A journey in Ladakh

by Andrew Harvey

Hardcover, 1983




Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1983.


High up in the remote mountain passes on the Indian border with Tibet, China and Pakistan, Ladakh has been a centre for Buddhist meditation since three centuries before Christ and is one of the last places on earth where a Tibetan Buddhist community still survives. Arriving by rickety bus, Andrew Harvey was unprepared for the breathtaking splendour, colour and silence of the landscape, and was entranced by the simple way of life of its people, for whom the sacred and everyday merge into one. Frustrated by the spiritual poverty of his sophisticated, western, intellectual lifestyle, Andrew Harvey finds peace, hope and freedom in the Buddhist teachings of Thuksey Rinpoche at Shey monastery, and discovers spiritual strength.

User reviews

LibraryThing member nandadevi
This book is a loving homage to Ladakh, it people, the country and its spirituality. Harvey is acutely aware of the fragility of all of this as the isolation that protected Ladakh is being broken down all around him (in 1981), by politics and by tourism - even (as Harvey admits) spiritual tourism. Harvey's journey is about spiritual searching, but for the first two parts of the book he is a poet wandering about Ladakh, describing the people and the place with a poet's eye and pen, and the result is very satisfying. There is a sense of his slowly absorbing the countryside, the pace of life and the spirit of the place. But the story also reveals, little by little, Harvey's own inner geography and character. He has reservations about plunging into the full spiritual life. The intensity of Tibetan Buddhism fascinates and frightens him, he appears anxious about losing himself in it, or finding out that it has nothing to offer.

So far this is a travel narrative, and a good one. Very few stories of journeying don't include a component of the inner journeys we make in parallel with the visible one. But in the third part of Harvey's book he takes the plunge, and the reader - if he or she is inclined - is propelled into some very deep (beautifully written) discussions on Buddhism and the big questions of life. The reader needs to be prepared to accept that the snatches of authentic everyday dialogue in the earlier parts of the book are succeeded here by weeks of very long discussions with religious leaders, all faithfully recorded. As a diarist in a former life I know that this is possible, but I miss some reflection from Harvey how he went about this. That said, I found this one of the easiest and best expositions about what Buddhism is (and isn't) about I have ever read. The debunking of the 'seeking enlightenment' crowd was superb, and there is an intelligent discussion on the applicability of Buddhism for Westerners. Most of all the humanity of the people Harvey talks with, their love of the people and the country, shines through.

Read this for the beautiful description of Ladakh, for the insights into one man's encounter with Buddhism, or for both. On any of these grounds this is an excellent book.
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