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A Road Warrior in Asia

August 11, 1996|JOHN MUNCIE

AMONG WARRIORS: A Martial Artist in Tibet by Pamela Logan (The Overlook Press, $23.95, maps).

Pamela Logan's idea was unusual enough: travel to Tibet's Kham province and visit the fierce horseback warriors called Khampas. It was an especially fitting adventure because Logan is a kind of warrior herself, having trained in karate for many years.

But her goal was far more elusive than she had expected and her year's journey in China, Tibet and Nepal became like one long kata--movements that simulate karate combat. Though Logan didn't have to actually fight anyone, her martial arts training paid off. In order to visit remote villages and Buddhist monasteries, she persevered when others would have turned back. And she used the power of her opponents--severe weather, high altitude, strict travel regulations (much of Tibet is officially off limits), the gulf of languages, boredom, fatigue and a host of other foes--to gain a deeper understanding of Tibetan ways.

The way that struck the deepest chord with her had nothing to do with warriors. In China's western Sichuan province she met seven pilgrims who were making their way across Central Asia's barren high plains by prostrating themselves, one body length at a time. They were planning to keep this up until they reached the holy Tibetan capital of Lhasa, a journey of months or years.

"After an hour or so I left them," Logan writes, "but I could not easily throw off the spell of these amazing people, whose courage went beyond anything I had ever seen. . . . Somehow faith and extreme physical practice join together to create--what? I wasn't sure. But whatever it was, I could see it plainly in the pilgrims' graceful movements, serene smiles and glowing eyes. I wished that I was Tibetan and could join them."

Throughout "Warriors," Logan mixes karate lore and scenes from her years of training with Tibetan travelogue. The two elements do not always illuminate each other--she doesn't have Peter Mathiessen's knack of mixing philosophy and landscape--though both are exotic and compelling. Nor is Logan a particularly strong writer. But both her outward and inner journeys are remarkable and propel the reader to the bittersweet conclusion.

HEROIC CLIMBS: A Celebration of World Mountaineering edited by Chris Bonington (The Mountaineers, $29.95, paperback, photos).

Stories of more than 30 ascents written by the climbers themselves. The book is divided by region--the Alps, North America, High Asia, etc.--and each region's mountaineering history is described in an introductory essay. For non-climbers, the most famous piece is about the conquering of Mt. Everest, written by Sir Edmund Hillary. This story has the economy and straightforwardness you'd expect from a climber. It begins: "Sometime around 4 o'clock I looked out of the tent door and could see it was going to be a perfect day for the job."

Lots of stunning photos: climbers hanging on to nearly nothing, huge peaks bathed in alpine glow. The pictures are particularly remarkable when you consider what the photographers had to do to get them.

Quick trips:

THE EARLY AMERICA SOURCEBOOK: A Traveler's Guide by Chuck Lawliss (Crown, $20, paperback, maps). A descriptive list of houses, museums, forts and other historic places connected with pre-Civil War America. This guide focuses on English settlements and colonies east of the Mississippi. It's divided by state and includes a number of little essays on historic tidbits. A companion piece to the previously published "The Old West Sourcebook."

CALIFORNIA IN-LINE SKATING: The Complete Guide to the Best Places to Skate by Liz Miller (Foghorn Press, $19.95, paperback, maps). Massive guide outlining nearly 300 skating tours in the state's deserts, cities and mountains. Each tour is graded for its scenic beauty, skating ability needed and pavement quality. Most tours are two to 10 miles, but there are a scattering of longer jaunts, such as a 27-miler along the Napa Valley's Silverado Trail. A long introductory section discusses maintenance, safety and techniques (though a lack of illustrations lessens its usefulness). Lists of in-line clubs and skate shops are included.

THE NEW KEY TO GUATEMALA by Richard Harris (Ulysses Press, $14.95, paperback, photos, maps). THE NEW KEY TO BELIZE by Stacy Ritz (Ulysses Press, $14.95, paperback, photos, maps). Two new editions of these chatty guides that focus on nature and environmental highlights while not neglecting cities. Very long introductory sections that touch on everything from history and ecology to money exchanges and inoculations. The books are not well-designed--it's hard to pick out the restaurant and lodging recommendations, for example--but they contain a wealth of information on these less-than-mainstream destinations. This series includes guides to Costa Rica, Ecuador and the Galapagos, and the Yucatan.

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