Heinrich Harrer was an Austrian mountaineer, sportsman, geographer, and author. He is best known for being on the four-man climbing team that made the first ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland, and for his books Seven Years in Tibet (1952) and The White Spider (1959).
”Now the Living Buddha was approaching. He passed quite close to our window. The women stiffened in a deep obeisance and hardly dared to breathe. The crowd was frozen. Deeply moved we hid ourselves behind the women as if to protect ourselves from being drawn into the magic circle of his power.
We kept saying to ourselves, ‘It is only a child.’ A child, indeed, but the heart of the concentrated faith of thousands, the essence of their prayers, longings, hopes. Whether it is Lhasa or Rome--all are united by one wish: to find God and to serve Him. I closed my eyes and hearkened to the murmured prayers and the solemn music and sweet incense rising to the evening sky.”
14th Dalai Lama as a child
Heinrich Harrer was part of a four man team who were the first to successfully scale the North face of the Eiger. They reached the summit on July 24th,1938. Harrer had been a member of the Nazi party for just two months. He had also joined the SS with the rank of sergeant. After the ascent he and the rest of the team had a photo op with Adolf Hitler. They were national heroes. His life could have very easily spiraled toward an early death on the battlefield or he could have been compromised in the many atrocities perpetrated by the SS during the war.
As it turned out, the only day he wore his SS uniform was the day he got married.
The one with the cheesy moustache is Adolph Hitler. Standing on his right is Heinrich Harrer. Harrer renounced any association he had with the SS stated that he was too young to be making those decisions.
Harrer was in India with a four man team scouting the viability of climbing the Diamir Face of the Nanga Parbat when war broke out in 1939. They were picked up by the British and interned in a detention camp. In 1944 after several failed attempts to escape, finally Harrer, Peter Aufschnaiter, and two others are successful. They strike out for Tibet. The other two men, after experiencing the hardship of travel with improper clothing, inadequate food supplies, and a nagging doubt about what life will be like once they do reach Tibet, decide to go back. Harrer and Aufschnaiter press on.
They rely on the kindness of strangers. Lucky for them, by nature, Tibetans are kind.
Their ultimate goal is to reach Lhasa, but there are public officials, miles of red tape, and many hazards to be faced before they reach that destination.
Princess Coocoola, wife of the governor of Tibet is one of the many beautiful Tibetan women.
They meet a young couple on the road. A young woman fleeing her THREE husbands. She dutifully married three brothers and took care of their household until a handsome young stranger appeared. The couple were fleeing her husbands to start a new life. Most cultures still do or once did allow men, usually wealthy men to collect wives, but this is the first time I’ve heard of a culture that allows a wife to collect three husbands. The problem, of course, is always choice, and she wasn’t a willing participant to marry the three brothers.
When the proverbial traveling salesman comes to town she takes the opportunity to escape.
January 15th, 1946 they finally reach their destination.
”We turned a corner and saw, gleaming in the distance, the golden roofs of the Potala, the winter residence of the Dalai Lama and the most famous landmark of Lhasa. This moment compensated us for much. We felt inclined to go down on our knees like the pilgrims and touch the ground with our foreheads.”
Because of their uncertain status Harrer and Aufschnaiter, despite the pleasant welcome they received, were always worried that they would sent back to India and internment. They receive reassurances followed by neck snapping counter orders to leave. They begin to ingratiate themselves to the government by designing and producing better irrigation for the city. Harrer builds a fountain for the backyard of one of his friends and soon all the nobles want a fountain (seems to be a human tendency regardless of country to compete with the Jones’s). There are various levels of nobles who are very wealthy, happy; and yet, pious people. There was an uprising and several people were arrested, too many for the local jail. The nobles had to each take responsibility for a prisoner.
”As a result one found in almost every house a convict in chains with a wooden ring round his neck.”
Talk about putting a damper on your social situations.
The Tibetans have a rather gruesome, especially to westerners, way in how they dispose of their recently departed.
”The decorated pine tree which stood on the roof was removed and the next day at dawn the body was wrapped in white grave cloths and borne out of the house on the back of a professional corpse carrier. We followed the group of mourners, who consisted of three men only. Near the village on a high place recognizable from afar as a place of ‘burial’ by the multitude of vultures and crows which hovered over it, one of the men hacked the body to pieces with an ax. A second sat nearby, murmuring prayers and beating on a small drum. The third man scared the birds away and at intervals handed the other two men beer or tea to cheer them up. The bones of the dead girl were broken to pieces, so that they too could be consumed by the birds and that no trace of the body should remain.”
To them the body of the deceased is an empty shell. The consciousness has already moved on towards yet another in a series of countless lives. Their belief that the fly that lands on the rim of the rancid butter tea, that they like to drink, could be their grandmother causes Harrer no ends of problems when he is asked to build a movie theater for the Dalai Lama. Every worm that is disturbed by the shovels must be carefully relocated back to a safe spot.
”The more life one can save the happier one is.”
Harrer becomes a paid government official, a translator and court photographer that along with his side projects gives him a satisfactory income. He becomes close to the Dalai Lama, instructing him in Western culture and the way the world works beyond the Tibetan borders. There is even a scene that had me chuckling with the Dalai Lama wanting to shadow box with Harrer. It was just hard for me to imagine this national treasure with his fists raised dancing around throwing punches.
In October 1950 the army of the People’s Republic of China invade, defeat a Tibetan army, and take over the country. Harrer and his friend Aufschnaiter have to abandon their peaceful lives and return to Europe. As he leaves he waves up at the roof where he knows the Dalai Lama, possibly one of the most lonely people in the world, is watching him depart through the singular eye of his telescope.
In 1959 during a Tibetan uprising the Dalai Lama fearing for his life, fled to India where he established a Tibetan government in exile. Harrer continued to go on mountaineering expeditions around the globe and wrote twenty travel books about his exploits. His photography is considered to be among the best records of Tibetan culture ever obtained. This book was a huge bestseller in America showing the hunger that people felt, and continue to feel to know more about Tibetan culture. It certainly has inspired me to want to know more.
Friends for life.
A movie was made of Seven Years in Tibet in 1997 starring Brad Pitt. The movie focuses more on Harrer’s abandonment of his wife and child (not a subject he discusses in the book), and also revealed an arrogance and a selfishness that is not in the book either. We see the movie version of Harrer become a better person under the influence of the people he came to know and love in Lhasa. The movie is visually stimulating and was the reason I decided to read the book. I hope that others who see the movie will be encouraged to explore the subject matter further as well.
”Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet. I often think I can still hear the cries of wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they fly over Lhasa in the clear, cold moonlight. My heartfelt wish is that my story may create some understanding for a people whose will to live in peace and freedom has won so little sympathy from an indifferent world.”
Not what I expected. The story was there to make it great, but Heinrich Harrer somehow managed to make multiple prison escapes, mountain treks, and years spent immersed in a foreign land and culture, boring. I'm not talking about a little boring. I'm talking about spending the day with your great aunt boring, Catholic wedding boring, kids birthday party boring, middle school band concert boring. Get the picture now? There is ZERO excitement in this book.
If you want to learn about Tibet in the dullest way possible, read this book. If you don't like a book that reads like a diary, has no character development, and has next to zero emotion in the writing, avoid this one.
I read this book many decades ago. It was interesting. However, I kept asking myself: What did Heinrich Harrer live on until he reached Lhasa after about two years? He had no money. He had no provisions. He had no weapons to shoot animals to eat. And while traveling, he, definitely, had no land to grow any food.
From what I remember, there were also no tales that he asked for or was granted hospitality by the inhabitants of the areas he passed.
I don't think that anyone will be able to survive on the scarce vegetation to be found in high elevations. So what did this man eat? I really would have liked to learn.
Trebuie să-i contrazic pe cei ce spun că singura modalitate de a călători în toată lumea e aceea de a te folosi de un mijloc modern de transport ori pur şi simplu aceea de a merge pe jos. Nu! O carte -obiectul acela palpabil- te poate duce dincolo de hotarele imaginaţiei. Poţi călători în timp, citind istorie romanţată. Poţi călători în viitor, citind utopii romanţate. Poţi da nas în nas cu Dumnezeu, la porţile raiului, citind literatură religioasă. Poţi -în fine!- să vizitezi lumea întreagă, în detaliu, citind cărţi precum "Şapte ani în Tibet". E drept că a trecut mult timp de când am citit-o (să fie doi ani de-atunci?!), însă acum, când încerc să renunţ la a citi cantitativ (pentru că mi-am petrecut jumătate din viaţă citind, iar cealaltă jumătate văzând filme -şi astea... să depăşească 500?), simt nevoia să rememorez tot ce-am citit şi fac asta aici, printr-o banală recenzie... Nu-mi aduc aminte să fi citit multe cărţi ce descriu amănunţit o anumită cultură, însă "Şapte ani în Tibet" m-a făcut să trăiesc acolo. *Oare acest lucru se datorează faptului că autorul a fost "exilat" 7 ani în Tibet şi a avut timp să studieze în amănunt cultură tibetană?* Din punct de vedere idealist vorbind ,nu ştiu ce poate fi mai important pentru dezvoltarea personală a individului: ori "Fraţii Karamazov" (în care este rezumată întreaga viaţă a individului "bântuit" de aprigele frământări existenţiale), ori "Şapte ani în Tibet"(frânturi dintr-o lume ce, deşi se regăseşte pe Terra, parcă e o altă lume). Ceea ce e cel mai interesant e faptul că autorul este un reprezentant al Partidului Nazist trimis în Tibet să facă cercetări cu privire la rasa ariană. Nu se poate întoarce din anumite motive şi -în timp ce Europa avea să fie distrusă de război- Tibetul trăia în pace. Citind cartea, se realizează un contrast tulburător.
🏔️ As you might expect, this memoir is far more extensive than the movie starring Brad Pitt and contains copious detail about Harrer’s years in Tibet. Indeed, there is so much detail I found it tedious after a while.
There is no mention of his first marriage or divorce or the birth of his son Peter which occurred in Europe within the time frame of this book.
How much of the religious and culturally active Tibet described in this memoir still exists it’s impossible to know with Tibet under draconian Communist Chinese rule. A great deal of change has necessarily occurred. Harrer was able to return during a period of thaw with China and the West and was surprised at how much of Tibetan religion and culture had survived. However now that it is 2022/23 a curtain has again descended upon Tibet.
I bought my copy of this book from a thrift shop last 27 January 2010. Handwritten on its first inside page is the former owner's name followed by:
"23 Jan 1999 "Los Angeles "California "7:00 pm."
I suspect he (or she?) was a Tibetan. It's typical of these religious and superstitious people to ascribe meaning to every event, or to the time, place and date it happened. Even when it is just a book purchase.
The former owner's name seems to read : "Yee Yitathajisi" but I'm not sure, especially the small "s" in the last name. It doesn't really look like an English letter. I also looks like an "r" with a loop on its left side but his "r" in "California" is like the number seven. His two small "s" in "Los Angeles" look like a regular "s" but somewhat written like the number five.
Yee struggled with his English. He highlighted English words which are not really difficult ("cache", "brooks," "roamed," "vague," "ascent," etc.). Many times he also wrote his translations above the English words which gave him difficulties. He read the phrase "small ice floes," for example, and he underlined "floes" then wrote something above it in letters completely foreign to me (the closest I can interpret it to something I know how to read is "iiwaliiv" followed by a comma and some flourishes above three letters). I've seen Japanese and Chinese writings but they're not squiggly-looking like this.
When the second world war broke out, several German mountaineers were in India (which was then still under British rule). They were arrested and imprisoned by the British. They successfully escaped after several attempts. The author, Heinrich Harrer, was one of them. Together with another German guy, they fled on foot towards Tibet. For almost TWO YEARS they hiked on the mountainous terrain of India, Nepal and Tibet until they reached Lhasa, Tibet's capital city. They were in the worst possible state: emaciated, dressed in rags and without money. About half of the book is devoted to the story of their five year stay in Lhasa. So while hellfire infernos were raging in Europe and Asia they were there in those strange and wonderful places trying to fight off starvation, fatigue and disease unaware of the horrors being brought to the world elsewhere, ironically, chiefly by their own countrymen. After the end of the war, or sometime in 1950, they were forced to leave Tibet when China, which considered Tibet as just its province (like it is treating Taiwan now), invaded the country.
Although I've read literature about Tibet before, especially on how Tibetans determine who their next ruler and spiritual leader shall be (their Dalai Lama, a God-King who dies but immediately reincarnates), this has opened my eyes about this wondrous country and its peace-loving and very religious people. Do you know that Tibet's land area is as big as Spain, France and Germany put together? I didn't until I've read this book (I thought Tibet was just a small, obscure settlement pearched atop a snowy mountain, like Baguio City). Have you tasted--or even just seen--TSAMPA? That's the staple food in one of the regions there and this is how it is prepared:
"You heat sand to a high temperature in an iron pan and then pour barleycorns onto it. They burst with a slight pop, whereupon you put the corns and the sand in a fine meshed sieve through which the sand runs; after this you grind the corn very small. The resulting meal is stirred up into a paste with butter tea or milk or beer, and then eaten."
This was made into a film starring Brad Pitt (which I haven't watched) but was not shot in Tibet. The Chinese authorities won't allow the filming there or even its showing in China. Tibet is unfree.
This is a book that I bought way back in 1990. It was an excellent travel book and I purchased it because of my enjoyment of reading about life in Tibet (it always struck me as such an exotic place) and I was also very influenced by Buddhism at the time. It was so sad about the situation with China and the Dalai Lama.
Sunt printre cei care au văzut întâi filmul (chiar de mai multe ori) și apoi am citit cartea. Și, ca de obicei, și de data aceasta, dau întâietate cărții (în ciuda lui Brad Pitt): Șapte ani în Tibet, volumul semnat de Heinrich Harrer, este una dintre cele mai interesante cărți de călătorie citite vreodată, pentru că are toate atributele unui volum palpitant, plin de informații inedite, alert și care are în centru una dintre zonele lumii care erau pe atunci foarte exotice pentru majoritatea lumii. Tibetul, Lhasa, podișul de la poalele Himalayei, nomazii și oamenii care populau acea lume, budiștii și Dalai Lama au rămas mult timp în afara lumii considerate civilizate, fiind una dintre acele teritorii rămase neexplorate tocmai pentru că se închisese aproape ermetic în fața străinilor. Alpinistul german Heinrich Harrer și colegii săi, ajunși după încheierea războiului mondial într-un lagăr englezesc din India, evadează de acolo și ajung pentru șapte ani în Tibet și foarte aproape de Dalai Lama, așa că observă această societate ancestrală și sunt martori la disoluția ei. O ultimă privire, autentică, documentară, minuțioasă, asupra unei lumi care a dispărut odată cu invazia chineză. O excelentă carte de călătorie!
First off let me say that the writing of this book is nothing spectacular, it's adequate for this type of book and gets all the facts across without lots of embellishment. However, the content is an amazing travelogue of Heinrich Harrier's journey through Tibet and his eventual friendship with his Holiness the Dalai Lama. Quite a large portion of the seven years was spent actually travelling. Harrer doesn't go into a lot of detail about all the climbing and trekking his friend Peter and himself did and it's easy to skip over that accomplishment. It's easy to forget that Heinrich and Peter WALKED about a 1,000 miles and crossed many passes over 18,000 feet high all WITHOUT any equipment. If you look at a map, their trek started in North Western India and circumvented Nepal to get to Lhasa. Life in Lhasa is well described and I was surprised at how well educated the upper echelons of society were. In the time before the Chinese invasion, Tibetan culture had remained little changed in 2,000 years. In a sad postscript written almost 50 years later Harrer describes how all that culture has been wiped away. If you have seen the excellent movie by the same name then the book is certainly worth reading. Harrer was a consultant for the film and was most pleased with the decision to have Brad Pitt play him. Not for the fact that Mr Pitt was better looking than him, but for the fact that thousands of people probably went to see the movie just to see Brad Pitt, and in so doing learn't something of Tibet and became aware of that countries plight.
Heinrich Harrer, the author of this book, was a mountaineer and an adventurer. He was the first to climb the North Face of the Eiger Mountain in Switzerland. He did this int the 1930s. This book, originally published in 1953, is an adventure classic that recounts Heinrich Harrer's 1943 escape from a British internment camp in India, his daring trek across the Himalayas, and his seven years in Tibet, coming to an end with the Chinese invasion. He became a dear friend of the fourteenth Dali Lama.
Definitely interesting, but in that the narrations follows the time line of the events it was repetitive at points, i.e. a particular theme was discussed many times. One example of this is how white scarves are used in Tibet as a means of expressing respect and honor. People were handing out scares right and left......I kept wondering what was done with all these scarves. Finally near the end of the book it was mentioned that they were reused and handed out to others. And this leads to my next complaint. Listeners are left with questions. Terms are not clearly defined so you search for understanding, to make sense of what you are told. At one point, my husband and I, we were both listening to the audio book together, did not agree on who had been killed! Neurotic as I am to understand EXACTLY what has happened I rewound and listened again and again. Finally I understood. In fact I was right in the mini battle with my husband, but the point is that what you hear/read can easily be misinterpreted.
So the book isn't perfect, but don't let that determine whether to pick it up or not. The reader follows an exciting adventure and there is a lot to learn here about old Tibet, before the Chinese invasion in 1950.
One other point which I found intriguing is how there are so many rules to be followed.......but there is always a way to get around them. In the Buddhist philosophy no creature can be killed, so of course meat cannot be eaten. But, but, but, but people do need some meat so it is quite handy if the people in neighboring Nepal can provide this......then all is OK! This bothered me tremendously. Time and time again, the Nepalese were handy to have to do that which the Buddhist faith did not allow to be done in Tibet.And it bothered me that in sport events where it was determined that the Dali Lama must win, he of course always did win. Is that real competition? Never mind, just my own thoughts troubling me.
It is amusing to picture a dike being built and a worm appearing on the shovel of dirt. That worm had to be carefully placed aside so no harm came to it. This all sounds so sweet, but to function as a nation bribery and conniving were necessary.
I am very glad I read this book. I learned a lot, and it made me see into the reality of a Buddhist culture. It is very hard to get a view into Lhasa, the Forbidden City.
This edition was published in 1956 in the German language.
The book is a travellers recount of adventures based on diaries kept throughout these years.
Reading, in the beginning, felt like a continuation of Sven Hedin’s “My Life as an Explorer.” Hedin had extensively travelled the same parts of the world at the end of the 19th century.
This is my second reading of “Seven Years in Tibet”, the first one was in the 60ies, shortly after its first publication.
In those years my liking of this book went entirely to the adventures of the heroes.
Harrer and many other German, Austrian and Italian travellers happened to be caught up shortly after the end of WWII in a British concentration camp in India near Bombay.
Harrer, an experienced mountaineer, had come to these parts of the world to climb the Himalaya and could not imagine staying a prisoner for long.
He and some close friends soon planned to escape. They failed the first time but succeeded the second time. A daring escape, as the English would call it.
Tibet was their aim, and in this direction, they hurriedly walked and hiked as fast as they could.
Harrer and his friend Peter Aufschneiter had some poor road maps and a little money to buy food on the road, but money soon ran out, so they started selling what they could spare, their watch and first aid things and whatever.
Unlike Sven Hedin, Heinrich and Peter had no arms for hunting, or to defend themselves against wild beasts like bears and coyotes, nor fight off any robbers of whom they met several and escaped unharmed by a miracle.
They had no warm clothing and no shoes that could withstand hundreds of miles of walking in gravel ice and snow.
At their first encounters with local populations and minor officials, they encountered enmity and stiff opposition against their project.
Food could not be bought except for a high price, if at all.
When finally reaching Lhasa in January 1946 against all the odds, they were in a state of poor refugees, unwashed and unshaved, starved for many days, blisters on their feet, barefoot and their clothing in shreds. At the first house, they entered fell to the ground and begged for food and shelter.
The two men had successfully used a disguise as Indian traders to pass controls by officials on the road.
The second part of the story is how they got introduced and accepted in Lhasa, by the population but more importantly by the monks and the Lamas and primarily by the Dalai Lama the God in Person and King of the country.
Tibet was ruled for hundreds of years and still was at the time of Harrer’s reporting by a government of Buddhist Religious Monarchy.
Tens of thousands of monks divided of several large monasteries ruled the country with an iron fist by legislation purely based on religious beliefs.
According to the Buddhist religion, the population had been convinced to believe in reincarnation to a new body after death. Moreover, that new body could be any human or animal from the tiniest insect to a goat or an elephant.
The Tibetan government did not have to raise taxes; the population gave their last penny to the Lamas at their monasteries to guarantee them a happy afterlife.
There were no schools, other than monastery schools, no hospitals, no roads, no drainage system in the towns, no running water nor any basic sanitary installations. One only generator supplied electricity to the Palast printing shop to print religious books.
Tibet is a potentially wealthy country in mineral resources and vast agricultural potentials if irrigated and managed. However, that potential needs to be modernised in order to be useful to the country.
All influence from the outside world was restricted to the minimum and visits of foreigners forbidden.
So the Buddhist monks hoped to remain in power forever.
However, it is well known to historians that a country in such a weak position will inevitably attract the envy of a powerful neighbour.
So it did. China started invading Tibet in 1950. The Dalai Lama at first fled to the south, but then returned to Lhasa, under the control of China.
Peter Aufschneiter stayed in Tibet for another year and later went to Nepal to further adventures.
Heinrich Harrer, our author, having lost his reason to remain there, left Tibet towards India in April 1951.
"Nel giallo tremolio delle molte lampade le figure di burro sembravano acquistare vita. Strane corolle chinavano le testine in un immaginario alito di vento, pieghe di seriche vesti si muovevano frusciando, una maschera di demone torceva la bocca. Poi il dio-re alzò benedicendo la mano. Siamo anche noi preda di questo sogno conturbante? La luna piena, simbolo del mondo ultraterreno, al quale è dedicato tutto questo grandioso omaggio, sorride dalla sua altezza."
MERAVIGLIOSO. Le due mie grandi passioni di leggere e viaggiare alla scoperta di nuove culture unite in questo straordinario libro, che è molto di più: un messaggio all'umanità, un canale di comunicazione tra il Tetto del mondo e il resto del pianeta. Heinrich Harrer raggiunse il Tibet durante la Seconda guerra mondiale fuggendo da un campo di prigionia inglese in India, a Dehra Dun, e fu costretto a lasciarlo quando, nel 1951, le truppe cinesi invasero il Paese della Neve.
Sette anni nel Tibet descrive il fascino perduto di una cultura millenaria tanto diversa da quella occidentale poiché isolata e ancorata alle tradizioni lamaiste per secoli, trasmettendo al lettore un desiderio profondo di conoscenza di una terra proibita, di avventura ed esplorazione di nuovi mondi, ma anche di malinconica consapevolezza della distruzione di un paese libero, il cui appello al mondo è rimasto inascoltato negli anni. Al piacere delle descrizioni del paesaggio e delle tradizioni tibetane, sono affiancate le grida di un popolo libero e pacifico, che lotta disperatamente contro l'oppressione dell'esercito comunista della Cina popolare, sottolineando il fallimento e l'assenza dell'ONU. "Nel 1951 l'armata rossa cinese occupò il paese e il Dalai Lama, insieme con circa centomila tibetani, fu costretto a fuggire in India. Non ci sono parole per descrivere ciò che da allora è successo nel Paese della neve: un milione e duecentomila tibetani hanno perso la vita, il novantanove per cento dei seimila edifici sacri è stato distrutto." Questo libro insegna molto, consigliato a tutti.
I read this book in fits and starts between breaks in class. Restlessness has been the case for me lately. Perhaps the cure is travel books like these. Books that are easy to pick up, put down, and pick up again.
The book made no grand promises-- instead the author proposed to give me his notes plainly told about his journey through Tibet, a journey that began just prior to the second World War and ended a few years after it. The author did not over-promise, and sticking to his world, early on, I found his writing to have a dry, clinical feel to it. Perhaps some of this had to do with it being translated from German, but I think some of it had to do with its limited pretensions.
And yet, at least for long moments, I was utterly lost in the account. Perhaps travel writing is the best remedy for someone confined to a desk for any period of time. I marveled at Harrer’s adventurousness and resiliency. If his notes were dry, they often seemed to lack any kind of malice or ethnocentrism. More importantly, as I drifted off in my own thoughts, I found I could return to the book without losing too much of the story. The book demonstrates that substance is better than style, and that in order to be a good writer one should live an adventurous life.
The parts I liked the most about the book were the little scenes where Harrer was making a new life for himself in Lhasa. Certainly, the earlier scenes where Herrer escaped from prison and managed to survive in the wilderness were exciting, but the scenes where he is creating a new life for himself with the help of the compassionate Tibetans were the most romantic and enjoyable. More than anything, they reminded me of my own small delights living and working overseas. In the end, this book seemed to me as much about home as about travel. As Harrer says at the end of the book, “Wherever I live, I shall feel homesick for Tibet.” A beautiful sentiment simply stated!
More travel writing to come? We’ll see where my reading adventures take me next.
Come on Heinrich! From what I’ve gathered independent of this book, Tibet is the shit. Have you heard of momos? Obviously Heinrich hadn’t. I get that they probably weren’t a thing before the Chinese invasion brought the dumpling but still, if you aren’t going to tell us about momos, then at least tell us what tsampa is, cause right now, 300 pages later, I’m picturing either some steamed weeds or a ball of paste. And no I won’t google it, you should have told me what it was more than once because your description of it was clearly not memorable. All I got from this book is that Tibet in the 40’s kinda looked like the land around Lake Erie but with more jagged mountains. And everyone ate a ton of butter, preferably in tea.
What this all boils down to is, until Heinrich becomes buddies with the Dalai Lama in the last 40 pages, nearly nothing happens. And honestly, I don’t need anything to happen to like a book, generally I hate books where things happen, in my eyes, books should be about flawed characters doing minor things, badly. But Heinrich did an enormously bad job of describing the nothingness because from page one through to the end I had no idea who Heinrich was.
Lesson 1 of exploration: When you fail at something or something doesn’t go as you intended, you have to show humility, not pretend it was part of the plan all along.
How about that time you got a bad case of sciatica and were bedridden during the biggest festival of the year in Tibet? But oh, according to you, since you missed it, it’s actually like, not that big of a deal, the spring festival that you do end up going to is loads better, I wouldn’t have even bothered with that other festival.
And Heinrich, don't tell me that you weren't the least bit jealous of your friend Aufschnaiter when he got all the praise. You guys both arrive in Lhasa together and without even trying Aufschnaiter is given a power plant to fix, then the city’s sewage system, then a reforestation project for the entire country - the government loves this guy, they can't do without him. And Heinrich, what job are you given? Gardening. You built the first decorative fountain for a rich guy's garden. Now, I'm in no way downplaying your role, I couldn't build a fountain if I wanted to but you were jealous, I know you were. And showing us how jealous you were could have brought this book from a 3 to a 5, easy. Instead, you took the so-called high road, but in taking the high road you deprived us readers of everything interesting and imperfect about you.
Tell it to us straight Heinrich.
However, I must hand it to you, the way you referred to the 14-year-old Dalai Lamai as the “boy king” when everyone else just referred to him as “god”, was rather gutsy, even if you didn’t say it to his face. So for that Heinrich, I’ll give you props.
Great book, autobiography of Heinrich Harrer about his life in Tibet. Was eager to read this book for a long time, since I heard about it and about movie with Bred Pit (that is still in my watch list). Also wanted to read it because I also lived 7 years, but in India. And Tibet and India has lots of similarities… And the book starts in India. In the places that I had visited many times: Dehra Dun, Spliti Valley (one of the most beautiful places I had visited, still have lots of memories from it). And who knows, maybe one day I will also write my own book about 7 years in India 😊 What a difficult life Heinrich Harrer had, also living in the difficult times of the Second World War! Being in the prison in India.. Trying to escape few times, and finally succeeded with it! How he went through a lot of calamities, passing the Hymalayas to Tibet… Being almost starved to death, but always helped by locals, having frostbites.. He and his friend Peter Aufschneiter went through a lot! But finally achieved their goal: the Forbidden City. How he met young Dalai Lama and later even became his teacher - incredible. Some stories about Tibet were fascinating!!
Fascinating non-fiction travelogue by Heinrich Harrer. Harrer was a skier and mountain climber. He was scaling a mountain in the Himalayas when the British declared war on Germany. He was taken prisoner but escaped many times. He escaped not because the prison camp was so bad but because he was at heart an adventurer. Eventually he, and others, reached Tibet, which was neutral in the war. But Tibet was also secluded and did not like foreigners to be traveling in their country. Harrer and another escape were able, eventually, to make their way to the capital of Tibet. They remained there until the Chinese invasion in 1950-51. Harrer became acquainted with the Dali Llama, before he had reached his maturity. In fact, the Dali Llama asked Harrer to tutor him about the world outside Tibet. In the book, Harrer not only describes his harrowing journey up the mountains from India to Tibet, but he also describes Tibetans, their religion, their festivals, and the beautiful country. It was really interesting and now Tibet is on my list of places to visit!
I’ve had this book for years and finally decided I needed to prioritize it as 2019 was the 60th anniversary of the occupation of Tibet and exile of the Dalai Lama. Let that sink in. 60 years have gone by and generations of Tibetans continue to live without justice.
Heinrich Herrer describes his multiple escapes from imprisonment and his journey to Lhasa (an incredible experience in itself) toward the end of WWII. As he travels around Tibet, he describes the people and the culture, which seems to include butter tea all the time! Eventually he is summoned to meet the young Dalai Lama (despite the protests from his councillors), and Herrer describes the Dalai Lama’s fascination with Western culture, his mischievous nature, and his desire to learn about all things, not just religious teachings.
This book is culturally and historically important, and it’s sad to think that it may very well be the last book to document a way of life that will never exist again.
Mr. Harrer did a good deed by writing this memoir as it raised the awareness of Tibet and its oppression under the Chinese far and wide.
However, I must admit to being surprised that he accomplished his mission. The makings of a riveting tale were there, but the manner in which Harrer tells his story could not have been more dull. I'm not sure how he managed to make two years of mountainous travel and seven years in a completely foreign land so boring, but he did.
The first moments of suspense came in the last 40 or so pages where the Chinese invade Tibet and it is unclear what might happen to the Dalai Lama. These last pages also detailed the teacher/student relationship between the author and the Dalai Lama, and I did find it interesting to hear how someone so young was so intellectually curious.
Other than that last portion, the book is no more than a diary. This happened and then that happened. A recitation of facts, dates, places . . .no "characters" were brought to life. Even his travel companion was rendered flat. Somehow with all the hardships they endured together, there wasn't one instance of an argument or tension or an example of how they worked together to solve problems.
It's the difference between writing like this:
She typed her book review on the computer. It was negative.
She agonized about what to write in her review. She couldn't fathom that they actually made a movie of this book. Starring Brad Pitt! How? She was dying to write something scathing, but a big part of her felt alone. How could no one else think this book was so boring? How could she have been the only one? The author clearly was a great man even if he couldn't write well. Maybe she should give the book 3 stars just to reward him for his greatness. She tried to add that last star, but she just couldn't bring herself to do it.
You get what I mean. It's ten times worse because this man went on a HUGE ADVENTURE. It should have been absolutely scintillating. A missed opportunity by any measure. Curious what the movie makers did to bring this book to life . . .I'm sure in the hands of professional writers it probably came out great.
My recent book reading has been sporadic as I moved house in a complex fashion, spending a couple of weeks sheltering under other people's roofs. This provoked my interest in their bookshelves, as my own were unavailable and this little gem came from my son.
Part autobiography, part travelogue, it's a charming, captivating account of mid-century Tibet, a feudal kingdom in the Himalayas. It's also a chronicle of a vanishing culture as 70 years ago, the kingdom was invaded by the Chinese "Red Army". 1.2 million people are reported to have died through subsequent starvation and activities akin to genocide, out of a population of 3 million. A large number also fled. Most of the monasteries in this Buddhist kingdom were dismantled and destroyed and 2% of the capital, Lhasa, remains in its original state. If ever a commentator was required to chronicle the missing, then Heinrich Harrer fulfils that need.
A mountaineer and qualifed teacher, Austrian by birth, (who was in the first team that scaled the North Face of the Eiger), he found himself stranded in Karachi at the onset of WW2 and was then incarcerated in a number of POW camps in India, latterly ending up near the Himalayan border. Several escape attempts later, he managed to be part of a group that walked out of his camp in 1943 and fled North into the "Forbidden Land". This journey on foot with minimal resources, enduring frostbite and starvation, says as much for his fortitude and resilience (together with his companion's), as it does for the hospitality of the Himalayan tribes that assisted him along the way.
After negotiating with his hosts, he is finally allowed to make his way to the capital, Lhasa. Ill, starving and bedraggled, they end up taking shelter in an aristocrat's townhouse. There, in many ways, begins their full exposure to Tibetan culture. His companion, Aufschnaiter, is an agricultural engineer by training and they start to repay their hosts by building first fountains, then drainage and sanitary schemes. Finally, the author meets the 14th Dalai Lama, a teenager, and participates in his education. This is terminated by the Chinese invasion as they both escape South to India and the author returns to Austria. However, my edition of the book is prefaced by a foreword from this same Dalai Lama and it is clear that they continued correspondence throughout the author's life.
It's undoubtedly an excellent record of mid-century Tibetan culture as seen through European eyes. I was impressed by his detailed, but never boring, descriptions of the various rituals of his hosts, whether religious, or cultural. His abilities to speak the Tibetan language and his love for the mountains in the kingdom on "The Roof of the World" allowed him to have unparalleled opportunities to participate and record these authentic events. I only wished that some of his renowned photographs could have embellished the book further. The tragedy remains that this culture has been crushed by the occupying power of its larger neighbour and the Dalai Lama remains in exile, albeit with celebrity status and a superstar reputation being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
So, why not 5 stars? Possibly because I was left with the feeling that, despite the autobiographical nature of the book, I wanted to know so much more about the author. Why, despite being a member of the SS, had he not returned to Austria when it was at war? Why had he fled to a neutral country and effectively hid there as long as possible? He had left a wife, pregnant with their firstborn, in 1939 to go to his first Himalayan reconnaissance expedition. I realise that these were difficult, nay thorny, issues but they warranted an airing IMO.
Heinrich Harrer egészen pofás karriert húzott fel arra, hogy pár hónapon keresztül a jelenlegi dalai láma tanítómestere lehetett; enélkül ugyanis nagyjából hasonló ívet futott volna be, mint Stein Aurél vagy Sven Hedin, akiket a saját hazájukon kívül maximum egy szűk kör ismer. No de ha valakiről a nagyszerű Jean-Jacques Annaud életrajzi filmet forgat, és a karakterét Brad Pitt alakítja, annál kevés dolog van feljebb az életben. És valljuk be, sokkal érdekesebb könyv- és filmalapanyag egy hadifogságból menekülő európai hegymászó életre szóló barátsága egy egzotikus ország élő istenével, mint a vízelvezető csatornák ásása a lhászai árvizek idején.
Harrer nem kifejezetten jó író, irodalmi szempontból a Hét év Tibetben maximum közepes színvonalú (erre egyébként előre figyelmezteti az olvasót, szóval az önértékelése abszolút a helyén van, ami ritka és tiszteletreméltó tulajdonság), és mivel a kínai pusztítás miatt érthető módon igen erős benne a keserűség, ezért az általam "örömírásnak" nevezett jelenség sem figyelhető meg, azaz amikor nem képzett írók művét a puszta lelkesedés képes feldobni. Igazán azok a részek állnak jól neki, amikor szigorúan kronologikusan, útleírásszerűen meséli el menekülését előbb Tibetbe, majd Tibetből, ám félig dokumentarista, félig szubjektív jegyzetei az ország népéről jóval alacsonyabb színvonalúak. Micsoda paradoxon, hogy ennek ellenére épp ezek a kötet igazán értékes részei, ugyanis kimerevített pillanatfelvételt nyújtanak erről a több ezer éves, ám az 1950-es évekre a pusztulás szélére sodródott kultúráról, gyakorlatilag az utolsó pillanatban.
Mert ez a szellemi és tárgyi emlékekben gazdag kultúra, ami évezredeken át hatalmas birodalmak határán és/vagy között helyezkedett el, az 1951-es kínai invázió utáni években jóformán megszűnt létezni. Igaz ugyan, hogy a Mao-poszterek már elsárgulva hevernek valami raktár mélyén és a Potalán sem lobognak a sarlókalapácsos zászlók, sőt a tibetiek nagyjából szabadon gyakorolhatják a vallásukat (legalábbis az ujguroknál szabadabban), ugyanakkor a sok szakrális hagyománynak, műkincsnek és a dalai láma tiszteletére rendezett különféle színpompás ünnepségeknek mára nyoma sincs - sőt maga a láma és a tibeti kormány is emigrációban kénytelen élni.
Harrer nagysága egyébként az invázióról szóló fejezetekben is megmutatkozik: nem rejti véka alá, hogy maga Tibet is felelős a kialakult helyzetért. Ha lakói komolyabban vették volna a kínai fenyegetést és korábban nyitottak volna a nyugati világ felé, ha nem lettek volna ennyire zárkózottak az európaiak előtt, talán elérhető lett volna egy Nepálhoz vagy Bhutánhoz hasonló ütközőállam szerep, amelyek lakói szintén nagyon erős kínai befolyás alatt élnek, a saját nagyhatalmi státuszukat gyakorolgató India és Kína közé beszorulva, de önálló országként van némi mozgásterük.
Harrerre egyébként is jellemző, hogy az eseményeket többféle aspektusból vizsgálja, mind az útja során történt, már-már hétköznapi eseményeket, mind a világpolitikai kérdéseket viszonylag alaposan körüljárja. Igaz ugyan, hogy ez helyenként már-már komikus, például amikor az életére törő embereket mentegeti, de mindenképpen mély empátiás készségre és kíváncsi természetre utal, amely tulajdonságai nélkül ez a könyv sokkal nehezebben befogadható lenne.
A Hét év Tibetben kultúrmissziós jelentősége és Harrer emberi nagysága miatt nem tudom ezt a kötetet jobban lehúzni annál, mint amit megérdemelne, pedig sok helyütt repetitív és unalmas, és szinte ordítanak a kihagyott ziccerek. Így azonban egy nagyon jóindulatú négyesfölé/ötösalá, azzal a kitétellel, hogy a film bizony jobb volt.
I'll be the first to say the movie version is... well, awful. It sensationalized aspects of Harrer's life (although the part about leaving his pregnant wife turns out to be true and was interestingly omitted by Harrer from the book itself). The film also created a stupidly melodramatic fake love triangle and gave short shrift to just how riveting the journey to Lhasa must have been. Of course, this shouldn't be the surprise. "The book is better than the movie" is a common refrain. Once you get into this book it's a quite thrilling travelogue. I especially appreciate this book because it provides a different perspective on the Tibet issue than the typical information that I read on the Chinese news sites (which, as stories relate to sensitive domestic issues in China are "hilariously" biased and not entirely distinguishable from when The Onion parodied Chinese news in 2009). It doesn't provide a perfect picture of Tibet before the Chinese invaded either (namely Harrer details corruption and closemindedness among some of the monks and other bureaucrats). Tibet was a feudal society, after all. Nonetheless, there is no mistake here, this book is strongly in favor of Tibetan independence. That is not to say that this book rams politics down your throat (except maybe in the epilogue). But it is precisely because Harrer was somewhat of an objective observer of Tibet, able to report it from a "western" perspective and therefore tells the story in a relatable way for many foreign readers, that this book remains a powerful case for Tibetan independence. Plus, his stories about the young Dalai Lama's determination and intellectual curiosity at age 13 just make me admire him even more.
Heinrich Harrer was an Austrian mountain climber. In 1939 he is in India when World War II breaks out. He is taken to a detention camp in Bombay. He escapes and heads toward Tibet. At that time Tibet did not allow outsiders into their country. He walks, hides and runs until he crosses the Tibet boarder. Then he has to use all his skills to trick and deceive his way past daunting Tibetan officials. He walks seventy days over rugged mountainous terrain before he reaches Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.
He makes friends and lives with a family; he becomes fluent in Tibetan. He comes to the attention of the government who consults him on various matters where he contributes tremendously, because of his western school training. He becomes a tutor to the Dalai Lama.
I enjoyed his marvelous descriptions of his first sights of Tibet. He describes Tibetan life including their colorful ceremonies. Toward the end he also tells of the 1950 military takeover of Tibet by China and the Dali Lama and his government fleeing to India. In the afterword, the author tells of the Dalai Lama coming to his 90th birthday party in Germany. I enjoyed the afterword as it brought events up to the current date. I had no idea how badly Tibet has suffered under Chinese rule.
This book was first published in 1952 and apparently has sold millions worldwide. I seem to be late on the scene having just discovered this interesting book. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. Mark Meadows does a good job narrating the book. I highly recommend this book, it is a fascinating read.
This is a wonderful book and significantly different that the movie with Brad Pitt. While Harrar and his fellow PoW escapee, Peter Aufscnaiter, were simply trying to be free from the British in India during WWII (although Harrar seemed more interested not in Tibet itself initially but just making his way across Tibet and through China to the Japanese lines since the Japanese were Germany's ally) they both seemed to quickly fall in love with the people and the land of Tibet.
While at times the book did seem to drag - and it was clear that Harrar wrote this from a very personal perspective - he did an excellent job in detailing a lot of information about the land and the people of Tibet. Although he did seem to portray them as somewhat simple in nature I don't feel like he necessarily meant to. From his perspective he saw their lives as significantly simpler than his - and to an extent that can certainly be enticing. From the way Harrar wrote you can tell that he truly fell in love with the land and the people of Tibet and felt great sadness when the Chinese invaded in 1950 and took over.
If you are interested in the land of Tibet and the people and their culture - this is an excellent book to start with as an introduction.
отличная книга про потрясающих людей. реально, мы все читали «таинственный остров» и восхищались инженером сайресом смитом, который мог и дом построить, и три урожая пшеницы из двух зернышек вырастить. а тут вот совершенно реальные люди — абсолютно жюльверновские персонажи. ладно еще чесать пешком через всю индию и гималаи — это можно списать на то, что они чокнутые спортсмены-альпинисты; но они же потом еще всю лхасу просвещали и улучшали. все эти составления карт, строительства мостов и плотин, организация теннисных клубов и прочая и прочая. кто из вас, дорогие дружочки, может не то что карту города составить, а вообще знает, с какой стороны в теодолит смотреть нужно? вот и я не знаю. а они знали и про теодолит, и про черта лысого. хочу быть как они, когда вырасту.
This was a memoir by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer highlighting his escape from a British internment camp in India during World War II. He and his companions subsequently trekked hundreds of miles across Asia with the goal of reaching the Forbidden City of Lhasa. Eventually they came to the legendary Lhasa where he remained for seven years working with the Tibetan people.
Harrer notes, "And then there is the Potala Palace, which must date from Tibet's days of greatness. No one today would think of erecting such a building. I once asked a stonemason. . . why such buildings were no longer put up. He answered indignantly that the Potala was the handiwork of the gods. Men never could have achieved anything like it. Good spirits and supernatural beings had worked by night on this wonderful building."
During this time there he also developed a friendship with the youthful Dalai Lama. It was interesting that the Dalai Lama, in the forward to this particular edition dated January 1982, stated that the book, ". . . gives a true and vivid picture of Tibet before 1959 is being reprinted when there is a renewed interest on Tibet."
I read this on a train, and it was a perfect setting. This is one of those books that reminds you of how much we, "in the modern world" take for granted. I have to admit that a lot of the story relayed in this book is not written in a way to enthuse and engage it's reader. It reads like what it is, an account of an unexplored world where we're much more engaged in what is happening in our life than the mythologies that we build up around it. I had to take several pauses throughout my reading to stare at the passing landscape and allow myself to hear the wind and the prayer flags rustling in a world that I have never occupied.