Harrer was a famous Austrian mountaineer and explorer, born in Hüttenberg in 1912. A keen sportsman, as a young man he was part of the Austrian Alpine skiing team and in 1938, just after his university finals, he was part of a four man team who conquered the north face of the Eiger. War was declared while he was on another reconnaissance expedition near Karachi, he was captured by the British and detained in a camp at Dehradun, India. After several attempts he eventually escaped with partner Peter Aufschnaiter, in April 1944, their plan to head towards Tibet. After 18 months of walking and climbing in the most terrible conditions, they reached the capital, Lhasa, in January 1946. He remained there for seven years and in that time formed a friendship with the young Dalai Lama, then aged 11, teaching him about Science and Geography. He wrote about his experiences in a book, Seven Years in Tibet, which was made into a film in 1997, Brad Pitt playing the part of Harrer. His final years, before he died in 2006, were tarnished by his Nazi past, as it came to light just before the release of the film that he had been a member of the SS in the 1930s and his Eiger team had been photographed with Hitler. He maintained this part of his life was an aberration: indeed he was never linked to any atrocities committed by the Nazis.
The museum in Carinthia was officially opened in 1992 by the Dalai Lama, the two men had remained close friends, and it is here that many artefacts from his travels have been gathered together to create a fascinating picture of life in Tibet and other countries he visited later in his life including Borneo and Sudan.
We spent an hour or so visiting the museum, again having the place virtually to ourselves. I had been looking forward to climbing the Lingkor, the reproduction of a Tibetan pilgrim's trail which winds up the rock opposite the museum, but it was closed for repairs. It was still quite breathtaking to see the steps on the mountainside, the flags and prayer wheel with water rushing past, all aspects of Tibetan life in a small village in Austria.
|Lingkor winding up the mountain, opposite the museum|
|Torma - the traditional Tibetan art of Butter Sculpture|
|Detail from one butter sculpture|
The Heinrich Harrer museum was free to visit using our Kärnten card, saving us 13.50 euros, the cost of the special Huttenberg card giving access to two other museums in the town.