What has made remote, mountainous Tibet and its only real celebrity, the Dalai Lama, so abidingly fascinating to the West? In Virtual Tibet, Orville Schell, one of the preeminent experts on modern China and Tibet, undertakes a strange and wondrous odyssey into our Tibetan fantasies. He recounts the spellbinding adventures of the Western explorers and spiritualists who for centuries were bent on reaching forbidden Tibet and the holy city of Lhasa. Simultaneously, Schell embarks on a parallel present-day journey from Beastie Boys' "Free Tibet" concerts to a re-creation of Lhasa in the high Argentine Andes -- the extravagant set of Seven Years in Tibet, starring Brad Pitt.
At once comic and insightful, Virtual Tibet takes us beyond the fantasies to the reality of an isolated country that has repeatedly won the West's adoration, and paid the price for believing that our allegiance is profound.