The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet's Lost Paradise

Ian Baker

Language: English

Pages: 544

ISBN: 0143036025

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The myth of Shangri-la originates in Tibetan Buddhist beliefs in beyul, or hidden lands, sacred sanctuaries that reveal themselves to devout pilgrims and in times of crisis. The more remote and inaccessible the beyul, the vaster its reputed qualities. Ancient Tibetan prophecies declare that the greatest of all hidden lands lies at the heart of the forbidding Tsangpo Gorge, deep in the Himalayas and veiled by a colossal waterfall. Nineteenth-century accounts of this fabled waterfall inspired a series of ill-fated European expeditions that ended prematurely in 1925 when the intrepid British plant collector Frank Kingdon-Ward penetrated all but a five-mile section of the Tsangpo’s innermost gorge and declared that the falls were no more than a “religious myth” and a “romance of geography.”

The heart of the Tsangpo Gorge remained a blank spot on the map of world exploration until world-class climber and Buddhist scholar Ian Baker delved into the legends. Whatever cryptic Tibetan scrolls or past explorers had said about the Tsangpo’s innermost gorge, Baker determined, could be verified only by exploring the uncharted five-mile gap. After several years of encountering sheer cliffs, maelstroms of impassable white water, and dense leech-infested jungles, on the last of a series of extraordinary expeditions, Baker and his National Geographic–sponsored team reached the depths of the Tsangpo Gorge. They made news worldwide by finding there a 108-foot-high waterfall, the legendary grail of Western explorers and Tibetan seekers alike.

The Heart of the World is one of the most captivating stories of exploration and discovery in recent memory—an extraordinary journey to one of the wildest and most inaccessible places on earth and a pilgrimage to the heart of the Tibetan Buddhist faith.

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Hilton described Shangri-La as a place “strange and half incredible,” a place “touched with mystery . . . the whole atmosphere more of wisdom than philosophy,” where a monastic elite had discovered the key to longevity through esoteric breathing regimens and purple berries with mild narcotic properties. A storehouse of sacred wisdom and the greatest achievements of both Eastern and Western civilization, the sequestered valley was presented as a source of light and illumination in an age of

route to Zadem that the porters had forged that morning. He’d found only incipient game trails that petered out into jungle. Admittedly in a state of panic, he had decided to try to make his way back to Azadem if he couldn’t resurrect the fire. If he could keep it going, at least he knew he wouldn’t freeze to death. By the time we were all back on track, it was close to 5 p.m. and we had only two hours of daylight left. Buluk claimed that it would take us four hours to reach Zadem, but we were

declined. In 1998 only 60 head of cattle and 4 horses were killed. On September 28, 2001, Beijing’s state media reported that Chinese scientists planned to spend five million yuan to develop pig farms “in order to feed a rare group of Bengal tigers that have preyed on Tibetan yak herds.” The official Xinhua news agency reported that: “at least 20 Bengal tigers live in Tibet at altitudes of more than 4,000 meters on the southern slopes of the Himalayas where they feed on domesticated yak herds in

contributed to Kingdon Ward’s book, Riddle of Tsangpo Gorges, Lord Cawdor’s journals illuminated their unrelenting hardships. On November 26, 1924, he wrote: Rain down here. Snow very low down—Jungle thoroughly sodden. This is without exception, the most depressing country I’ve ever been in. It may grow more weeds “per foot” than any other country, but what is that to me—Blast these showers! I’d sell my soul to see some honest weather again. Tibetan pilgrimage guides liken Pemako’s

told me to return from the cave after a month and tell him of my experience. He had already asked a local herdsman named Pema Rigdzin to take me to the cave; he and his twelve-year-old son were waiting for me outside the hut. I followed Pema Rigdzin into the forests high above the Malemchi Khola, the roar of the river billowing up in waves from the ravines below. We gradually veered away from the main track up the valley, climbing up steep slopes of bamboo and hemlock and across narrow ledges of

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