Quest for Elusive Photograph Takes Professor to Sacred Mountain in Tibet

photo of Zurick at Mt. Kailash

Mount Kailash, which towers majestically over the scraggy highlands of Tibet, is considered a sacred place by the faithful of four world religions.

For Dr. David Zurick, Foundation professor of geography at Eastern Kentucky University, the peak was the final piece in a puzzle that he had longed for years to complete.

Wanting one final photograph for his new book entitled “Land of Pure Vision,” Zurick had been thwarted on two prior attempts to reach the mountain: the first time by a snowstorm and the second by a nearby civil disturbance, neither of which are uncommon in that part of the world.

So this summer Zurick, accompanied by local photographer/videographer Chris Radcliffe, lugged his 60-year-old large-format Graflex camera and sheet film back to the rugged Asian highlands. Forget about circumambulating a mountainside with all the heavy equipment; that may have been the easy part compared to passing through numerous airport security screenings.

The third time was, indeed, the charm. Zurick came away with his long-desired photograph, and now his newest book, to be published by University Press of Kentucky, can proceed toward a likely release date of Spring 2014.

But that wasn’t the veteran professor’s only motivation.

“I could button up this project and complete it in a nice way not only with the photograph but also in terms of my emotional attachment to the place.”

Mount Kailash holds religious significance for both Hindus and Buddhists, along with adherents of Jainism and Bon. Every year, thousands of faithful make a pilgrimage to the site, circling the peak in either a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion, depending on their religion, in a 32-mile sacred ritual that they believe will bring good fortune. No one has ever actually reached the top of the mountain.

“For people from that part of the world, these are the most important places on earth,” Zurick said. “The question is how these places remain important under the pressure of modernization and globalization. I want to create a record of places that have a spiritual value to people.” (To see a blog with videos documenting the trip, visit www.picturepilgrims.com.)

“Land of Pure Vision,” which will be mostly comprised of his photographs with minimal text, will be Zurick’s fourth book on the region. His other related works include “My Kind of Himalaya: Life on the Edge of the World,” “Illustrated Atlas of the Himalaya” and “The Himalaya: Encounters with the Roof of the World.”

“This project moves me more into the realm of arts and humanities and an understanding of our relationship to the world in a different, more humane way,” Zurick said. “I’m trying to work with my students on a more philosophical level: their lives and their relationship with the earth.”

Zurick, also the author of “Errant Journeys: Adventure Travel in a Modern Age” and “Southern Crossings: Where Geography and Photography Meet,” is a previous recipient of the National Outdoor Book Award (2006).

He joined the EKU faculty in 1987 and in 2008 was named a Foundation Professor, the University’s highest honor for excellence in teaching.

Published on August 23, 2013