Film je posnet po resnični zgodbi avstrijskega alpinista Heinricha Harrera, ki se je s kolegom Petrom in skupino nemških alpinistov leta 1939 odpravil v Himalajo. V tem času se začne 2. svetovna vojna, zato jih aretirajo angleški vojaki in jih kot vojne ujetnike zaprejo v indijske zapore. Po številnih neuspešnih poskusih Harrerju in Petru končno uspe pobegniti. Dve leti traja, da prideta v Tibet, kjer naposled najdeta mir ter spoznata enajstletnega dalajlamo. Še posebej Harrer se s tibetanskim duhovnim vodjo zelo zbliža.
After the death of 11 climbers, Austrian Heinrich Harrer (Brad Pitt) decides to add glory to his country and to the Austrian pride by climbing Nanga Parbat in British India, and leaves his expectant wife behind. An egoist and a loner, he does not get along with others on his team - but must bend to their wishes after bad weather threatens them. Then WWII breaks out, they are arrested and lodged in Dehra Dun's P.O.W. Camp. He attempts to break out several times in vain, but finally does succeed along with Peter Aufschnaiter (David Thewlis), and they end up in the holy city of Lhasa - a place banned to foreigners. They are provided food and shelter, and Peter ends up marrying a tailor, Pema Lhaki, while Heinrich befriends the Dalai Lama. They meet regularly; while he satiates the child's curiosity about the world, including Jack the Ripper and 'yellow hair'; he is exposed to the teachings of Lord Buddha, He even constructs a movie theater, while getting news of the end of the war, his divorce, and his son's refusal to communicate. But nothing will prepare him for the devastation about to descend when Communist China decides to attack, leading to the deaths of over 1 million Tibetans, the destruction of over 6000 monasteries, and betrayal from their very own people.