An inter­view with

Marie-Laure Aris

Pos­i­tion & Affil­i­ation: Anthro­po­lo­gist, Par­is University

Part 1

June 6, 2017 in Lon­don, United Kingdom

Part 2 (Com­ing soon)

April 27, 2018 in Oxford, United Kingdom

Part 3

May 4, 2018 in Oxford, United Kingdom

Inter­viewed by: Anna Sehnalova & Rachael Grif­fiths; Sunghee Kim, VOX (Voices of Oxford)

Cite this archive

Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. (2021, Decem­ber 2). An inter­view with Mar­ie-Laure Aris. Retrieved 15 June 2024, from
“An inter­view with Mar­ie-Laure Aris.” Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies, 2 Dec. 2021,
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. 2021. An inter­view with Mar­ie-Laure Aris. [online], Avail­able at: [Accessed 15 June 2024]
Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies. “An inter­view with Mar­ie-Laure Aris.” 2021, Decem­ber 2.

Dis­claim­er: The views and opin­ions expressed in this inter­view are those of the inter­viewee and do not neces­sar­ily rep­res­ent the offi­cial pos­i­tion of the Oral His­tory of Tibetan Stud­ies project.

Inter­viewee: Mar­ie-Laure Aris

Inter­view­er: Anna Sehnalova and Rachael Griffiths

Date of Inter­view: 06/06/2017

Loc­a­tion of Inter­view: London

List of Acronyms: MLA=Mar­ie-Laure Aris, IN= Inter­view­er

Background and education

IN:      Could you tell us about yourself?

MLA:  I was born in Par­is, lived in Par­is, and I stud­ied in Par­is. Well my fam­ily is very French. A sort of very tra­di­tion­al aris­to­crat­ic fam­ily, very con­ven­tion­al with land and things like that. Mem­bers have been involved in French polit­ics, in gov­ern­ment, all through the cen­tur­ies. So quite a com­mit­ted fam­ily. My mother’s fam­ily in East­ern France are more indus­tri­al­ist, from the Chris­ti­an industry from the nine­teenth cen­tury. They had a fact­ory there. So, we used to spend our sum­mers in the Jura (region of East­ern France) where we had a foundry.

I real­ised that, actu­ally, a lot of things that I stud­ied were part of my child­hood. For example, when I stud­ied bronze cast­ing, I had seen that all my child­hood at home, at the foundry. Quite a few things were linked to what I had seen as a child.

I had a com­fort­able and pro­tec­ted child­hood with everything you can ima­gine. Sum­mers in the coun­try, all the time in Par­is, every week­end also in the coun­try, and then trips. We were sent to learn lan­guages. We were sent to Eng­land for one month a year, sent to Spain one month a year, like you do.

I had a Cath­ol­ic upbring­ing. I went to an all-girls Cath­ol­ic school in Par­is, very tra­di­tion­al, very strict. Then I went to uni­ver­sity, so that was a big change. I went Nan­terre [Uni­ver­sity] and I was study­ing Soci­ology. I ended up being next to [Daniel] Cohn-Bendit, who was in my class. He was, as you know, very involved. May 1968 took place dur­ing my first year of uni­ver­sity. So, we were all a big part of the bar­ri­cade and we boy­cot­ted exams. It was all guided by Cohn-Bendit, of course. So, I star­ted being involved in some­thing different.

So, after my first year, which was a bit hec­tic, I was not so sure about Soci­ology. Nan­terre was a crazy place. It was in the middle of a slum in those days. Sur­roun­ded by police every day for most of my degree, more or less. I thought Soci­ology was a bit, not exactly what I wanted. One day, I think in second year of my BA, I saw a film by Corneille Jest on the con­sec­ra­tion of a stupa in Dolpo. That triggered me. I thought it was fant­ast­ic, I thought the cul­ture was incred­ible. I wanted to go. I was trav­el­ling all the time. I had a big fam­ily, there were six chil­dren, so I kept on trav­el­ling here and there. My par­ents were let­ting me do what I wanted to, they were too busy with all the others.

So, I saw that film. You couldn’t do a degree in Anthro­po­logy in France, but you could do Soci­ology with Anthro­po­logy. You could do Anthro­po­logy in Eng­land because Anthony [Aris] did it in Durham, but I couldn’t do it. So, I did that as a major and I really, really liked it. I was work­ing in Nepal with a French anthro­po­lo­gist whose name I don’t remem­ber; he was work­ing on Muslims in East­ern Nepal.

Travelling in South Asia

At the end of my second year, in 1969, I decided to go to India because every­one was going East. My fath­er said, “Ok you can go but you have to stay with my friend in Bom­bay.” I was in Greece and I flew to Bom­bay on a very cheap flight. I arrived and I was stay­ing with this very grand fam­ily in Bom­bay, an Indi­an fam­ily, a very top Muslim fam­ily. The Nawab of Palan­pur. Funny enough, they had a daugh­ter the same age as me, but they were very open­minded and they treated me like their daugh­ter. They were not scared that I was a bad influ­ence on the daugh­ter. Straight away I had a com­plete Indi­an life. I was taken here, taken there, taken to wed­dings, taken to Lak­shmi Puja (Hindu fest­iv­al), and so forth. Then I said I wanted to travel around India, so I got a first-class train tick­et, ladies’ com­part­ment, all around India for 400 rupees.

So, I went all around India and then I went to Kath­mandu. In Kath­mandu it was full hip­pie time. I found a group of people and we went trekking in Hel­ambu and Melam­chi. I’d nev­er done that before. I just got some shoes in the bazaar that I found; they were too small. At the end of the day I lost all my nails. But I told myself I’m com­ing back. So, I fin­ished the trip, I went to Rajasthan, I went to Goa — there I also lived again with lots of hip­pies — and then back to my Indi­an fam­ily before fly­ing home to fin­ish my degree.

When I fin­ished my degree, I had a boy­friend and we decided to travel over­land. I worked at an estate agents in Par­is show­ing flats for three or four months to make enough money to go. Then I left. My boy­friend had a car, and we trav­elled the roads through Tur­key, Iran, and all of East­ern Europe as well. We trav­elled quite a bit around Afgh­anistan. I loved it. It was an incred­ible trip. There was a lot of people on the road in those days, a lot of people. Then I went to Kash­mir and then again back to India, trav­elled all over India, back to my Indi­an fam­ily and friends. It was bliss, going from one place to anoth­er without lim­its. I can­’t remem­ber what we did for money but some­how, we man­aged. In a way we were a bit pro­tec­ted, we knew if some­thing dra­mat­ic happened we could always, prob­ably, find some­body. But there were quite a lot of cas­u­al­ties on the way, for oth­er people.

Then we went to South­east Asia. We left the car in Kolk­ata and went to South­east Asia, all over. We spent some time in Bali and then went back to Bangladesh. It was the war, so it was not yet Bangladesh. We were caught in that in Assam on the train, I remem­ber. When it was called Bengal. I remem­ber that, it was incred­ible. We spent, I don’t know how many days, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere.

Research in Kathmandu, memories of Hal Kuløy

Then we finally arrived in Kath­mandu. A lot of people did that because it was the only place you could sell your car. So, we arrived in Kath­mandu. I told my par­ents that I would do my Mas­ters, I would find a sub­ject for my Mas­ters in Kath­mandu. My teach­er was Sandy Mac­don­ald, who was there.  Sandy was not very encour­aging for his stu­dents. He was say­ing, “Why do you want to go? Where do you want to go? Marry. Get a Hus­band. Why do you want to do this thing?” So, I did­n’t have very much encouragement.

So, I arrived in Nepal and I found, what was he called, one of the Ger­man anthropologists.

IN:      [Chris­toph von Fürer-] Haimendorf?

MLA: No, no. Haimen­d­orf was a great friend of ours. I remem­ber going to see Haimen­d­orf when I was fin­ish­ing in Lon­don. He was the head of SOAS (School of Ori­ent­al and Afric­an Stud­ies) at that time. He was very, very nice, very wel­com­ing. I was doing some­thing on the ritu­al of con­flict, and he was really quite help­ful, which was not the case of Sandy Mac­don­ald. He was great, but he had not been that encouraging.

Any­way, first of all I lived in Boudha, we had a house. Then I split from my boy­friend. He went to Japan and I stayed. From then on, the spring of 1971, I stayed. I had trav­elled all of 1970. In the spring of 1971, after this trip, I settled in Kath­mandu until 1974. Until I met Anthony.

In Kath­mandu I learned the lan­guage. I had a teach­er who was our inform­ant, Vish­nu Shastar, in Patan. I had a house in Jawalakhel. I moved with this friend of mine, this Ira­ni­an girl, to dif­fer­ent places. We ended up in Jawalakhel. Next to the zoo, lit­er­ally. We had a very nice house there with a little pavil­ion. Very nice. We had this inform­ant who was work­ing with us, teach­ing us the lan­guage, and I was work­ing with the Uu Bahal, the people doing the Sakya there. I wanted to work with the Sakya, with the mater­i­al cul­ture of the val­ley. So, I decided bronze cast­ing was most import­ant. Then I dis­covered, it was very inter­est­ing, the link between the Sakya in Boudha and Patan and Tibet. And I star­ted doing a whole mono­graph of Boudha.

Then I got com­pletely anti-schol­ars, anti-everything, and I only pub­lished my art­icle. I stopped. It was a bit stu­pid because I did quite a lot of work towards it. I regret that I did­n’t fin­ish it. In those days, it was not so required. I thought well at least I pub­lished my art­icle on the bronze cast­ing, which has been men­tioned sev­er­al times by sev­er­al people. And I met Anthony at Hal Kuløy’s house, where every­body was liv­ing. Anthony used to work with Hal Kuløy for his pub­lish­ing [com­pany] Bib­lio­theca Himalayica.

IN:      Who is Hal Kuløy?

MLA:  Hal Kuløy was a great Nor­we­gi­an. He was very import­ant in all that. He is not a schol­ar but he’s the one who star­ted Kailash (a journ­al for Him­alay­an stud­ies). He did a lot of pub­lish­ing in Bangkok called Orch­id Press, which does all the Tibetan things. At the same time, he was work­ing for UNICEF, he was the head of UNICEF in Kath­mandu. Then he went to Burma and became the head of UNICEF in Burma and was quite close to [Aung San] Suu [Kyi].

So, he had this big house and parties all the time. In New Del­hi we had Gene Smith, where we all stayed. Every­body used to stay with Gene Smith and meet all the people who were work­ing and trav­el­ling here and there. You met all the dif­fer­ent schol­ars com­ing and going. Then in Kath­mandu it was Hal. And Hal was a neigh­bour. Michael [Aris] and Suu were stay­ing with him and that’s how I met them, I met them at Hal’s. Every­body was doing any­thing. Not so much the French, the French were a little bit dif­fer­ent. All the Corneille Jest lot, they were a little bit dif­fer­ent. But all the Eng­lish, Amer­ic­an etc. met at Hal Kuløy’s.

His wid­ow, Cecil­ia Kuløy, is in Oslo. They are great friends with Per [Kværne]. Both of them, Per and Hal, were also very import­ant for Burma.

Meeting Anthony and Michael Aris, and Aung San Suu Kyi

So, I met Anthony at Hal’s when I brought the last proof of my art­icle. Anthony was just back from Bhutan and he was stay­ing with Hal. And I thought, we both thought at the same time, this is my husband/this is my wife. Just like that. It was some­thing com­pletely nat­ur­al. Then he left and I left. Then we met again here.

I met Michael and Suu before [this], dur­ing one of his research trips in Nepal. He trav­elled with Suu and their baby, Alex­an­der, who was one year old. I remem­ber them in Boud­hanath, going to the stupa and meet­ing everybody.

IN:      Who else was there?

MLA:  Corneille Jest and his clique. French aca­demia is dif­fer­ent, every­body has a spe­ci­al­ity, one sub­ject. This is how I per­ceive it but maybe I’m wrong. They were liv­ing in Chhet­rapati. There was a whole centre, Vish­nu [Shastar] was part of that and Pas­ang Sherpa. Pas­ang Sherpa was work­ing for Dav­id Snellgrove. Dav­id Snellgrove and Corneille Jest were very close. The fath­er of a lot of things was really Snellgrove in those days. He was the one who was put­ting people on track for a lot of stud­ies. He was a great scholar.

Michael [Aris] was a sort of spe­cial case because Michael was Bhutan, he was unique and on a com­pletely dif­fer­ent level. He was very close to Hugh Richard­son. He was work­ing with Lamas. The oth­ers were really doing field­work, observing, they were abso­lutely anthro­po­lo­gists. Michael was not an anthro­po­lo­gist, at all. He was a his­tor­i­an. Kath­mandu was mainly for anthro­po­lo­gists, there was a huge amount of them.

Who else was there? There were some Ger­mans. There was one house where the Ger­man schol­ars used to go to, I don’t remem­ber the name. But I was not really aca­dem­ic. Oth­er research­ers there were attached to a uni­ver­sity, I was not. Michael, also, was a bit inde­pend­ent in those days because he had not done his PhD. But he was really going to be doing that all his life. Anthony was not. Anthony became the pub­lish­er for every­body. Anthony prob­ably did more than any­body for the field because he pub­lished. It is amaz­ing what he has done.

One of the first [books pub­lished by Anthony] was Heath­er [Stod­dard], Early Sino-Tibetan Art. He star­ted by work­ing with the fam­ily pub­lish­ing com­pany, Aris & Phil­lips. Then he did his own pub­lish­ing, which is Serindia.

IN:      How do you remem­ber Anthony when you met in Kathmandu?

MLA: Oh, he was a very hand­some, tall cow­boy. He had big boots. His skin was all tanned and he had beau­ti­ful blue eyes. Nobody was going to Bhutan, but he was going to see Michael reg­u­larly. He knew every­body in Bhutan. Then he was com­ing to see some of the roy­al fam­ily that were in exile in Nepal. We trav­elled a lot togeth­er after that.

At the time, when we met, he was work­ing for Kegan Paul at the Brit­ish Museum. He was look­ing at all their Asi­an manu­scripts and organ­ising all the exhib­i­tions, so he met a lot of people. He was also work­ing with Hal Kuløy on the Bib­lio­theca Him­alay­ica. Then he was trav­el­ling. Each time you went to Bhutan you had to have a spe­cial per­mit; it was very com­plic­ated. The Indi­ans would­n’t let you go. So, you had to wait in Kolk­ata with all the Bhu­tanese in Tivoli Court. He used to love it.

I sup­pose then, when I met him, he had a job for the first time at Kegan Paul. Then, after that, I went back to France for a little bit. Very quickly we got mar­ried. We mar­ried in 1975. In Eng­land first, where we had a more Tibetan mar­riage with all our lama friends. I remem­ber Sogy­al was there, Chime was there, our Bhu­tanese friends, and a few friends from Lon­don. That was the offi­cial [cere­mony]. Then a reli­gious and more French mar­riage in France, in my father­’s place out­side Par­is. Anthony quite liked it, he quite liked hav­ing some­thing very traditional.

Establishing Serindia

Then the Japan­ese, Kodan­sha [Inter­na­tion­al], came and asked him to dis­trib­ute a very, very import­ant col­lec­tion, very big, of Ori­ent­al ceram­ics, 12 volumes. They were huge books. Anthony decided to do it. He split [from Aris & Phil­lips] and we cre­ated Ser­in­dia. He used the word Ser­in­dia because he thought it would cov­er exactly the area I wanted to work on. He spent all the years pub­lish­ing, lit­er­ally until he stopped. We stopped really after Michael died in 1999.

There was an art world. It was a time where people had money, things were easi­er. Also, there was a whole clique of Tibetan art. It was very, very alive. Not only art but Tibetan stud­ies. He only pub­lished what he wanted, he nev­er mixed. He kept it small, but small is beau­ti­ful. So, we nev­er made a for­tune, at all, but we could man­age. One book was pay­ing for anoth­er book and so on. And he man­aged, because the books were selling so well, to con­tin­ue the pub­lic­a­tion. People were buy­ing, it was already sold before it was out.

I mean he did an edi­tion for Kodan­sha, the Ngor man­dalas. I remem­ber he sold 800 cop­ies of a book that was £1200 each. He sold them like that. It was unique, it was some­thing so rare. As he had this dis­tri­bu­tion with the Japan­ese, that gave him quite a lot of money. We had enough money to cov­er the cost of a book. We man­aged to have, we were very lucky in those days, the copy­right, which now does­n’t exist because of the inter­net. And he was work­ing with Shambhala, who is a very old friend of ours. Every book that Anthony made was bought by Shambhala, so that already was pay­ing for the book. The book was paid for before it was out. Now it’s not pos­sible, because there’s no copy­right it’s very dif­fi­cult to pub­lish now.

But, you see, all these books were done with cut­ting, glu­ing, without a com­puter. He did everything. It was incred­ible and very, very dif­fi­cult. Anthony was very par­tic­u­lar about pub­lish­ing. When he star­ted pub­lish­ing his books it became really fant­ast­ic, much more beau­ti­ful. Noth­ing was good enough. He always used incred­ible paper. So, he got a very, very good reputation.

So, that was the rest of our mar­ried life. Well, until we pub­lished the last book, Hugh Richard­son, in 1998. It was really the last time that Anthony and Michael were togeth­er, doing some­thing togeth­er really. It was really quite mov­ing. At that time, they looked so much alike it was incred­ible. They were dressed the same, doing the same. It was really inter­est­ing to see both of them. Anthony was not a schol­ar, he became more of a schol­ar when Michael died, but until Michael died Anthony was the artist, cre­at­ive. Michael not at all, but he was a sort of his­tor­i­an schol­ar, more rig­or­ous. Anthony was rig­or­ous. They liked the same thing but in a dif­fer­ent way. They had this incred­ible early interest from the early days.

Anthony and Michael’s background and early interests

I have been think­ing of what could have motiv­ated us all and I think part of it must have been Tintin. We were read­ing and read­ing and read­ing at an early age. My moth­er-in-law always used to tell me they got into that because of her buy­ing them things from Por­to­bello [Road Mar­ket], little pray­er flags etc. This is not true. They said they were inspired by their French mas­ter at school — they were brought up in a board­ing school in a Bene­dict­ine mon­as­tery, Worth school — who was learn­ing Tibetan. He was a poly­glot and became the Grand Mas­ter of the Order of Malta, Andrew Bertie.

IN:      So their fam­ily was Catholic?

MLA: My moth­er-in-law was French Cana­dian, and French Cana­dians are very Cath­ol­ic. So, they had to be. Their fath­er was Eng­lish and Church of Eng­land. He was an officer of the Brit­ish Coun­cil, an import­ant per­son there, he put most of the people in place for years. He was a great civil ser­vant. And they wanted to be dif­fer­ent. But they were brought up in Peru, in Cuba, in this and that.

They were born in Cuba. Then they moved to Peru. So, they were brought up as chil­dren in the Cana­dian Embassy in Peru, in Lima, with their grand­fath­er and their moth­er. Their fath­er was not always there, rarely there. So, they were brought up with the zoo, with all the anim­als, they had a sort of free­dom. This incred­ible life. Then they moved to England.

They were so sim­il­ar, it was incred­ible. They were also very dif­fer­ent. Michael was more ser­i­ous, and Anthony was the cre­at­ive one. You know in Tibetan you say the moon and the sun? Well, they were like that. But doing the same, it is so inter­est­ing to see them doing the same thing. Phys­ic­ally they were the same and they had the same voice, but they were not always as sim­il­ar, some­times they did­n’t look so much alike. And then they star­ted work­ing again with books and this and that. When Michael died it was really dev­ast­at­ing for Anthony, he lost half of himself.

Michael and Anthony’s role in establishing Tibetan and Himalayan studies at the University of Oxford

What Michael and Anthony achieved togeth­er is incred­ible. When Michael died, Anthony took on the leg­acy and star­ted the [Tibetan and Him­alay­an Stud­ies] depart­ment at Oxford. I was look­ing at the papers with Charles [Ramble] yes­ter­day, it has been a long pro­cess for Michael. He had been think­ing for a long time about it. I think when he came back from Har­vard he thought, if it’s in Har­vard why not in Oxford? And he said let’s do it in Oxford. Per [Kværne] helped a bit. He was a sort of cool per­son who was always brought up to help with decid­ing things.

The International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS)

IN:      Did you go to the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­ation for Tibetan Stud­ies (IATS)?

MLA: I went to the IATS in Bloom­ing­ton in 1998 to sell books for Ser­in­dia because it was the year we pub­lished High Peaks, Pure Earth. Actu­ally, at that time, Michael was there, and Suu was blocked on the bridge. Suu was in Burma; she came out and they stopped her on the bridge. I remem­ber open­ing the news­pa­per one morn­ing, the USA Today, and on the first page was Suu on the bridge. I imme­di­ately went to see Michael in his room. I asked him what was hap­pen­ing, and he said he, “I haven’t told you, but I haven’t slept for many nights. This ter­rible place has no cigar­ettes or any­thing to drink. I’m off to the White House now. Tell my friends that I’ve had to go.” So, he went to Wash­ing­ton. He was so secret­ive; he would not share any­thing. For quite a few years his life was mixed with Burma. Everything changed. But Anthony con­tin­ued publishing.

Anthony’s work and legacy

IN:      How much were you involved in Anthony’s work?

MLA: I was back­stage. Anthony was always work­ing from home; all his life was for home. We used to have a big house in Put­ney. We had huge lib­rar­ies in every room. The house was a sort of place for a lot of people and a lot of activ­it­ies, it was lovely. But it was com­plic­ated. There are all sorts of stor­ies. I could write the stor­ies of all the dif­fer­ent books we had.

There were two books which were some of the most incred­ible pub­lic­a­tions, Secret Vis­ions of the Fifth Dalai Lama and Tibetan Med­ic­al Paint­ings. Secret Vis­ions was an incred­ible adven­ture. I think it is, prob­ably, the most import­ant book that Anthony pub­lished. Tibetan Med­ic­al Paint­ings was a James Bond. Gyurme Dor­je, Rob May­er, and Cathy Can­t­well were help­ing, they worked and worked and worked. Then Fernand [Mey­er] had to revise it. I remem­ber Fernand was liv­ing with my moth­er-in-law in South Kens­ing­ton. Anthony could go on and on, he had incred­ible con­cen­tra­tion. And they did it, it was incred­ible. It was an enorm­ous effort for every­body. I tell you, it was a miracle.

He was still print­ing in Japan in those days because the Japan­ese were doing it the best. The best paper. So, he was sleep­ing there day and night, sleep­ing on the machine, to check it all. And it was per­fect. He was extremely metic­u­lous about everything. Very, very metic­u­lous. It did­n’t mat­ter how much it cost, it had to be per­fect. He was a per­fec­tion­ist. He was fant­ast­ic at build­ing a team. Each book had a spe­cial team, and it worked. But my role was to smooth corners every­where. I was not hands on. He had a sec­ret­ary, he had people.

Robert Beer was always with Anthony because you needed an artist to add the little touches. And he was incred­ible. For Tibetan Med­ic­al Paint­ings he did amaz­ing work. He worked, worked, worked. It really was incred­ible team­work. When Robert pub­lished his book The Hand­book of Tibetan Buddhist Sym­bols, we had an edit­or who trans­formed his text. Anthony was extremely par­tic­u­lar about Eng­lish. He had very, very good Eng­lish. Every­body had to be accept­ing that a lot needed to be rewrit­ten because there was abso­lutely no com­prom­ise. So, Robert had his own style that needed to be edited. Then when he did his fore­word, it was really Robert. I kept on say­ing to Anthony to keep the fore­word, I was inter­fer­ing for everything. I remem­ber Robert com­ing out to our garden one morn­ing in Put­ney say­ing, “He killed me, he killed me. Look at what he did.” So, I was doing this kind of thing. It was ridicu­lous but it’s import­ant because it was at home. The books were my babies in some ways.

So that’s more or less what we did. Anthony was mix­ing aca­demia and art. He was not inter­ested in pub­lish­ing a book that was only beau­ti­ful or only aca­dem­ic, it had to be both. People don’t do books like that any­more. So that was Anthony’s con­tri­bu­tion, and I can say I’m a little bit proud of it. That was a lovely thing, and that we had the same interest also. We met there and then we trav­elled so much in Bhutan. We did a lot of trips to Bhutan.

Travelling in Bhutan

IN:      What memor­ies do you have of your time in Bhutan?

MLA: It depends on which trip. We could do whatever we wanted, we just asked because we’re quite friendly with the cur­rent pön­lop (dpon slob, spir­itu­al mas­ter). So, he was invit­ing us to everything and so we went on, usu­ally, quite dif­fi­cult trips like going to Singye Dzong, and we went to vis­it chil­dren, we took our chil­dren there. I loved our trips in Bhutan. We had many friends and the trips them­selves were very inter­est­ing. We were usu­ally trav­el­ling with mem­bers of the Roy­al Fam­ily, so we were liv­ing with people bring­ing their peti­tions. We had camps every night where people would come, they had to have their life with the people. It was very interesting.

Some­times we trav­elled alone, but very rarely. We trav­elled in East­ern Bhutan above Radi and above Trashigang. We trav­elled there just after our wed­ding, actu­ally. Quite an incred­ible trip. And one year we did a trip where we col­lec­ted textiles.

The IATS (part II)

IN:      Do you remem­ber the first IATS in Oxford?

MLA: We were actu­ally in Scot­land and just came for the din­ner. We were not really part of the whole con­fer­ence, Michael and Suu had organ­ised it. I came to know a lot of the attendees over the years as friends, I can’t remem­ber how.

We star­ted being involved from Bloom­ing­ton onwards. Before that, we nev­er went. Michael was going. Then, of course, Anthony organ­ised it in Oxford with Charles [Ramble] in 2003. After that, we went to most of them.

The IATS in Oxford was enorm­ous, and very emo­tion­al for Anthony. It was really quite incred­ible. It was beau­ti­ful weath­er, it was warm. Every day there were pic­nics. Ima­gine Oxford in Septem­ber, hot and warm. It was fant­ast­ic, we had a great time. But it was enorm­ous, I don’t know how they did it.

I don’t know how they do it every year. There are so many things hap­pen­ing all the time. For me, it’s fant­ast­ic. In Oxford you have a com­munity, you’re lucky to have this small place. For me, that’s incred­ible because it’s partly the work of Anthony and Michael that made it happen.

The establishment of Tibetan and Himalayan studies at Oxford

IN:      How do you remem­ber the begin­nings of Tibetan stud­ies at Oxford?

MLA: Michael was a fel­low, first at St John’s Col­lege, then St Ant­ony’s Col­lege, and then Wolf­son Col­lege. He had to find jindaks (sby­in bdag, pat­rons), people to pay for his stud­ies. There were people from Har­vard who did it and the von Schulthess fam­ily also helped him a lot. The von Schulthess are a wealthy Swiss fam­ily, the grand­moth­er went to school with the Queen Moth­er of Bhutan so they’ve been really, really help­ful for Bhutan. They thought what Michael was doing was very import­ant, and they always helped him fin­an­cially. So, they were very import­ant for Michael.

Har­vard had a lot of wealthy schol­ars. He met Lis­bet Raus­ing at Har­vard where Joseph Con­nors was also teach­ing. So, there was a whole group of very wealthy schol­ars and people that fol­lowed Michael, he became the fla­vour of the month because of all the stor­ies with Suu. So, it became very know, and he was an inter­est­ing per­son to help. He was a great schol­ar but not only that, he had a little glam­our around him because of what was hap­pen­ing in Burma. It’s dif­fi­cult to split the two stories.

He could­n’t stay in Har­vard, although he liked it, because he was too involved with Burma. And in Har­vard you have to be full on, you can­’t be a part-time teach­er. So, he came back and decided he wanted to estab­lish Tibetan stud­ies at Oxford. He con­tac­ted all these people in Amer­ica and then finally, at the time he was dying, I think it was a few days before he died, he knew that he was get­ting the fund­ing for the chair.

Then the chair was estab­lished, the centre was estab­lished, and the Aris Trust was estab­lished by Anthony because Michael was too ill. I was look­ing at the dona­tions and people were giv­ing quite a lot of money. A lot of it came from Amer­ica, from these people around Har­vard. The dona­tions were quite import­ant. Andrea Sor­os, founder of the Trace Found­a­tion, did a lot. All the fund­ing for the lib­rary was the Trace Found­a­tion, so they acquired quite a lot of books.

So, it star­ted like that. Michael had been think­ing about it for a long time, but he passed it on to Anthony when he thought he could­n’t do it any­more. Per [Kværne] was help­ing quite a bit, he was advising and so on. They were the main people. Then Richard Gom­brich and Paul Wil­li­ams were trustees.

Anthony, for all the last part of his life, wanted every­one to know about Michael. He left me all that. When he died, I said I’m going to fin­ish it, I’m going to continue.

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