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In an age
when sahibs wore khaki jodhpurs and solar topees, Henry Savage Landor was the
stiff-upper-lipped English traveller in tweed. Grandson of the writer Walter
Savage Landor, the younger Landor put his fine education to work recording his
adventures in dangerous lands.
The amateur explorer’s initial fame arose from an attempt to reach Lhasa, a city
whose ruler had forbidden entry to outsiders. A strict believer in the old adage
that an English gentleman had the right to get his throat cut wherever he liked,
Landor set out to infiltrate Tibet accompanied by two Indian servants. Dressed
in his Saville Row tailored exploration costume, the dapper Landor battled gangs
of robbers and suffered numerous hardships, before finally being captured and
tortured by the Tibetans, who were bent on discouraging other foolhardy amateurs
from entering their kingdom.
Back in London, the young explorer quickly wrote his first best-seller, then set
off on another adventure. A long list of journeys to a host of troubled regions
followed, with Landor writing gung-ho books about his travels in Persia, China,
Africa, Korea and South America, to name but a few. Painter,
explorer, writer, inventor and amateur anthropologist, the
completed his literary output when he penned his famous autobiography
“Everywhere, The Memoirs of an Explorer,” in 1924. He died from complications
arising from being struck by a London bus, though not before having enjoyed
“adventures enough to fill the lives of twenty men.”
In the Forbidden Land
Henry Savage Landor
nineteenth century can rightly claim to have seen the birth and
travels of a host of brave men and women who undertook great hardships in
their quest for adventure. Legendary names come to mind like Sven Hedin,
Sir Richard Burton and Isabella Bird. Yet sadly, one name is largely
forgotten today, that is Henry Savage Landor.
Though Savage Landor became justly famous for making a series of trips to
many outlandish and dangerous places, none of his trips aroused public
sentiment like his famed journey through Tibet in the late 1890s. Fearing
her covetous foreign neighbors in British-occupied India and Imperial
China, this high Himalayan country had sealed her borders to outsiders.
Thereafter a number of Europeans, including several British explorers, had
been detected by Tibetan officials and turned back before they could reach
the nation’s isolated capital at Lhasa.
With such a geographic prize at stake, Savage Landor determined to
set off with a small group of native porters to reach the Tibetan capital,
Lhasa, by stealth. To say he failed would be too polite a term for what
After making his way across vast and primitive lands, the would-be
explorer was detected by the Tibetans and arrested. Once they determined
that the Englishman was traveling without the official sponsorship of his
government, the situation turned from bad to worse. Savage Landor and his
servants were first imprisoned, then brutally tortured. At one point the
explorer had his arms tied behind his back. He was then mounted on a
half-wild horse, placed in an infamous “torture saddle” that had
spikes sticking into his back, and forced to ride many miles, all the
while being slowly torn to bits by the cruel spikes.
Illustrated with hundreds of photographs and drawings, this blood-chilling
account of equestrian adventure still makes for page-turning excitement.
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