Tuesday, October 20, 2015

10 of the Coolest Explorers to Reach Tibet

A breathtaking journey to the Land of Snows....

No country has stirred the public's fascination quite like Tibet. For centuries people have dreamed about reaching this mystical Land of Snows. Locked away in the foreboding Himalayas, men and women longed to read about this mysterious Buddhist kingdom that was ruled over by a god-king, the Dalai Lama, but no explorer had yet managed to reach this forbidden land. With Tibetan soldiers armed with matchlock rifles stationed at every mountain pass under orders to turn away or shoot any foreigner caught trampling their Buddhist kingdom, entering into this Forbidden Kingdom seemed like an impossible feat. And that's how it was for centuries.
The yak is the only pack animal suited to life at high altitudes.
 Lying at an average altitude of 15,000 feet and surrounded on all sides by the enormous peaks of the Himalayas, Victorian travelers dubbed Tibet 'The Roof of the World', and Lhasa, its mysterious capital so long closed to foreigners, was called 'The Forbidden City.'

Here are some of the hardy explorers who dared infiltrate the Forbidden Kingdom:

General Nikolai Prejevalsky- Notable Russian explorer of aristocratic Polish heritage, who inspired fear in all who met him. He was active in the 1870's up to 1888, making several attempts to reach the Forbidden City of Lhasa, but each time was forced to turn around due to the extreme altitude and sick animals. The closest he came to Lhasa was 160 miles, a record at that time. He eventually died just before his final expedition and was buried beside Lake Issyk-Kul in what is known today as Kyrgyzstan. Prejevalsky was a legend in Russia, a favorite of the Tsars, and a classic explorer in the Victorian mold.
General Nikolai Prejevalsky: Despite the resemblance, he was NOT the father of Joseph Stalin.
William Rockhill- Young American diplomat in Peking who studied the Tibetan language and thought he could sneak his way into Tibet by dressing as a Buddhist pilgrim. In the 1880's after his wife came into some money, he organized a caravan and set out on a grueling thousand mile march to Lanchou from where he planned to clandestinely cross into Tibet. He reached Tibetan Monastery of Kumbum where he gathered materials on the Tibetans and their religion and pressed onward, but was driven back 400 miles from Lhasa by the harsh climate. His second attempt brought him to within 110 miles of Lhasa, beating Prejevalsky's record. He was later awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society and went on to become the ambassador to St. Petersburg and Constantinople.
William Woodville Rockhill: the diplomat who dreamed of seeing Lhasa.
Alexandra David-Néel- Perhaps the most flamboyant and celebrated of the Tibetan explorers was David-Néel, a true eccentric who was years ahead of her time. Born in Paris in 1868, she became an opera singer before turning toward more spiritual pursuits. A seeker and a mystic by nature, she became a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism and a practicing Buddhist. After disguising herself as a Tibetan beggar, she became the first European woman to enter Lhasa in 1923 and wrote about her strange encounters on the Roof of the World. David-Néel exemplifies the adventurous spirit of the Victorian explorers. She won an audience with the Dalai Lama in Darjeeling and sold many copies of her memoir which are read even today. A French movie about her life was made in 2012.
Alexandra David-Néel- Probably the most spiritually inclined of all the Tibetan explorers
Annie Taylor- Adventurous, 36-year old English Presbyterian hell-bent on carrying the gospel to the Dalai Lama. Due to a childhood heart-condition, she was spoiled and coddled by her parents and was not expected to survive into adulthood, but she outlived her doctors' prognoses and became a missionary in 1884, selling all her jewelry to raise the funds necessary to set sail for Shanghai. After organizing a caravan, she mounted an expedition to Tibet along the Tea Road from Szechuan to Lhasa. After experiencing ill health and passing the skeletons of earlier travelers, her sense of self-preservation forced her to turn back only a 3 day march from Lhasa. She died at the ripe old age of 67.
Annie Taylor in Tibetan dress.

Jules Dutreuil de Rhins-  By far the unluckiest of all the Tibetan explorers, de Rhins was a former naval officer who organized a caravan to Lhasa in 1884. He traveled for 4 months and came within a six day march of Lhasa when he was ambushed by a party of Tibetan bandits armed with matchlocks. After a standoff, during which time he was deteriorating from the altitude sickness, frostbite, and gangrene on his legs, he was finally captured, bound by his hands and feet, and thrown alive into a river.

Sven Hedin- Swedish explorer born in 1865 who made 3 daring expeditions through the mountains and deserts of Central Asia between 1894 and 1908, mapping and researching parts of the Sinkiang Province and Tibet which had been unexplored until then. He is probably the most famous and lauded of all the Tibetan explorers, but his later associations with the Third Reich have clouded his otherwise stellar image.
A heroic depiction of Sven Hedin in Tibet was widely used to sell products during the Victorian era.
Heinrich Harrer- An Austrian mountaineer born in 1912 who joined a four-man expedition in 1939, led by Peter Aufschnaiter to the Diamir Face of Nanga Parbat in what was then British India. When war was declared the 4 climbers were sent to a detention camp near Bombay, but escaped to Tibet. After crossing the Tsang Chok-la Pass (5,896 m, 19,350 ft) Aufschnaiter and Harrer, helped by the former's knowledge of the Tibetan language, proceeded to the capital of Lhasa, which they reached in 1946, having crossed Western Tibet. In all, Harrer spent seven years in Tibet which he recounted in his memoir which was later turned into a movie. 
Heinrich Harrer and the Dalai Lama
Gabriel Bonvalot, Prince Henri d'Orléans, and Father Constant de Deken- This unlikely partnership between a burly, fast-shooting French explorer, a gambling, womanizing French prince, and a Chinese-speaking Belgian Catholic missionary is recounted in Race to Tibet, a novel about their daring exploits on the Roof of the World. A self-made man of French peasant stock, Gabriel Bonvalot traveled widely throughout most of Central Asia and scaled some of the most dangerous passes in the Pamir Mountains and the Himalayas. The story of his journey to Lhasa is a fantastic adventure filled with action, danger, and suspense and just a little romance.
Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri d'Orleans
Now for the first time ever you can read the untold story of Gabriel Bonvalot and Prince Henri d'Orléans who risked everything to be the first Westerners to reach Lhasa and meet the Dalai Lama. RACE TO TIBET is a thrilling tale of high-altitude adventure and survival set in the world's most forbidden country: Tibet
Gabriel Bonvalot: As fearless as he was gorgeous. He was so rugged, he was considered the explorer's explorer.

Race to Tibet is now on sale.


Publishers Weekly: "Fans of Jules Verne’s travel adventures will find Schiller has done a solid job of transforming an obscure real-life Victorian expedition into a thrilling yarn."

Here's what reviewers are saying:

"A Fascinating Journey Across Tibet." 
Mountaineer Mark Horrell

"Wonderful historical novel about the famous French explorer Gabriel Bonvalot. Experience an expedition to Tibet with all its beauty and horrendous conditions." 
Words and Peace Blog

"Non-stop excitement from beginning to end."

Redhead with a Book

"The characters were larger than life, intricate, and interesting, and the enterprise suspenseful, dramatic, and scenic. Schiller writes in a descriptive manner, with sentences that flow in a fluid and at a good pace."
Erin, For the Hook of a Book

"Excellent fact-based novel about an expedition to reach the most isolated culture in the world. Fascinating!"

Author Mark Schreiber

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Read an excerpt of "Island of Eternal Fire"


Monday, April 21st, 1902
St. Pierre, Martinique

In Saint-Pierre the place to see and be seen was the theater on the Rue Victor Hugo. For a gala performance of “Tartuffe”, which featured a visiting troupe of actors from Paris, every seat in the house was sold out. The newspaper Les Colonies had promised ‘An evening of spectacular entertainment never before seen on the Saint-Pierre stage’. It mattered little that the editor, Marius Hurard, was a silent partner of the theater’s owner.

At eight o’clock spectators began streaming into the hall, including Emilie Dujon, a young woman of eighteen with amber eyes, chestnut-colored hair, and a grave but lovely face. She was escorted by her fiancé, Lucien Monplaisir, a tall, brooding young man of twenty-six with broad shoulders and a rakish air, and his younger sister, Violette.

Emilie was brimming with excitement. She hadn’t been to the theater in years, not since her father’s plantation “Solitude” started losing money. She spent most of her nights reading her vast collection of books until she knew them all by heart; Jules Verne, Victor Hugo, and Alexandre Dumas were her constant companions. By the light of a kerosene lamp she had traveled the world by hot air balloon, battled giant squids, and fought many a hot-headed duel. But soon she would be leaving that world behind.
Emilie smoothed out her muslin gown as she took in the beautiful surroundings. The theater was even more splendid than she remembered. It shimmered like a golden Fabergé egg. High above their heads, the chandelier gleamed, spreading warm light over the frescoes that adorned the ceiling. She felt a surge of pride. So much had happened these past four months! Her whole life had changed. It was hard to believe how she, the daughter of a struggling cocoa planter, managed to capture the attention of the heir to the largest sugar plantation in the French West Indies. It still took her breath away.
The lights went down and the play began. The audience watched with rapt attention, including Emilie, whose eyes scarcely left the stage. Even Lucien, who normally grew bored after only a few minutes, seemed to be enjoying himself.
Suddenly, by the middle of the third act, something unusual caught Emilie’s eye. Her attention froze on Suzette Lavenière, an old school friend, sitting in the opposite box. It looked as though she was gazing at Lucien. Lifting up her opera glasses, Emilie saw to her shock that Suzette appeared to be winking at him! Stunned, Emilie dropped her opera glasses and tried to calm the beating of her heart. Holding up her program, she saw out of the corner of her eye that Lucien met her gaze and winked back in return.
A cold chill ran through Emilie’s body.
She continued watching them for several minutes, certain that some unspoken communication had passed between them, like secret lovers. Their eyes were almost locked together in secret, silent communication. Emilie’s heart sank She was seized with an indescribable pain that hit her like a crushing blow. Lucien was a fraud. A deceiver. A cheat. All at once her dreams of marrying for love were dashed, leaving her strangely numb and confused.
How could she have been so wrong about Lucien?

Lucien leaned over and whispered, “Why is your face so white, Cherie? Are you crying?” He slipped his hand over her shoulder but she stiffened at his touch. She stammered out an answer but she was filled with anxiety and dread. Every muscle in her body was rigid with tension. She sat as stiff as a statue but inside she was in turmoil. She lost all interest in the play. She lost all interest in Lucien. And then a sickening thought occurred to her. If Lucien was this deceitful before their marriage, what would he be like after?
And then, in the midst of her great turmoil, a great rumbling noise filled the hall. The building began to shake. The chandelier swayed and tinkled. The seats vibrated, as if moved by some unseen hand. The chandelier swayed so forcefully Emilie feared it would crash on the audience’s heads. She gasped in fright. The audience cried out in alarm, while on the stage, the actors looked around in confusion. When a piece of scenery fell down, almost hitting one of the actresses, they shrieked and ran back stage. And then, to everyone’s horror, a marble statue fell into the audience and a woman’s piercing scream gave rise to mass panic.
Someone yelled “Earthquake!” and all at once everyone jumped out of their seats. The musicians fled the orchestra pit like wasps from a burning nest, waving violins, flutes, clarinets, and violas over their heads. People jostled and pushed each other in their haste to escape. An old woman cried out and an elderly man in a black suit and top hat struggled to protect her as they were shoved aside in the melee.
Lucien grabbed Emilie and said, “Come on, let’s get out of here.” He pulled her and Violette through the crowd and then hurried down the marble staircase. When they reached the bottom, they raced through the courtyard, feeling the ground shake beneath their feet. When they reached the Rue Victor Hugo, they climbed inside the carriage and the driver proceeded north, past throngs of people rushing around in confusion. 
Suddenly, from the top of Mont Pelée, flashes of light resembling artillery fire were lighting up the night sky. Black smoke rose from the crater and curled upwards like a malevolent genie. Emilie kept her eyes fixed on the mushrooming black clouds that billowed out from the summit and spread leeward over the city where they began to rain ash and cinders.

Boom! Suddenly, an explosion like cannon-fire rocked the carriage. It was followed by a loud rumbling noise and tremors that shook the earth. The horses reared and the elderly West Indian driver struggled to control them. “Ho! Ho!” he cried, as he pulled on the reins. Emilie felt her heart pounding in her chest. Is the world coming to an end? She feared the ground would split open beneath them and swallow them up. Even Lucien looked scared. Outside, the gas lamps swayed and roof tiles smashed to the ground as people rushed out of their houses in a frenzy.

By now the streets erupted into chaos. People ran out of their homes and gathered in the Place Bertin, while others headed toward the cathedral, crossing themselves and uttering prayers out loud. Some were visibly crying. Shouts rang out from balconies and shutters flew open as curious residents peered out into the darkness. A few horses broke free of their reins and galloped down the street, chased by their furious owners.
Emilie’s muslin dress was soaked with sweat and her hair clung to the back of her neck. Heat and humidity hung in the air like a wet blanket. She glanced over at Lucien, but he was staring at the smoldering volcano with a mixture of fear and awe. Oh God, please don’t let me die here together with Lucien. Now it made sense why, for the past several weeks, snakes, rodents, and yellow ants had been abandoning the mountains in droves, heading to lower ground. She had even heard reports of steam clouds and smoke rising from the upper river of the Rivière Blanche. Most people had shrugged it off as meaningless.
Finally the carriage ground to a halt. They watched the scene unfold before them like spectators to a disaster. After the initial panic subsided, Lucien called out to the driver. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
The driver cracked his whip and the horses proceeded across the stone bridge that crossed the Rivière Roxelane, and then headed north for several miles until they crossed the Rivière Blanche, the natural boundary between “Solitude”, the Dujon family plantation, and the Guérin Sugar Factory. They turned west onto a dirt road bounded by coconut palms and clumps of bamboo, past the tiny hamlet of Saint-Philomène, and continued as the road climbed higher along the western slopes of Mount Pelée. After a few minutes an ominous smell began to fill the air. It was not a burning kind of smell, like the occasional fumes that drifted down from the Guérin Sugar Factory across the savannah, but a different kind of smell, like rotten eggs. For the rest of the journey back to the plantation, Violette chattered non-stop about the commotion in the theater while Lucien nervously drumming his fingers on the carriage door. 

Emilie was too shaken by the experience to respond. Between the frightful events on Mont Pelée and Lucien’s behavior, she didn’t know which was worse. She was determined to cancel their engagement, but how? The wedding was only two months away. No young lady of her social class had ever broken an engagement and survived the resulting gossip and slander. The scandal would crush her parents and brand her a social outcast. But she could no longer consent to marrying Lucien. As Emilie gazed up at the summit of Mount Pelée, she stifled an urge to cry as an ominous film of clouds blotted out the moon, reducing her world to utter darkness.