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Seven Years in Tibet Paperback – August 25, 1997
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Originally published in 1953, this adventure classic recounts Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer's 1943 escape from a British internment camp in India, his daring trek across the Himalayas, and his happy sojourn in Tibet, then, as now, a remote land little visited by foreigners. Warmly welcomed, he eventually became tutor to the Dalai Lama, teenaged god-king of the theocratic nation. The author's vivid descriptions of Tibetan rites and customs capture its unique traditions before the Chinese invasion in 1950, which prompted Harrer's departure. A 1996 epilogue details the genocidal havoc wrought over the past half-century. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
'It deserves its place among the few great travel stories of our times.' The Times 'This is an absorbing and remarkable travel tale that also gives unparalleled accounts of the life and customs of an inaccessible region.' Sunday Times 'Few adventurers in this century have had the combined luck and hardihood to return with such news as this. Fewer still have rendered it so powerfully unadorned.' Times Literary Supplement 'Some books, like some mountains, are lonely and unrivalled peaks. This is one of them.' --Economist --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
In the first part, their difficulties were many – and it was, among other things, fortuitous breaks in the weather and chance encounters with kind Tibetan nomads that allowed them to even survive the journey. During this time, you see how difficult it was to travel at “the top of the world”, and you get a glimpse of the lives of the average Tibetan.
In the second part, Heinrich (and Peter) soon become welcome guests of the Tibetan upper class. At this point, the book switches to glimpses of the life of the upper class, the religious pageantry displayed for the devout (and superstitious) multitudes and cloistered life of the Dali Lama.
The book ends with the Chinese conquest of Tibet – and so the start, I assume, of the wholesale dismantling of the rich historical Tibetan culture described in this book.
The author obviously loved Tibet. You can feel his love of this country and the respect of its traditions and people.
Very educational and enlightening book.
I am amazed at what he and his friend had to endure in order to achieve their dream of seeing the Forbidden City.
Born in Carinthia, Austria, Harrer spent his youth skiing and hiking in the alps. In 1936, the author secured a place on the Austrian Olympic Ski Team and became the winner of the World Students' Championship Downhill race. Reluctant to make ski movies as a follow-up career, Harrer strove to win a place on a Himalayan climbing expedition. In 1943, the author was invited to join a German-Austrian team on the Nanga Parbat Expedition, which was led by Peter Aufschnaiter. After this second thrill of a lifetime, the young mountaineer found himself facing yet another unusual life challenge. After the expedition, while waiting in Karachi, India (which was then British territory) for return transportation to the West, World War II broke out. The climbers were arrested and taken to an internment camp at Dehra Dun, near the border of Tibet.
After two years and two failed attempts, Harrer and Aufschnaiter finally succeeded in escaping. Their subsequent struggle to reach Tibet, and eventually Lhasa, required them to draw on every skill they knew as mountaineers and athletes, as well as their college educations and general handy man know-how. They faced obstacles and dangers--rugged terrain, the altitude, winter weather, diminishing supplies, lack of funds, injury, roving bands of thieves, and the hazards of traveling without documentation--that only the truly determined could overcome.
As though a gift to reward their efforts, when the two men finally did reach the "forbidden city" of Lhasa in January of 1946, after nearly two years enroute, they were not turned away. In their isolation from the rest of the world, the Tibetans were just as curious about these two Europeans as Harrer and Aufschnaiter were about the citizens on "the rooftop of the world." In addition, the Tibetans in and around Lhasa assumed that any foreigner who had made it this far must posses proper paperwork. Once in Lhasa, the Tibetans actually found it quite amusing that these two men had managed to make it into the mystical city without passes. It was truly a feat, considering the measures Tibet's leaders undertook to keep out foreigners--in fact, Harrer notes that he met no more than seven other foreigners during his five years in Lhasa.
While the first half of the book deals with the two mountaineers' struggles to reach the holy city, the second half of the book concerns the fascinating details of how Harrer and Aufschnaiter managed to ingratiate themselves with the locals, eventually becoming respected members of the community. Harrer presents his understanding of Tibetan daily life, culture, and society, and details how he established himself as a citizen. Harrer finds his first job when he builds a fountain in a friend's yard--which leads to more work as a landscape architect. He is commissioned to conduct a geographical survey, and later to construct a dam. He even serves as an ice skating instructor to the locals. Eventually his work leads the Dalai Lama's family to befriend him. As a result, he becomes a tutor to the young holy man. One of the more interesting duties he had was to make films of various ceremonies and festivals for His Holiness, and he is even asked to construct for him what might be the first home cinema. He managed to take advantage of his status as royal film maker and shoot his own photos whenever possible. They must be invaluable today!
For many readers, the most valuable part of this book is that which concerns Harrer's interactions with His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and his resulting observations. As an outsider and non-Buddhist, Harrer reports that the Dalai Lama was impressively intellectually curious and intelligent, hard working and full of initiative. Despite his youth, the boy king had already established a highly developed sense of diplomacy and vision for his country. As he helped this famous young man learn as much as possible about the wide world beyond, Harrer laments that Tibet's desire to remain neutral in world affairs and her resulting political isolation made her an easy target. If only this boy had had a chance to rule, he notes, Tibet may have met with a different fate.
Unfortunately, both Harrer and the His Holiness' good intentions were foiled in 1950, when the country was invaded. Harrer knew his time had come to leave his adopted country, but he has remained a life-long champion for his beloved second home.
Few places on earth conjure up as many images of tantalizing mystery as Tibet. Fortunately, Seven Years in Tibet offers us a unique glimpse, from a what is truly an insider's view, into the untouched culture of Tibet. Harrer's book is often regarded as the best account of the "real" Tibet, as it once was, and as many hope it will some day return.