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The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place
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The Heart of the World: A Journey to the Last Secret Place

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4.05 of 5 stars 4.05  ·  rating details  ·  433 ratings  ·  53 reviews
The myth of Shangri-la originates in Tibetan Buddhist beliefs in beyul, or hidden lands, sacred sanctuaries that reveal themselves to devout pilgrims and in times of crisis. The more remote and inaccessible the beyul, the vaster its reputed qualities. Ancient Tibetan prophecies declare that the greatest of all hidden lands lies at the heart of the forbidding Tsangpo Gorge, ...more
Hardcover, 544 pages
Published November 4th 2004 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published 2000)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,060)
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John
My favorite literary genre! Spiritual-autobiography-adventure-travelogue. The kind of book I buy and treasure. My illusory and high expectations, thus and of course, a bit disappointed. Baker is a practicing Buddhist, knows the languages and cultures and is a great student of Tibetan religion and tantric lore. But he also comes across as a bit of swashbuckler, Indiana Jones type. He is obviously captivated by the more exotic and exoteric side of Tibetan tantra, emphasizing the visionary "wisdom" ...more
Scott
In the Tantric tradition, the ideal of pilgrimage is not simply to visit sacred sites, but to facilitate an inner transformation at places that challenge conventional ways of seeing. In this sense, the more destabilizing the surroundings the better.

With that thought in mind Ian Baker, an American adventurer and student of Tantric Buddhism, made a series of pilgrimages to one of the harshest environments on earth, Tibet's Tsangpo gorge region, known for its suicidal white water, three-mile deep c
...more
Jeanne
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ben Boocker
This fantastic work is indeed difficult to classify. It could be called a travel narrative, but beyond this it contains a seemingly comprehensive review of Tibetan Buddhist practices in the Pemako region as well as a bit of the history surrounding Tibetan/Chinese international relations. Ian Baker and his hodgepodge of companions (who all seem to have far more interesting lives than I ever will) embark on several ventures to explore various landmarks in a particularly tumultuous region of Tibet ...more
Chuck
I am giving this four stars because of the message of the book. Ian Baker is an American Buddhist scholar living in Nepal who takes a series of journeys to Tibet to explore the Tsangpo Gorge, the deepest in the world. In great detail, almost too much detail, he describes four treks into this hard to reach and inhospitable place. He goes again and again for two reasons. One, journeying into the gorge is type of Buddhist pilgrimage. By putting up with the physical hardships of the journey into the ...more
Ellen
Mr. Baker's account of several trips to the Tsangpo Gorge, a remote region of Tibet, was at times entertaining, at times educating, but sadly, often slow and convoluted. Plot and character development took a back seat to PLACE, which I'm sure was a conscious decision by Mr. Baker, but unfortunately the book as a whole suffered for it. Most of the people in the book are little more than names and ethnicities. We get a sense of Mr. Baker (which is not altogether favorable) and his friend, Hamid, w ...more
Jason
I really enjoyed this travelogue adventure but found it, at times, to be slow and redundant.

The region that Baker explored is so remote that it wasn't even explored by white man until the late 20th Century. Baker possesses a great deal of enthusiasm for discovering Buddhist beyuls; places in nature where the prepared student may come closer to enlightenment than any other place. The beyul that he seeks in this book is called pemako and is reported to be the heart of the world. The adventure in t
...more
Laura
ok, now i'm about half way done. the book is still interesting because i like books about exploration, hardship and determination, but i'm beginning to really dislike the author. i find him to be a bit of an elitist and he doesn't even seem to really realize that he is opening up a sacred space to western ecotourism. not someone i'd care to dine with.

did i like it, did i REALLY like it? was it just ok?? i read it because it brought back my glory days in India and the Himalayas. there is some goo
...more
Mavis
I love reading about adventure, history, culture....so of course I thought I'd really enjoy this book. I appreciate the sacrifices and hardships members of this expedition had to go through, however I stopped reading the book about half the way through. I felt it was slow and somewhat redundant. Despite the research, time, and effort obviously put into this book, it doesn't seem to capture the excitement that was, no doubt, ingrained in the expedition. Maybe I'll try it again another day, and ma ...more
Alan
Fascinating. How a group of people survived several attempts at finding this incredible mystical place is beyond belief. The bugs, terrain, weather, strange animals and people, makes your skin crawl. This was on National Geographic some time recently. It's an epic journey of where no one has been before.
Louise Chambers
Is the Earth a Goddess? Can geography inform sacred belief? Follow this amazing tale of the search for the deepest gorge in Tibet and the source of the Ganges.
Santanu Dutta
The book starts with a word "Beyul". Soon on making us understand the author takes us in a lad of fairy tales. According to Tibetan Buddhism It is a place of eternal happiness and can only be attained through a couple of levels of meditation after one has reached a special state of mind and faith. One such "Fairy" land was long known in Tibetan Buddhism and sacred of all sacred places for the Buddhists.The land was surrounded by slow clad mountains and steep terrains and cliffs in Eastern Himala ...more
Tori
I admit to knowing absolutely nothing about Tibet or Buddhism, which may require some further reading before I understand the practices described in this book. What amazes (and amuses me) about the book so far is the matter-of-fact way in which Baker tells about his travels. He blithely climbs mountains and sits alone in caves for months at a time eating barley which, to me, definitely suggests some state of mind apart from the normal (whether its an elevated one is for you to decide). I wish he ...more
Rick Harrington
Not exactly sure when I read this book, but the why was clear enough. My rock climbing brother-in-law was turning his pinwheel inward, toward the feminine bush and away from manly abstraction. I didn't expect a lot, having become long-since jaded by new age aspirations for some renewed wilderness. What I found was and remains, indeed, not simply worth reading, but profoundly important at this moment of inflection - so called by, of all dialed-in people, Tom Friedman, who is as far from this book ...more
P.E.
While I've always been interested in someday traveling to the monasteries in Nepal and Tibet, I knew very little about the actual places and the depths of spirituality linked with their environment and wild animals. This book felt like being on my own adventure to these remote areas and made me realize I'm not cut out for a journey into the leech infested bogs of "paradise". But, I loved hearing about someone else's physical and spiritual journey into these virtually unknown places to anyone ou ...more
Colin
Quite possibly the best book I've ever read. Or will read.

[edit] - Despite my lengthy review (above) you may still be searching for more. In short, this is the author's tale of his search for a mythical 'hidden land' (origin of the Shangri-La story) along a 5-mile stretch of river in the Tsangpo Gorge in Tibet. Several European expeditions pursuing the same hidden land myth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries had explored all but the inaccessible 5-mile section of the river, and it's to th
...more
Agnese
A journey to the heart of the world, a hidden land where everything makes sense, and inner and outer world finally coincide. An exploration through forests and mountains in the depths of the Tsangpo gorge to find the legendary waterfalls that symbolize the force of nature and the impermanence of life. A journey –or a pilgrimage – may reveal a new way of seeing, and its geographical destination is just a mean to disclose a new vision. A very interesting book that takes you through the Tibetan cul ...more
Kirsten
I liked this book for its view into a spiritual and physical landscape so completely foreign and exotic to me. The author's quest is largely an adventure story: to follow a river's path through impossibly challenging and uncharted terrain to reach the secret hidden lands, revered by Buddhist monks. The maps are centuries-old spiritual texts. Challenging to read, the book covers at least 3 trips to the region, and much more of Tibetan Buddhist teachings that I could possible digest in one read. I ...more
John Mattson
Ian Baker's perseverance against incredible odds creates a story that is spiritual and truly fascinating. He totally dedicates a huge portion of his life both mentally and physically in order to travel into a hidden kingdom that is protected by the Chinese, an Ancient culture, and a horrendous climate that funnels the tropical waters of the lower Brahma Putra into the high Himalayas through one of the deepest canyons in the world. This is a truly classic adventure that combines ancient Buddhist ...more
Elizabeth
Oct 13, 2010 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Sonya
Shelves: travel-writing
I picked this book up on a whim while window shopping in Georgetown, zipped through it in just over a weekend, and enjoyed every minute of it. The author introduces the region of Pemako, long held sacred by Tibetan Buddhists, the inspiration for the fictional Shangri-La. Interweaving legend and history, his own spiritual and physical journey, visas, leeches, and lamas, the author takes the reader on a quest into a sacred, secret place closely guarded by natural and spiritual obstacles - one of t ...more
Delana Thompson
The beginning was tedious with highly detailed background, but that was necessary to set the stage for how monumental was the feat of entering the "hidden lands." Once the journeys began, however, the tale became adventurous with enticing accounts of natural history, anthropology, and local culture. The author has immersed himself in the Tibetan language and culture, and this book beautifully conveys and insider's perspective on the spirit of pilgrimage.
Sarah
Jan 19, 2009 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Sarah by: my friend Flannery
I heard about this from a friend. It is a thick non-fiction book, a little heavy in hard cover for in-bed reading. I found it a fast paced read despite the above. One man's journey, physically and spiritually, to reach Shangrila. A lovely blend of adventure, nature, spirituality; what else could you want? Surprisingly humble, also, for a young, straight, white man. Left me wanting to travel in those mountains shared by Tibet and India.
Sam Johnson


Picked this up exactly a year ago in Phuket Town, it seemed topical and I'm interested in adventure/history/culture stuff. Started it, got distracted by something, put it down. Picked it up again on the beach in Phuket a year later and finished it. It's long and there's not much in the way of characters but really interesting account of repeated attempts to explore a very remote and culturally significant place.
Kell
Mar 05, 2008 Kell rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Deep people
Recommended to Kell by: The bargin bin at borders!
This was a fantastic book. The kind that you only read one chapter at a time before putting it down and really thinking and absorbing what you just read instead of devouring it to get the gist of the story as fast as possible and missing nuances. It is very good at making you think about your own life and the things that really are important.
Rob
It wasn't easy finishing this book, but it was really interesting. I learned a ton about Tibetan culture and Buddhism. This book recounts the author's journey to one of the remotest and inaccessible parts of the world. It takes all the glory out of exploration and shares all the behind-the-scenes details for such an expedition.
Clare
Extraordinary. Am a long time fan of travel writing. This is so much more. Definitely on the top ten list of books in my life. Lyrically written on spiritual, physical and mental levels. I found insight on our normal and subtle levels of perception. Insights on Tibetan Buddhism and a great adventure story.
Tracy
I am sure this is a much better book than what I rated it....I jsut really struggled getting into it....there where so many references to places that I knew nothing about that I felt like I was at a party where everyone knew eachother but me! I ended up putting it down. I hate that. I really wanted to love it.
Molly
Found this to be a slow read, but as close as one can get to a real life fantasy adventure novel. One of my favorite books in the end, demonstrating human ingenuity, passion and devotion to inspire anyone. I admit partiality particularly since it mentions my aunt Susan Treadway and The Henry Foundation.
Liz
Started out slow, but turned out fantastic. It was a pretty slow read (I finally gave up on checking footnotes - there must have been 100 pages of them), but deeply engrossing by the end. I learned a tremendous amount about a tiny portion of the Buddhist religion and Tibetan way of life.
Brenda Nutter
Baker's words tell us what there is to be found if one puts forward effort and is not afraid to move beyond the bounds of what we know to discover something of what we don't.
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liking it 1 11 Mar 27, 2009 08:14PM  
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“A form of consciousness beyond the veils of discursive thought, a space forever present for those who seek it, not in some far-off wilderness, but in our inner most hearts. When that realization dawns in the depths of one's being, the world effortlessly transforms into that which was sought.” 1 likes
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