I’m a sucker for these types of books about arduous journeys to strange lands, but like most books of the kind written by men this one has serious problems. Harrer was a German citizen taken into a prisoner of war camp in India at the outbreak of WWII. He escapes twice, the last journey takes him into the wild windswept heights of Tibet where he and companions sneak or haggle or somehow make their way into the interior where they are forbidden from venturing. This is the part that’s most interesting, the battle against the elements, describing the various nomads met along the way, the endless cups of butter tea. Nearly frozen, it is a cup of this butter tea that restores him to his senses enough to see what a beauty his hostess is. He’s delighted later to find that women are frequently offered for the “use” of their guests.
They eventually sneak and stagger into Lhasa, the city where the Dali Lama lives, and the descriptions of life are engaging for a while before petering off into pure tedium of fawning over the Living Buddha once they gain access to him. We learn from Harrer that “women know nothing about equal rights and are quite happy as they are. They spend hours making up their faces, restringing their pearl necklaces, choosing new material for dresses, and thinking how to outshine Mrs. So-and-so at the next party.” Yawn, these patriarchal accounts are so predictably boring.