The University of Alberta Press|June 4, 2008|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 0-88864-492-2
Inaccessible for most of its history, the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has long fascinated the West. Today, wealthy travelers are admitted in small groups, but in 1987, when Ken Haigh arrived as a volunteer to teach in a small high school, foreign travelers were as hard to find in the kingdom as telephones or toilet paper. Under the Holy Lake describes a two-year sojourn in the valley of Khaling in eastern Bhutan. Ken learns to cope with leeches, rabid dogs, and culture shock, and in return finds his life transformed. He rents a small cottage next to a Buddhist monastery and quickly settles into a pattern of existence that is hundreds of years removed from the world he’d known in Canada. He finds his students are polite and eager to learn, his neighbours warm and welcoming. Under the Holy Lake is a love song to a mountain valley and its people, a story of youth, and discovery, and, ultimately, of loss.
A most compelling read! Ken Haigh’s memoir had me from the first page until the very last. Each page brought new scenery, new people, new things to learn and see. The descriptions were so clearly laid out that I felt as though I was truly trudging along with Ken as he climbed the steep embankments through the thick jungle. I could feel and see the giant leeches as they clung to my clothing searching for spaces in my clothing to gain access to skin where they could attach themselves for a few hours of blood sucking. The rabid dogs with their foaming mouths seemed especially frightening as did the giant rats that Ken was forced to live with.
The students were so well-mannered and polite for a culture so far removed from where we are here in the west. I don’t honestly know how Mr. Haigh managed to stay for two years living in this dilapidated place that seemed like something out of a horror movie. The students he and others taught there were fortunate to have volunteers such as Ken and the others to come and impart their knowledge.
I took my time reading this as I didn’t want to miss a single word of this memoir. This would make for a great book club read. There are so many aspects to this memoir and so many things to discuss. I wish I knew someone else who had already read this so I could discuss it with them.
Thank you, Mr. Haigh for sharing your adventure, it was the most entertaining, informative, and educational piece of reading I’ve done in a long while.