National Geographic : 1955 Jul
Breathless in Thin Air at 20,000 Feet, the Author Rests Buddha-fashion Penniless on reaching Lhasa, Mr. Harrer soon found employment. He built a cinema for the Dalai Lama and a dike to stem Kyi River floods. He drew maps, landscaped gardens, gilded images, and monitored radio broadcasts. The Tibetan Government rewarded him with a salaried post in its hierarchy. The Austrian mountain climber and skier preferred surplus U. S. Army clothing, though his rank entitled him to Tibetan silks. Here, dressed in parka and pants bought in a Lhasa bazaar, he sits on the flank of 23,996-foot Chomo Lhari, a sacred peak on the Tibet Bhutan border. Binoculars fascinate his servant. received so many reports of strangers stalking the streets that they had got the impression a minor invasion was under way. The nobleman said he would take us into his house if the Government would permit it. He went to the magistrate to ask authoriza tion. An excited woman identified our bene factor as Thangme, the Master of Electricity. Permission was granted for our temporary shelter, and a servant led us to the noble man's house. Thangme and his young wife greeted us warmly. Their five plump children gazed in wonder. The next day the Foreign Ministry sent word that we could stay with Thangme, under house arrest, until the Tibetan Regent returned from a distant retreat. The Regent, ruler of the nation until the 11-year-old Dalai Lama reached his majority, would decide our future. The Tibetans are, by nature, a generous and warmhearted people. Now that they could legally receive us, every luxury was heaped upon us. The Government sent us custom-made suits and shoes. The Thangmes crowded themselves to give us a pleasant bedroom of our own. The sweet incense of burning juniper poured from its iron stove. This was a great luxury, for Lhasa has no forests, and wood is borne from great distances by yaks. Even noble families customarily burn only yak dung. Strangers Become Social Lions We became the sensations of Lhasa. Aristo crats in fur-lined brocades and silks streamed to the Thangme home, bringing gifts. Every one took great delight in our tale of how we had hoodwinked the Shingdongka official. The visit of George Tsarong, a Government official and the son of a former grand minister, set the house in an uproar. Tsarong was of higher rank than Thangme, and under Lhasa's rigid protocol would not ordinarily visit his home. The young aristocrat, however, proved a diverting guest. He had learned English in a British school in India, as had Thangme. Tsarong listened daily to news on a radio, powered by a wind-propelled generator, which he had put together himself. From him we learned of the events that followed World War II. Despite the end of hostilities, we were not anxious to return home. Yangchenla, Tsarong's wife, bubbled with laughter and questions. One of Lhasa's fair est women, she customarily dressed in a rain bow-striped apron and a triangular Lhasa style headdress studded with turquoises, coral, amber, and seed pearls. She knew the use of rouge, lipstick, and powder (page 14). Other ranking nobles came to see the stran gers and stayed deep into the night. Auf schnaiter and I worried lest we inconvenience our host and hostess, but they assured us they had never known such an exciting time. Our status as minor celebrities, however, did nothing to ease our worry over the future.