Tibet has always been a realm of fantasy as much as a province of reality. Remote and inaccessible, this mountain fastness has spawned myths ever since Herodotus wrote about its giant gold-digging ants. It has been the haunt of fabulous beasts: the ape-like yeti and the one-footed theurang, the wind horse and the snow lion. Magical powers have been attributed to its people, from rapt oracles and wandering sadhus to the Dalai Lama himself, whose person was so holy, the first British governor-general of Bengal heard, ‘that his excrements are sold as charms at a great price’.
The theosophist Madame Blavatsky claimed that monks she had encountered in Tibet were capable of telepathy and telekinesis. Heinrich Himmler dispatched SS men to the roof of the world to discover the roots of the Aryan race. Inspired by exotic tales about everything from sky burials to the promise of