From Heaven Lake

From Heaven Lake
Image source: Google

Rating: 4.4/5

Author: Vikram Seth

Publisher: Vintage Books

Publishing Date: November 1987

Language: English

Genre: Travel Literature

ISBN-10: 9780143420224

ISBN-13: 978-0143420224

ASIN: 0143420224

Format: Paperback

Pages: 240

Cost: Rs. 296 (Paperback)


After two years as a postgraduate student at Nanjing University in China, Vikram Seth hitch-hiked back to his home in New Delhi, via Tibet. ‘From Heaven Lake’ is the story of his remarkable journey and his encounters with nomadic Muslims, Chinese officials, Buddhists and others.


Hitch-hiking, walking, slogging through rivers and across leech-ridden hills, Vikram Seth travelled through Sinkiang and Tibet to Nepal: from Heaven Lake to the Himalayas, by breaking away from the reliable routes of organized travel, he transformed his journey into an unusual and intriguing exploration of one of the world’s least-known areas.

In his brief introduction to the first edition of the book, Seth tells us that the journey was undertaken when he lived in China as a student at Nanjing University from 1980 to 1982. In the summer of 1981, he returned home to Delhi via Tibet and Nepal.

The land route, which he followed on his hitchhiking journey in trucks, originated in the oases of northwest China and went on to the Himalayas crossing four Chinese provinces: Xinjiang (Sinkiang) and Gansu in the north-western desert, the basin and plateau of Qinghai, and finally Tibet. The travelogue, he says, is based on the journal that he kept and the photographs which he took on the journey.

It has exquisite descriptions of the Turfan underground water system, the deserts of Nunhan, Heaven lake and its surreal surroundings, the yaks near the Tangula Range, the black and silver landscapes of Tibet turning into green and blue.

The author also talks about how the government fails Indian people in ways that the Chinese government doesn’t. Both are huge and overpopulated countries but there are far fewer hungry, unemployed, and homeless people in China than in India.

From Heaven Lake is a leisurely account of Seth's travels and has some truly poetic descriptions of the natural landscapes of China and warm evocations of ordinary Chinese men and women with whom he struck up friendship.

Milestones of the Book:

  • The book received the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, Britain's prestigious award for travel writing, for the year 1983.

About the Author:

Born in 1952 in Calcutta, India, Vikram Seth was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Stanford University and Nanjing University.

He has travelled widely and lived in Britain, California, India and China. His first novel, The Golden Gate: A Novel in Verse (1986), describes the experiences of a group of friends living in California. His acclaimed epic of Indian life, A Suitable Boy (1993), won the WH Smith Literary Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Overall Winner, Best Book). An Equal Music (1999) is the story of a violinist haunted by the memory of a former lover. Vikram Seth is also the author of a travel book, From Heaven Lake: Travels Through Sinkiang and Tibet (1983), an account of a journey through Tibet, China and Nepal that won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, and a libretto, Arion and the Dolphin: A Libretto (1994), which was performed at the English National Opera in June 1994, with music by Alec Roth. His poetry includes Mappings (1980), The Humble Administrator's Garden (1985), winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Asia), and All You Who Sleep Tonight: Poems (1990). His children's book, Beastly Tales from Here and There (1992), consists of ten stories about animals told in verse.

Vikram Seth's latest works include Two Lives (2005), a memoir of the marriage of his great uncle and aunt, and Summer Requiem (2015), a book of poems.