Two Austrians escape a British prisoner-of-war camp in India in 1943. They trek across the high Tibetan plateau – the Himalayas — before ending up in the country’s mythical capital of Lhasa, — The Forbidden City — where they meet and later tutored the very young Dalai Lama – the Living Buddha.
The book, published in 1953, is a real-life adventure classic.
“First there is the incredibly adventurous 21-month trek across rugged mountain and desolate plain to the mysterious heartland of Tibet; then the fascinating picture, rich in amazing detail, of life in Lhasa. . . . Final chapters draw an intimate portrait of the youthful Dalai Lama.”?—The Atlantic Monthly
(You see I don’t have to write everything, especially if others have already taken care of it. )
Author Heinrick Harrer gives us a glimpse into a very foreign world, both on the trek, but especially in the village of Lhasa, where, incredibly, the two men are welcomed, accepted and become an integral part of the society. The second part of the book is nearly an anthropological study of this Tibetan culture.
The seven years in Tibet, 1944-1950, end when the Chinese Communist Army invades the city and completes a takeover Tibet, destroying temples and killing scores of people. Lhasa was a fantasyland. Innocent, backwards, primitive, untouched, however, you’d like to call it, but that all ended in 1950. And as you read the end of the book, you feel that sorrow.
To date, over 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of the invasion.
The character of the 14th Dalai Lama in the book is played by the real-life Dalai Lama. He is 82. He lived in Lhasa after the invasion, but fled to India in 1959 where he lives today. He has worked for Tibetan freedom and autonomy ever since. The Chinese continues to dominate and oppress Tibet in political rights and civil liberties considered worse than even North Korea, according to one study.
And sadly, he will likely be the last true Dalai Lama. The Chinese government is actively intervening into the Tibetan Buddhist traditions. They plan to name their own Dalai Lama.