Monday, October 4, 2010

Antiquariana: Old Tibet

I happened to find a first edition copy of Seven Years in Tibet in a bookstore and bought it for some reason. Put off by visions of Brad Pitt's bleached hair, I avoided Heinrich Harrar's 1953 memoir for months. I'm glad I finally opened it. Among its most memorable passages are those about  witnessing religious events or dealing with yaks:

"And after long and enjoyable chaffering we bought a yak. This was the fourth in our line of Armins and he was no different from the others except that perhaps he was naughtier."

"While at Sangsang we had made friends with some Sherpas....They gave us valuable advice regarding our preparations and helped us to find a new yak, which was a real service to us, as we had hitherto invariably been swindled when we bought one of these creatures. We noted with satisfaction that our new yak was a well-behaved beast....In his youth his horns had been removed and the operation seemed to have improved his temper without diminishing his strength. He wore the usual nose-ring. With a very little encouragement one could get him to exceed his average speed of two miles an hour."

"The medium became calmer. Servants held him fast and a Cabinet Minister stepped before him and threw a scarf over his head. Then he began to ask questions carefully prepared by the Cabinet about the appointment of a governor, the discovery of a new Incarnation, matters involving war and peace....I tried to pick out intelligible words but made nothing of the sounds. While the Minister stood humbly there trying to understand the answers, an old monk took them down with flying pen. He had done this hundreds of times in his life as he was also secretary to the late Oracle. I could not prevent myself from suspecting that perhaps the real Oracle was the secretary. The answers he wrote down...relieved the Cabinet of a heavy load of responsibility."

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