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.
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.