- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1585427438
- ISBN-13 : 978-1585427437
- Item Weight : 8.6 ounces
- Product Dimensions : 5 x 0.93 x 7.12 inches
- Publisher : TarcherPerigee; Illustrated Edition (August 20, 2009)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #99,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #13 in Historical India & South Asia Biographies
- #20 in Historical China Biographies
- #25 in General Asia Travel Books
Reviewed in the United States on May 25, 2017
This book has two distinct parts:  the difficult journey that Heinrich Harrer (author) and Peter Aufschnaiter had reaching the Tibetan capital, Lhasa and  Heinrich’s experiences and observation of Tibetan life while living in Lhasa.
In the first part, their difficulties were many – and it was, among other things, fortuitous breaks in the weather and chance encounters with kind Tibetan nomads that allowed them to even survive the journey. During this time, you see how difficult it was to travel at “the top of the world”, and you get a glimpse of the lives of the average Tibetan.
In the second part, Heinrich (and Peter) soon become welcome guests of the Tibetan upper class. At this point, the book switches to glimpses of the life of the upper class, the religious pageantry displayed for the devout (and superstitious) multitudes and cloistered life of the Dali Lama.
The book ends with the Chinese conquest of Tibet – and so the start, I assume, of the wholesale dismantling of the rich historical Tibetan culture described in this book.
Reviewed in the United States on April 10, 2019
Reviewed in the United States on December 14, 2013
I read this a long time ago, and remembered enjoying it. It was a pleasure to read again. Harrer did an excellent job of observing Tibetan life from 1944 to 1950 being careful to keep his own personal opinions/beliefs out of the way. By the time he was forced to leave because of the Chinese invasion, he was deeply attached to the people and the country. Though he didn’t actually meet the Dalai Lama until late in his stay in Lhasa, Harrer and the young boy (he was just 15/16 years old) became fast friends and remained so throughout Harrer’s life. He tried to visit the Dalai Lama at least once every year or two and several times the Dalai Lama visited Harrer in his own home.
This is a very special glimpse into a way of life that was about to come to a sudden and violent end. It is difficult to comprehend that over 6000 monasteries were destroyed and only 12 remain. Thousands of years worth of Buddhist art and literature was destroyed or sold.
If you want to know a little about The Roof of the World, then read Seven Years in Tibet. (Forget the movie.)
Reviewed in the United States on July 6, 2018
Reviewed in the United States on May 5, 2017
The author obviously loved Tibet. You can feel his love of this country and the respect of its traditions and people.
Very educational and enlightening book.
I am amazed at what he and his friend had to endure in order to achieve their dream of seeing the Forbidden City.
Reviewed in the United States on March 6, 2017
The Author gives his own life experiences of the journey to and from
Tibet. Recommended Reading for all.
Reviewed in the United States on September 1, 2019
Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2017
Top reviews from other countries
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 4, 2018
One of my favourite books, also written also in the fifties, had the enigmatic sentence in it, spoken by a gloomy character who was bemoaning what the world was coming to, ‘And the Chinese are in Tibet’… I never really understood what that meant until reading this and also watching the film.
I didn’t want to read this, I felt it was history I couldn’t relate to, an area I was not especially interested in, and the writing style was different, diary-like, dry, leadenly slow at first. The hardback copy I bought had photos, one in colour, which helped, and once Harrer and Aufschnaiter had arrived at their dreamed of destination, after two years travelling to Lhasa, I felt more involved. I couldn’t see how their money lasted them two years; they must have started out weighed down with possessions and coin. I know other prisoners had contributed, but all the same, it seemed fantastical that they could survive on so little. The film was equally trying as Brad Pitt doggedly scrambled over ice and stones for the first third of it.
The earlier scenes in the Indian concentration camps run by the British reminded me that my mother told me that we, the English, invented such holding camps, and used them as cruelly, if not in such a way as in Germany at that time. The film did the escape scenes with aplomb, the colour was added to the travel autobiography style of Harrer by introducing elements of The Great Escape; adding also the romance between Aufschaiter and the tailor lady from Calcutta, not in the book, nor their eventual marriage as filmed. Neither did Harrer apparently have a son Rolf as was shown in the movie. A son Peter is recorded in Wikipedia though. The best thing about the film was seeing the wondrous costumes of the Tibetans, the great riches of Tibet, the sweet smiling face of the Dalai Lama, and hearing the huge horns they blow in his honour. The banners, the animals, the fox fur hats, the various other headgear. The gardens, the peacocks…
The careful noting of maps, habits and customs of the Tibet people by Harrer was a valuable resource. He filled exercise books with all these facts. Tibet’s previous days of greatness and the refusal to use the wheel. The social class, the position of women, the behaviour of the thousands of monks, not the religious as we know them, more like the Church before the reformation, bullies, advantage takers, too powerful men. What were thousands of them up to that Harrer called an indescribable scene of them squatting, busy doing something for which privacy is generally regarded as essential!
The mah-jong epidemic, which the government had to step in and ban. Funny, too, to think of Bridge parties and tennis matches being the norm! Their diet of butter tea (60 -200 cups consumed in a day!) use of smelly butter lamps never to be allowed to go out in the monasteries, palaces and temples, the domestic details were fascinating. Harrer spoke of the ‘indescribable beauty’ of the Himalayas, and their allure to him as a champion climber, yet the Tibetans were afraid to veer off the Pilgrim paths. I was intrigued to read about the ‘British Legation’ who were in the Forbidden City before Harrer and had started a hospital, library, schools. That seemed strange to me because much is made throughout the story about Harrer and Aufschnaiten being the first Europeans to live in Lhasa. Five boys from Lhasa had gone to Rugby School. How did they fit in when they went home?
I was shocked to read that life expectancy for Tibetans in the fifties was 30. Marriage at 16 was common. I know the winters were hard but the summers sounded like the Garden of Eden. The friendly, generous habits, like seeing people off along their route by going ahead of them and vice versa. The building skills involved in the sustaining of the palaces and rock forts. The gifts made to the Dalai Lama, horses kept fat and quiet in the stables, never ridden, the elephant… and an onager- a wild ass. The Treasure houses stuffed with centuries of gold and books, clothes and vessels…the burial rituals, being carried away by untouchables, then pulled apart and fed to the vultures on a hillside… The sand mandalas, the butter sculptures.
So from 1944 – 1951 is covered by the book. Yet Harrer continued his friendship with the Dalai Lama, who we all know today as a genial smiling monk in exile from Tibet since the invasion in 1951 until Harrer’s death in 2006 at 92. Wonderful to know so much more now about Buddhism; the country on the roof of the world and a modest man who was brought up as a god, made friends with an Austrian and received a worldview from him that set him on the path of global travel and a mission for peace and kindness.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 26, 2017
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 22, 2016
Excellent descriptions about customs of Tibet and it’s people, without going on and on with any boring details. Descriptions are short and precise. The book really gives insight into Tibet life and traditions, and the nature of the Tibetan people. The Tibetan cause for freedom needs to live on.
How lovely that Heinrich and the Dalai Lama remained great friends all of Heinrich’s life until Heinrich’s death at the age of 92 years. This surely shows the great respect each had for each other.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 12, 2014
I purchased this for my Kindle and I do have a paperback copy…in fact I had an older paperback copy of it too but I have no idea what happened to that version.
I picked up this book as a teenager (a long time ago!) from the bookshelf at home, I had just finished reading something (probably by Stephen King or James Herbert) and needed reading fodder so searched the shelves and found this. I actually thought ‘Ugh! This will be hard going!’ ..it was the best I could find.
It looked like nothing I would have any interest in at all…me being into Duran Duran & OK, more specifically John Taylor of Duran Duran at that time…
How wrong was I!!
Over the …oh….30 years it must be since I first read this book I have gone back and read it many more times and it now holds a place in my heart. It IS my favourite book of all time.
The story, the descriptions…all brought to life. The Dalai Lama.
Tibet and a culture I knew nothing of back then.
Truth be told I think this is where my interest in people, psychology and culture came from. It is a brilliant read!
I have never yet seen the film. I have avoided it at all costs because I wouldn’t wish to ruin my feelings about the book.
For me this is a classic. Superbly written! Fascinating!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 24, 2016
A window onto a long lost world – not Shangri La, but the very real post war kingdom of Tibet, pre-Chinese occupation.
Tracing the author’s escape from Indian internment by the British, over and through the Himalaya to the awaiting and cult of world of Lhasa, this is a fascinating tale of friendship, the benefits of education and the detriments of political obsession (the latter by China and the former two by the Dalai Lama, the people of Tibet, and Heinrich Harrer).
A humbling tale with lessons for all – great stuff.