Shangri La

I am close to finishing Ian Baker’s, “The Heart of the World”, which is the story of his repeated excursions to the beyul, or sacred valley, in Tibet known as Pemako. It is an extraordinary story with Baker’s understanding of himself growing with each journey. The hardships are extensive and enduring them is the leit-motif to the exploration of this rugged terrain.

It is Baker’s Buddhist training that keeps him aligned. The need to understand why is the primary goal and the search for various Buddhist steps of enlightenment the raison d’etre of all the journeys. The compelling narrative that includes the many hardships, from Chinese bureaucracy, inadequate maps, stinging nettles, leeches, swamps and much more, as well as Buddhist characters of transcendant happiness lead us to appreciate this sanguine discipline that on the surface can seem both selfish and selfless.

The Buddhist discipline seems so much clearer for having been forged in such rugged terrain that is both bountiful and treacherous. I am not a spiritualist in any sense of the word, but I can clearly understand Baker’s yearning for understanding and his restlessness to completely understand this beyul so full of contradictions.

Ultimately, Baker yields to a grant from National Geographic to picture the heretofore unseen waterfalls of the Tsangpo River. A six mile stretch of the river has never been seen because the gorge that it runs through is 2000 feet deep and the walls down to the river are sheer. Baker’s understanding, and it keeps coming to him through every travail, could just be the aging process, but whatever it is, the man reveals a deep sense of commitment to a world that is not his own and the book is all the more powerful for this revelation.


Ian Baker’s, “The Heart of the World”, ends with an equanimity that must certainly relate to his many journeys to the beyul of Pemako in Tibet. If this is how one attains enlightenment, I ain’t goin. His journeys are mind boggling.

The heart of being an antique dealer is being exposed to the otherness that antiques represent. The aesthetic qualities, the craftsmanship and materials¬†is more than social history, more than beauty–it is a testament to why things survive. It is something to think about.

A friend who is restoring a house worries about the interminable bills he is confronted with. Who wouldn’t be? Such questions belie any case for individual enlightenment. Or do they?


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