heinrich harrer was born on july 6, 1912. he died on january 7, 2006. in his obituary, it is noted that “harrer wrote soon after leaving lhasa of his homesickness. he could "still hear the wild cries of geese and cranes ... as they fly over lhasa in the clear cold moonlight." forty years later he would observe that "the landscape has not changed, but there are no more birds."
i first came across heinrich harrer when i read his book about the many atttempts to scale the eiger’s north face entitled "the white spider". i was struck by his ability to present this, the most harrowing and dangerous of "sports", as an informative yet almost poetic narrative.
here's "the white spider" on the eiger . . .
while mountaineering in the himalayas, harrer and two fellow climbers were detained by the british authorities as war had broken out. harrer managed to escape and with three other men, undertook an incredibly treacherous journey across the most inhospitable terrain that resulted in him entering tibet. harrer and one other climber remained in tibet for seven years, an experience famously chronicled in his book ”seven years in tibet” and later in the film of the same name.
one of my favourite pieces of writing by harrer appeared in of all places national geographic. entitled “my life in forbidden lhasa”, the article details his escape from internment in india to the isolated refuge of tibet. you can read the article here.
most extraordinarily though harrer was introduced to the dalai lama to whom he became a tutor and friend . . . here he is at a later date reunited with his old friend and "student" . . . here is an excerpt from the film “seven years in tibet” in which the dalai lama discusses life with harrer . . .
some grainy but worthy still and moving images of old tibet have been assembled here . . .
wealthy completists might be interested in acquiring a copy of harrer’s portfolio of ten silver gelatin prints taken during his stay in tibet. if you are neither wealthy nor a completist, then you might be satisfied with having a look at the ten pictures online.