Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A Taste of Tibet in Austria

It was my turn to choose where to visit on one of our 'trip out' days in Austria. After the Three Ms on previous days I was curious to see the Heinrich Harrer museum in Hüttenberg, just under an hour's drive away from our base on the Ossiachersee..

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.

Heinrich Harrer Museum, Huttenberg
Lingkor winding up the mountain, opposite the museum

Sand mandala, heinrich harrer museum
Sand Mandala - an intricate design made from coloured sand, this mandala was created in 2012 by Tibetan monks for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Heinrich Harrer. As tradition insists, it will soon be destroyed, symbolizing the Buddhist belief in the transitory nature of material life. 

Butter sculpture
Torma - the traditional Tibetan art of Butter Sculpture
heinrich harrer museum, butter art
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. 


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22 comments:

  1. Butter? truly? gosh how amazing. Looks like a really interesting place Trish.

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    1. Yes, amazing isn't it. Apparently it takes dozens of Tibetan monks working in very cold conditions to work the butter from the yak milk - usually for the annual Butter Lantern Festival. It comes from the tradition of offering everything from their domestic animals to Buddha.

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  2. Your alliterative travel exploits are absolutely amazing.

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    1. There was something very pleasing about my 'H' choice that day.

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  3. Finally catching up after my holidays!
    Fascinating story, shame about the reproduction of the pilgrim tail being closed though.
    I have very much enjoyed all your Austrian posts as always, glad you had such an interesting trip. :o) xx

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    1. Yes, I read more about his story in the second week of the holiday as I bought the book, Seven Years in Tibet. Quite a remarkable man who has tried to do so much for the Tibetan people in the years since he lived there.

      Glad you've enjoyed the posts. Hope you have the stamina for more!

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  4. Wow. That sounds really fascinating... I can't believe that that's butter too! :D x

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  5. That's a great advertising slogan you've tweaked there, Emma!

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  6. Very interesting Trish! When I was 12, we lived near Dehradun in India for 4 months while my Mum (who is a Tibetologist) was researching her PhD. We went to a nearby Buddhist stupa one day, and Heinrich Harrer was there visiting the Rinpoche. We chatted to him for a bit and my Mum talked to him about her research. He wasn't very friendly from what I recall (I remember at the time wondering how he and the Dalai Lama could have been such close friends - chalk and cheese in personalities!). Interesting man though. This was all well before the Brad Pitt film of course.Great post - it's brought that memory right back to me! Cheers, from Maddie @ Gammon & Chips

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    1. That's fantastic, Maddie. So pleased to hear your story - I'm glad I brought back memories for you. Interesting to hear what you thought of him too. And wow, your mum is a Tibetologist! She can tell everyone about the butter sculptures far better than I can!
      Thanks again for commenting - I'm so chuffed you did.

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    2. Ha ha. Yes, yak butter memories too – I remember being invited to lots of Tibetan houses and being given Yak Butter Tea in a little cup, and being quite pleased with myself that I managed to finish it in order to remain polite (it wasn't really my cup of tea, so to speak!) and as soon as you finish, the tradition is to instantly refill your cup – doh!

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    3. Harrer mentions Butter tea a lot in his book. I didn't like the sound of it and I don't think he did either. Somehow butter and tea just don't go together unless the butter is on a scone!

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  7. Wow, what a wacky place and fascinating story. (And as for the butter sculptures...!!!)

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    1. I found it all a bit surreal really but was very taken with his story and wanted to know more about him.

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  8. What a great museum. Shame the steps were closed and you couldn't test your legs. It looks quite a climb! The sand art is incredible - so intricate, they must have steady hands and no toddlers lurching about. :)

    I wonder if they spread the butter statues on toast once they've finished with them. Did you ask? :)

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    1. I was so disappointed the Lingkor was closed - though in the heat it definitely would have tested my legs!

      Do you know, I didn't think to ask what they did with the butter afterwards. Not sure the thought of well-thumbed butter on my toast is that appealing. Yum!

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  9. Amazing and beautiful. It's hard to believe they can make these things out of butter.

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    1. The whole museum was full of wonderful artefacts, including a beautiful prayer room.

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  10. The place virtually to yourselves in quiet Buddhist contemplation...must have been a silent 'H'.

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  11. I've always wanted to visit Tibet, but I guess this would be the next best (and somewhat closer!) thing. Fascinating - thank you!

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  12. Oh, this looks amazing- and I really can hardly believe that the sculptures are made from butter and sand (such a shame to destroy the sand one - but I get their point, I suppose.) I had no idea that this museum even existed, but I would love to see it. I never knew much about the Eiger (although MrL is a huge rock and ice climber) but a few years ago in class I showed the film, 'Nordwand' (North Wall/Face)- about an unsuccessful attempt to climb the north face in 1936 - very grim (but good.) I don't think we'll make it to Tibet on any of our rambles through Asia, but I could definitely see us going to Austria! (oh - and great photos, by the way!)

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