Book Reviews

Book Review: Under the Holy Lake.


Bhutan, a small mountainous kingdom bordering India and China in the north-eastern subcontinent, is perceived by most western people as exotic, eccentric and inaccessible.

You can travel to Bhutan, but everyone, except Indian citizens, needs a visa and has to pay substantial amount of each day of the visit. As a tourist, you will be assigned a guide, and pending the amount of the daily fee, your guide will make accommodation and transportation arranegemtns. These guides are not “minders” as in Tibet or other Chinese

Regions, they are responsible for your well-being and comfort while in Bhutan. These precautionary measures signal the intention of the government. It wants to preserve the culture to the extent possible, as the ruler feels that Bhutanese should be viewed as endangered people in the same way we look at rare wild animals. He simply wants to preserve the Bhutanese culture, people and the environment.

Ken Haigh was a young graduate when he applied to teach in a remote Bhutanese village high school set up by a Canadian religious order.

In the 1980’s teachers were either Indian nationals, or Canadians with a few from Norway and Sweden who looked after the interests of blind and otherwise handicapped children.

Funds to run the school from charitable organizations and the government.

As the author explains in his vivid and erudite writing, teaching in one of Bhutan’s remote regions is no picnic and requires adaptation and the will to adopt local conditions.

There was no electricity and only squat toilet outhouses.

But students were friendly, respectful, and attentive in an attempt to be well prepared for final examinations, which were set up in India, and delivered, to the school in sealed envelopes!

Course outlines existed but only in a very brief form, or sometimes “misplaced” (never to be found by former teachers.

He had planned to educate his students to become critical thinkers, rather than teach them skills that the administrator preferred.

The author writes straight forward, free of affection, but very effectively. So much so, that the reader becomes captivated with the environment and lifestyle to which foreign teachers must adapt. Vegetables were scarce (especially in winter) and fruits were a luxury when available.

He writes about a visit of Canadian diplomats and how they brought provisions (canned French pate, canned fish, Brie cheese, and wine) that he served in his humble abode close to the school. He also mentions that he and another teacher received a gift in the form of a bottle of California chardonnay. I think he implies that he thought it would have been more appropriate to present a bottle of Ontario of British Columbia wine.

This book describes Bhutan in a frank and loving fashion explaining that the government wants to preserve this unique nation, and excludes Nepalese refugees by keeping them in UN set camps.

This is an excellent, well-written and informative book for anyone interested in teaching in a developing country.

Those interested in Buddhism, mindfulness and awareness of living will benefit from the content.

Highly recommended.

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