THE HEART OF THE WORLD: A Journey to the Last Secret Place

Ian Baker, Author, Dalai Lama, Introduction by , intro. by the Dalai Lama. Penguin Press $27.95 (544p) ISBN 978-1-59420-027-4

A heady mélange of history, wilderness exploration and Tibetan Buddhism study, this true story of the search for the "hidden-lands" of Pemako, Tibet, is scholarly, entertaining and transcendent. Baker first heard of this place "where the physical and spiritual worlds overlap" in 1977, while living in Kathmandu, and spent much of the next 22 years obsessively exploring it, as both an adventurer and a Buddhist pilgrim. As far back as 1377, Tibetan lamas were led by dreams and visions to secret texts hidden in Pemako's caves and behind its waterfalls: the manuscripts supposedly described physical and spiritual landscapes leading to an Eden-like earthly paradise. Baker chronicles British imperialist explorations of this area as well as Tibetan lamas' pilgrimages there. Local deities called Suma protected Pemako from "those whose intentions are not in harmony with [its] spirit" (including the latest "liberation" by the Chinese), until 1998, when Chinese scientists penetrated its deepest wilderness and began planning to destroy it with a hydroelectric dam. Interspersing the account with tales of Tibetan rimpoches (monastic lamas) and British botanists, Baker describes three of his trips to Pemako: to a gorge (perhaps the world's deepest), a sacred mountain and, finally, an elusive, mythic waterfall. His success is intimately tied to his deepening understanding of Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan culture. Heartbreakingly, his sportsman's ambition collides with his appreciation of the mystery when his "discovery" of the last hidden place threatens it with the onslaught of civilization. Photos. Agent, Owen Laster. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 10/18/2004
Release date: 11/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 511 pages - 978-0-14-303602-9
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