Trailhead Adventures

Written by Heinrich Harrer during the 1940s that begins shortly before the outbreak of World War II and ends with the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Heinrich, an all around adventure man, was actively pursuing his mountaineering passion and was scouting the Diamir Face of the Nanga Parbat just north of India in modern day Pakistan when war broke out back home. Heinrich, a German, was repeatedly captures and placed in English internment camps only to keep escaping. Heinrich was finally able to escape with three other detainees and promptly headed towards Tibet in search of freedom.

The first half of Seven Years in Tibet follows Heinrich as he makes his way though the mountains and eventually ends up in Lhasa, Tibet. The journey is full of brutal and near death conditions and some humorous interactions with locals as Heinrich attempts to hide his true identity. Heinrich is only able to complete the journey with the help of Tibetans who understands how to survive the harsh mountainous region. After four years in captivity and two years journeying though the mountains, Heinrich finally arrives in Lhasa, Tibet with the goal of seeking refuge and maintaining freedom from the English.

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.

— Seven Years in Tibet

Lhasa greeted Heinrich with a mixture of pleasant welcomes and demands to depart from all members of Lhasa’s upper class. After observing numerous weaknesses in Lhasa’s infrastructure was quick to integrate himself with government officials while working to improve portions of the infrastructure including building a dam, designing irrigation systems and introduced western sports. These contributions quickly earned Heinrich some much needed good will and respect amongst Lhasa’s elite.

This section of the book starts to dive deep into the traits, mannerisms and lifestyles of Lhasa’s residents such as how birth and death was treated along with the way Tibetans disposed of their deceased.

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.

— Seven Years in Tibet

It wasn’t until Heinrich was in Lhasa a few years and deeply integrated into society before he met the Dalai Lama. At this point in time the Dalai Lama was still a young boy who was curious about the outside world and would often call for Heinrich to discuss western culture and practices. The book comes to a speedy conclusion after China’s invasion into Tibet in the year 1950. At this point Heinrich is forced to depart Lhasa and return to Europe.

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.

— Seven Years in Tibet

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