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

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  679 ratings  ·  82 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, 511 pages
Published November 4th 2004 by Penguin Press (first published 2000)
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Apr 19, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 07, 2010 rated it liked it
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
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
Jul 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
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
Nov 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Gavin McGregor
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This story has so many layers combining Himalayan expeditions with spiritual discovery. They pace of the book is very meditative. But that suits the story being told
Apr 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Wow, this book never seemed to end. I thought I'd have it finished in 2 weeks and it took over a month. It was really much too long for the material and could have easily been cut down by 150 pages. Baker provides his personal journal and observations regarding his journeys deep into southeastern Tibet during the 1990s - a region called Pemako where the fabled city of Shangri-La was supposed to exist. He provides both a cultural view of Buddhism along with his accounts of hiking deep into a regi ...more
Oct 17, 2020 rated it liked it
A really well written but hard to get into spiritual and at the same time adventurous book. Especially the first half of the book was hard to get into due to the heavy Buddhist jargon. Very interesting conceptually, but very tedious if you have no experience at all with this type of content. The book really took of for me in the second half where Baker focussed more on the actual exploration. His vivid descriptions of the nightmarish adventures he had to endure caused me to complete the last hal ...more
Sep 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 06, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Ben Boocker
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 11, 2010 rated it it was ok
I love reading about adventure, history, 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
Aug 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Louise Chambers
Mar 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was ok
A path that has been walked far more effectively by Peter Mathiesen in the "Snow Leopard". ...more
Mohammad Noroozi
Jan 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book is one part Indiana Jones and one part Pope Francis.

As the novel progresses, Ian Baker describes how Tibetan buddhists built temples strategically throughout their land to pin down the limbs of a malevolent goddess Srinmo. Maybe it was her that sent the torrential rains, the writhing masses of bloodsucking land leeches, and the thick clouds of mist.

In a similar way, the longtime residents of the regions that Ian Baker is trying to explore seem to attach spiritual significance to every
C. A. Willis
Jun 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the few books that immediately upon finishing, I turned back to page one and read it again! If you are interested in adventure travel, Tibet, buddhism, Himilayan history, having your mind twisted, life philosophy, and just plain good writing, you'll love this! It's so dense with fascinating information. I can't imagine how this author organized all of the information woven into this love-child of a book. I underlined; I folded; I marked. If I was doing one of those lists of people ...more
Beth Elkin
Oct 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A captivating story of epic proportions!

Baker’s exploration of the Tsangpo and its environs is amongst the most spectacular adventures of our time. He expertly captures the mystical and empirical realms of the Pemago unhinging our concepts of what lies within and without. Although the harrowing descriptions of the arduous trekking are somewhat copious he interweaves his expansive knowledge with insightful Buddhist wisdom and Tibetan lore. My dreams were infused with jungles, cliffs, glaciers and
Julian Walker
Mar 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A series of expeditions with a common combined goal - enlightenment and a physical manifestation of that in the search for a mystical waterfall, first mentioned a couple of centuries ago.

The author's descriptions of the explorations - including the torrential rains, biting cold, impenetrable landscapes, and plagues of leaches - and the colleagues with whom he travels are superbly vivid, as you might expect from a thoughtful scholar, adventurer and observer of people, and I was with him every ste
C.E. Case
Sep 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
What's remarkable about this book is that it seems to be unparalleled. There aren't better pictures, there's not better scope, there's not better insight. This is the pinnacle of a Westerner's journey into Tibet. Fans of exploration into the Brazilian rainforest should like this just as much. Just as many leeches!

The writing is both self-absorbed and dispassionate, and lacks a human intimacy in itself, even though the land and the people living there come alive.

But it's either read this or noth
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Very inspiring book, mixed with very detailed travel notes from travel through Tibet in search for undiscovered waterfalls, mixed with insights from Buddhist tantric traditions and practices. The main message I got from here is, that indeed, the journey is the one matters and while we are exploring some passage in forest or life we transform and can see the place of departure with a new eyes, only if we ready to be open to it. Really enjoyed the book, wish I can travel there one day to connect a ...more
Mar 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: digital, in-library
Easily one of the best books I’ve ever read. For many reasons reading this book was like the gathering of many different currents of my life into one great stream of meaning, the confluence of all of my deepest interests and most fervent passions. I could not put this book down, and feel as if I have been drawn into another dimension or microcosm or bubble-world as I read this extremely well-written, well-balanced, and hard-earned book full of jewels of wisdom and celebration of the wildness of ...more
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was ok
I found this book to be way too confusing. Nothing is in chronological order (except near the end) yet there's no clear indications in text as to when we switch timelines, which was quite often. In the same way, I was never sure of what location they were at. The message of the book might be good but it was such a chore to slog through that any benefit was lost. ...more
Meredith Smith
Jan 26, 2018 rated it liked it
I'm not sure why I picked this one up, but I was pleasantly surprised by the end. Ian Baker does a great job rolling out the story and while somewhat dry at points, he had me interested until the end and I learned a lot more about Tibetan culture than I knew when I started. ...more
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Several years ago I read this. Now reading a peter heller bk that refers to Ian Baker. What I remember most was the hair raising trek, the reviewed history of past explorers, the flora and history, (rhododendrons!), just the pure daring adventurous spirit.
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
Confession: at a certain point, skimmed until the end. Too digressive and long, though interesting in parts. 2.5
Chase Mills
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic account of one of the last great explorations and the Tibetan Buddhist culture.
Linda Brunner
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
A real adventurer and fellow seeker in love with the world.
John Mattson
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A great adventure into one of the most amazing places in the world! This is a must read classic adventure story.
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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.” 2 likes
“Our minds have no real or absolute boundaries; on the contrary, we are part of an infinite field of intelligence that extends beyond space and time into realities we have yet to comprehend. The beyul and their dakini emissaries are traces of the original world, inviting us to open to the abiding mystery at the heart of all experience, the inseparability that infuses every action, thought, and intention.” 1 likes
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