the highest mountain climbed until 1950. He was the first European to climb in the remote Assam Himalaya, he delved into Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor and he explored extensively in Nepal, all the while developing a mountaineering style characterised by its simplicity and emphasis on exploration. It was perhaps logical then that Tilman would eventually buy the pilot cutter Mischief – not with the intention of retiring from travelling, but to access remote mountains. For twenty-two years Tilman sailedMischief and her successors to Patagonia, where he crossed the vast ice cap, and to Baffin Island to make the first ascent of Mount Raleigh. He made trips to Greenland, Spitsbergen and the South Shetlands, before disappearing in the South Atlantic Ocean in 1977.

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