Book Review: Caravan to Tibet by Deepa Agarwal

Debu and Hayat live in Milam, a small hilly village on the borders of India and Tibet. A year ago they lost their father in a snow blizzard when he was coming back to Milam from Tibet following a trade business. Father’s absence makes their life all the tougher, since they are poor and means of livelihood are infrequent in the hills, and his uncle Trilok troubles them above all. However, Debu believes that his father is alive and he should proceed to find him. But the biggest obstacle is the journey that has to take through the snowy high-mountain passes that lead to Tibet. Moreover, he is just a fourteen-year-old boy and so far no boy of his age has been included in the expedition which is usually carried out by veteran traders and mountaineers.

One day Debu sees his father’s amulet in a Tibetan customer’s neck. When he enquires about that amulet the customer says he bought it from the market of Garkot – a famous place in Tibet where his father and other men of the village often went for business chores. This incident revives his hope about his father’s survival and soon he manages to convince both: his sad mother and the men who are about to go on an expedition to Tibet.

Following a treacherous journey, they reach Gyanima – a place where the boy Lama lives in a palace. In the palace, the people of caravan one by one bow before the lama and offer him some or other offerings – as being his first time in the land of the lamas Debu follows the others trace. Ironically, an interesting thing happens when the boy lama draws a liking for Debu. Next morning Debu is taken to the palace and forced to stay with the boy lama and the rest of the caravan marches ahead for Garkot.

One night when Debu tries to escape, the soldiers arrest and present him before the lama. At this point, when Debu narrates his tale and the objective behind coming to the lama’s land, the lama tells him about a person being saved by a meditating monk from a snowy blizzard but it remains unsure whether the person is still alive. To help Debu, the lama sets him off for that monastery which saved and then later nursed his father. Debu is escorted by some soldiers. On the way a gang of bandits attacks them – all the soldiers run away – Debu is taken as a prisoner. The leader of the gang is Nangbo – he has some wicked magical powers. Thus, he knows all the tricks which Debu can apply to run away from the gang.

The bandits make plans to loot the goldfields of Thok Jalong. The gang includes Debu as one of the shooters and when the time comes so close they tie his hands and set him on someone else’s horse. Even Debu does not realize how it all happened – he finds himself in the hands of an old couple nursing his wounded leg. As luck favours his treacherous search so far; soon he discovers his father in the goldfields as one of the working miners. They both narrate each other’s tale and move ahead for Gartok to find other people of the caravan in order to make a return trip to Milam. However, some other quirks of fate await him when they reach Gartok.

The story is staged against the time when Tibet was an independent country and the traders from India frequented that land for business deals. Caravan to Tibet is a tale of an extraordinary bravery of a simple boy who subsisted on optimism until he finds out his father. The writer hails from the Himalaya hence readers find her depiction of the high mountains and people’s ethos credibly appropriate. Simply adventurous and truly promising!