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Janet Wulsin's 'Vanished Kingdoms'

<i>Vanished Kingdoms</i> chronicles Janet Wulsin's Tibet expedition.
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Vanished Kingdoms chronicles Janet Wulsin's Tibet expedition.

Mabel Cabot describes her mother, Janet Wulsin, this way: "A privileged, spoiled daughter of a New York railroad baron who lived... in that cocoon-protected world at the end of the golden age in the early 20th century in New York. And she was looking for an escape..."

NPR's Renee Montagne talked to Cabot about that escape: a four-year long expedition through China, Mongolia and Tibet. In 1975, Cabot found her mother's archives at Harvard, archives with 1,900 photographs from an expedition Wulsin undertook with her husband, Frederick.

"It was dangerous," Cabot says. "They went by camel, mule and horse, and rafted down the Yellow River. It's extraordinary." From Peking to Taiyuanfu in 1921, to the "living Buddha" at Kumdum and the final three-week raft ride down the Yellow River in 1923, the Wulsins saw wondrous landscapes and people. She wrote in her diary after meeting the living Buddha: "It is quite a thing to be received by a Buddhist divinity, and I guess not many of the Junior League girls in New York can boast of it."

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