A 1956 bestseller about life in a Himalayan monastery turned out to be made up by a man who’d never been there. But that didn’t stop the Dalai Lama endorsing it
Travel writing has always been plagued with spurious facts, exaggerated claims and barefaced lies, from fantastical beasts geographer Pausanias’s Guide to Greece in the second century AD to Louis de Rougement’s serialised Australasian adventures for the Victorian Wide World Magazine, most of which he gleaned from the reading room of the British Museum.
When it comes to accounts of exotic climes, however, none is quite so extraordinary – or enduring – as The Third Eye, written in 1956 by a person who called himself Tuesday Lobsang Rampa. This spiritual travelogue covers Rampa’s early life in Lhasa, his years in a Tibetan monastery, encounters with yetis, yogic flying and other Buddhist mysteries. The book sold half a million copies in its first two years, making Rampa something of a celebrity.