Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

About Heinrich Harrer

Heinrich Harrer was born in Austria on July 6, 1912. Contrary to popular belief, Harrer did not compete on the Austrian skiing team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, an apocryphal factoid perpetrated by the film 'Seven Years in Tibet'. However, he did make the first ascent of the north face of the Eiger in Switzerland with Anderl Heckmair, Fritz Kasparek and Ludwig Vorg in July 1938. Austria was taken by Germany shortly before the onset of World War II, and Harrer, who was on a mountain climbing expedition to scale Nanga Parabat in India, was taken prisoner and held in a British Colonial internment camp near the Tibetan border.

After hoarding enough supplies to sustain themselves on the arduous journey that lay ahead, Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter escaped and set out for Lhasa, the Forbidden City. Having braved the harsh Himilayan terrain through a bitter winter with only meager rations, surviving the threat of attack by hostile nomads, the hardships of altitude sickness, and the likelihood that they would be denied sanctuary in Tibet, Harrer and Aufschnaiter were welcomed into Lhasa. There they were treated as honored guests, attired in the finest garments, served sumptuous banquets, and housed in royal quarters.

Harrer lived in Lhasa for nearly five years, where he taugh English to the children of the court, and developed a close relationship with Tenzin Gyatso, the boy who would become the 14th Dalai Lama. Harrer was even allowed to photograph and film the royal family as they participated in sacred ceremonies never before witnessed by an outsider.

Heinrich Harrer left Tibet in December 1950, just before Lhasa was invaded by the Chinese. Upon his return to Austria, he wrote Seven Years in Tibet, The White Spider, and Lost Lhasa, along with more than a dozen other books based upon his Tibetan adventure. Thereafter, he continued to organize climbing expeditions, one of the most notable being the first ascent of the the highest peak in Oceania, Puncak Jayadikesuma in western New Guinea.

His accolades include the Gold Humboldt Medal and the Explorers Club Medal for his expeditions throughout six continents. Seven Years in Tibet has sold more than four million copies and has been translated into 53 languages. In October 1997, Seven Years in Tibet made its motion picture debut with Brad Pitt in the starring role. And despite his advancing age, Heinrich Herrer has continued to maintain a close friendship with Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso.