A Story of Karma – Finding Love and Truth in the Lost Valley of the Himalaya
For Michael Schauch, the most influential journey of his life began with a photograph shown to him by a friend while in a restaurant in Vancouver. It was a photograph of a mountain. In Schauch’s mind, it was the mountain: “A perfect pyramid from its southwest aspect, with sheer faces and a striking ridgeline that snaked its way to a spear-tipped summit piercing both cloud and sky.” He had always enjoyed mountain climbing, but this one was different: it won his heart and drew him to it. He was desperate to conquer the mountain and so, accompanied by his wife, Chantal, and a group of friends, he undertook a trip to the Lugula, a sub-range of the Nepalese Himalayas. Unfortunately for Schauch, the weather was against him and he had to abandon the ascent of his dream mountain.
However, that was far from being the end of the story. While staying in the village of Nar, after abandoning his attempt to climb the mountain, Schauch and his group became acquainted with a teacher who told them about the local school and introduced them to its seventeen pupils. One of those pupils was a seven-year-old girl named Karma, who seemed to deputize as the teacher when he could not be bothered to teach. Karma quickly became attached to Schauch and Chantal, and they to her. Recognizing that Karma would never receive the education she both wanted and deserved if she remained in Nar, they offered to fund her education at a boarding school with a Buddhist ethos. And so began a relationship between the Schauchs and Karma and her family that would last for years to come
A Story of Karma is the perfect book for an armchair traveler with an interest in mountaineering and Buddhist philosophy. The first part of the book details Schauch’s discovery of his mountain and then his group’s long, arduous trek through Nepal. From the sights, sounds, and smells of Kathmandu, to the friendly and welcoming resting places they find along the way, to the tragically decaying remote village of Phu, to the mystery and melancholy of long-abandoned Tibetan settlements, Schauch does a great job of bringing the scenery to life and introducing the diverse people he encountered on his journey. His love for the region really shines through.
The second part of the book focuses on the Schauchs’ relationship with Karma and her younger sister Pemba, and on their attempts to ensure that the girls received the education they desired. At first, this involved securing them places at the boarding school, but later, it meant securing visas so that the sisters (with the full approval of their parents) could move to Canada with the Schauchs and continue their education there. There is some interesting information here, and it’s particularly informative to note the differences between approaches to life and education in Nepal and those in Canada, although it is likely of more significance to Schauch than it is to the general reader. Schauch and Chantal clearly had the girls’ best interests at heart, and with that in mind, it would have been nice to know more about the decision that Karma and Pemba should return home and what has happened to them since then.
A Story of Karma is an engaging travel book and an interesting tale of people finding each other in the most unexpected of places. It will prompt readers to consider issues such as tradition vs. modernity, preservation vs. change, and fate vs. destiny. The book also includes a selection of photographs, including some impressive mountain vistas, which serve to enhance the reading experience.
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