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The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place Hardcover – November 4, 2004

4.7 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


...more than just a gung-ho adventure tale...Baker went hunting the sacred, not the gaudy trappings of geological fame. -- Men's Journal, November 2004

About the Author

Ian Baker has lived in Kathmandu, Nepal, and been a student of Tibetan Buddhism for more than twenty years. He studied fine arts, literature, and comparative religion at Middlebury College, Oxford University, and Columbia University. He has written several books on Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism, including The Tibetan Art of Healing, Celestial Gallery, and The Dalai Lama's Secret Temple: Tantric Wall Paintings from Tibet. He is also the coauthor of Tibet: Reflections from the Wheel of Life and has contributed articles to Explorers Journal and National Geographic magazine.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 511 pages
  • Publisher: The Penguin Press; 1st edition (November 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200270
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200274
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #569,932 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Seth Faison on October 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
An incredible book for anyone intrigued by the mysteries of Asia. The tale begins in 1982 when Baker overhears a conversation about a Tibetan sage who found a hidden paradise between vaulting cliffs in a little-explored corner of Tibet. Baker was curious. He had heard about Tibet's `hidden lands,' secret places that - Tibetans believe - can only be found by a devout pilgrim who can endure physical challenge, and spiritual challenge, too. Baker, an accomplished climber and a determined student of Tibetan culture, resolved to find out more.

He trekked into the mountains outside Kathmandu to find the sage, an old man with a long white beard, sitting in a small cabin on the skin of a goat. Baker asked for guidance on how to find a sacred Tibetan land, and the sage told him about a cave where he should first go meditate alone for a month. Baker complied. He even stayed an extra week.

Back at his home in Kathmandu, Baker studied Tibetan and Western texts about searches for the `hidden lands.' He zeroed in on a mysterious section of the Tsangpo River had for centuries tantalized explorers who were seeking a mythic waterfall. None had been able to find it, and Baker now wanted to try. Battling rough terrain and political obstacles, Baker traveled repeatedly into Tibet, a forbidding land of mountainous desert and striking Himalayan peaks. Each voyage was an exhausting ordeal, yet each one brought Baker circling a little closer to his prized goal, the unseen waterfall.

In his marvel-filled book, Baker tells a story of uncompromising pursuit of hidden lands, and the spiritual adventures he has along the way. It is a remarkable tale, lyrically written in a way that captures the magic of wilderness travel.
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By Dr M.R.M. on November 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing story. Amazing. I give it 5 stars. This is wilderness exploration at its best, going far beyond the adage "because it was there" and describing a concurrent spiritual journey as intense, earnest and daring as the raw physical adventure itself. All of us who wander in the wild remote know about this inner world; few if any of us can describe it well. Ian Baker must be the most articulate nonfiction writer on the planet right now. In "The Heart of the World: Journey to the Last Secret Place", his language captures not just a visceral sense of the unparallelled Tsangpo Gorge, the hardships of an impossible journey, and the complexities of his research, but somehow manages to parallel the story-line with a most welcome comprehensible tale of an extraordinary spiritual endeavor. The unimaginable and indefinable not only make sense but grace the realm of possibility. I am at once inspired and in awe, wanting to know what comes after the next obstacle, over the next mountain pass, beyond the next spiritual abyss. The book is satisfying on all accounts - an awesome adventure, a spiritual quest, a tale of a holy grail actually found. How often on this ever-shrinking crowded planet will such an adventure occur? This book speaks to anyone: mountaineer, adventurer, intellectual, scientist, nature-lover, dreamer, priest, shaman you name it.

I'm reading another customer's review of this book and wondering what could have inspired such a person to be interested in anything beyond the most well-trod spring-break hot-spots of the so-called civilized world -- I will say that if you're looking for a "travel log" as that reviewer is, you'd be better off watching "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". If you're looking for the truly extraordinary, check out "The Heart of the World".
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I struggled with the star rating for this book. As a student of Buddhism I was intrigued. Baker's knowledge of scripture, Buddhist ritual and Western literature is amazing. His one pointed determination to reach the heart of the Tsangmo is to be admired. I raced through this book day after day to see what was going to happen next.. It was a very interesting read.
I kept feeling as if there was something missing. It wasn't his writing style, he is an accomplished wordsmith....then it suddenly occurred to me.... most of his characters had no depth. I want to know about more than the history of the quest and the geography and that he struggled through difficult terrain. I wanted to know about the numerous porters who went with him. Who were these people of the Tsangpo? I wanted to know about his companions. I wanted to know more about his and other's feelings and thoughts, I wanted to feel his heart beating through the work.
For instance in his first adventure there was a woman named Jill who suffered right along with him. We know nothing of her. In the second part all of a sudden they are without their glued on Chinese escort ...no explanation until they are into their 3rd or fourth adventure. Then it is mentioned in passing. He gets better in the second adventure, but in the third lapses back into his cerebral intellectual form.... In the second there is a great story taken from the diary of one of his companions about how a Lama who has decided to go with them navigates a particularly difficult obstacle on the path. I would have liked to have had more of that.
He speaks of love and compassion, but I don't see him ACTING with love and compassion. His poetic knowledge and depth of scholasticism is awe inspiring, but I would like to feel his heart.
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