China to Chitral, by H. W. Tilman. xi + 124 pages, with 69 illustrations and four maps. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1952. Price, $4.75.
The master traveller and master baker recounts in delightful fashion how he and Shipton failed to climb two mountains in Central Asia. In his wanderings with Kirghiz, Tungans and Wakhis, we see him assaulted, chased and insulted, but never worsted. He seems equally at home boiling his tea over a yak dung fire in the desert, sharing a miserable Karatash hovel with dogs, lambs, calves and 15 Kashgarians, or playing Asiatic versions of chug-a-lug with Chinese overlords. “Beyond Aqsu all is desert; and that night as I lay upon its slightly heaving surface a Chinese general in an embroidered cap danced across it eating chrysanthemum petals with a wooden spoon.”
China to Chitral describes little mountaineering and lacks unity, but it has vitality and verve. In it one of the great travellers of our times recounts with pawky humor and greater realism than Marco Polo the life of a modern wanderer in Central Asia. Othello was a Mr. Milquetoast compared to Tilman, and his stories to Desdemona would have fallen flat had Tilman been on hand to tell of his “antres vast and deserts idle… and hills whose heads touch heaven.”
Robert H. Bates