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Book Review: Beneath Blossom Rain: Discovering Bhutan on the Toughest Trek in the World by Kevin Grange

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Imagine two descriptions of adventure travel journeys. One is billed as the toughest trek in the world. The other has a staff of seven, a kitchen tent, toilet tents, hot tea served as you arise each morning and hot evening meals with silverware at a large table. As incongruous as it may sound, both are the Snowman Trek, a 24-day horseshoe-shaped journey of 216 miles on foot through the Himalayas in Bhutan.

Why is the Snowman considered so tough? Not only are trekkers hiking nearly 10 miles a day, they traverse 11 high-mountain passes, seven of them over 16,000 feet. In addition to the risks inherent on at times precarious trails and from unpredictable weather, the height of the mountain passes makes altitude sickness a very real — and potentially fatal — danger. More people have climbed Mount Everest than have completed the Snowman Trek, Fewer than 120 people a year attempt the trek; less than 50 percent finish. Or, as one of author Kevin Grange’s fellow trekkers put it, “Everybody cries at some point on the Snowman Trek.”

Were Beneath Blossom Rain: Discovering Bhutan on the Toughest Trek in the World, Grange’s account of his journey, limited to its hazards, trials, and tribulations, one could easily categorize it as an adventure travel tale for those who enjoy such reads. Fortunately. Grange’s scope and journey were far broader. For the armchair traveler, Grange does a fine job of showing readers the nature, history, and landscape of Bhutan, as well as taking us to remote villages and monasteries (including an encounter with a “shit-faced” shaman who is plainly intoxicated when he comes to bless the group in a remote village). He is equally open about what is essentially a personal search for meaning.

As such, Beneath Blossom Rain combines the best of two other recently released works. Noted travel author Colin Thubron’s To a Mountain in Tibet is a somewhat more heavily philosophical account of his pilgrimage trek from Nepal to a Himalayan mountain in remote western Tibet. A search for meaning and an account of life in Bhutan, a country that actually measures Gross National Happiness and limits the number of tourists, is the focus of Lisa Napoli’s Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth. Napoli’s story, though, is set in Bhutan’s capital and largest city, not Himalayan treks.

Two concepts help drive Grange on the trek. One is the western idea of Shangri-La. A friend who completed the Snowman Trek described a high-altitude village in a valley in remotest northern Bhutan as “the most beautiful, most mysterious and most otherworldly place I’ve ever been.” It becomes Grange’s personal idea of Shangri-La and motivates him along the trek. The other is a Tibetan and Bhutanese concept that inspired the book’s title. In local folklore, an auspicious superstition surrounds blossom rain, the moment of rainbow light when it is raining and sunny at the same time. Those Bhutanese he asks about blossom rain provide no better than enigmatic answers about its significance, and his desire to grasp the concept also animates his efforts. Beneath Blossom Rain becomes as much a journal of an internal trek as a Himalayan one, a tale in which we are even privy to Grange’s ongoing debate with his “inner critic.” We also learn with Grange that enlightenment may not always come in places or events we would suspect.

Grange occasionally falls into a few clichés (“like home, sleep felt far away”) and platitudes (“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”). Additionally, some of the conversations with his fellow trekkers and guides seem somewhat artificial, designed more to convey basic information to the reader that someone on the trek would already know. Still, Grange brings a light touch of humor and direct, conversational tone that outweighs these occasional foibles. More important, Beneath Blossom Rain succeeds in merging travelogue with personal contemplation, allowing the armchair traveler to share both the physical and personal journey and taking them beyond a geographic place to a more philosophical one.

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About Tim Gebhart

Tim Gebhart is a book addict living in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he practices law to provide shelter for his family, books and dogs.
  • nabin

    I think I will buy it for the comming winter :)

  • nabin

    Is this book available in amazon

  • beans

    It took me a
    half liter of beer and 0.3 liters of wine for me to be able to finish this
    book. The only reason I actually finished it was to give an honest and complete
    book review. I found myself cursing at the author while dissecting the horrendous
    writing style and structure. The author overuses commas, and in many cases,
    uses them, definitively, where they are not necessary, similar to this
    sentence, in its exactness. If this last sentence annoyed you, then do not even
    pick up the book. This is how it is written.

    Furthermore,
    the author uses dashes instead of commas to extend run-on sentences. Instead of
    breaking up sentences to manage the flow of the story better, he uses them to
    interject unnecessary information about his thoughts, his past experiences as a
    child, and unrelated material. To make it worse, the author uses both excessive
    and unnecessary commas and dashes within the same sentence. To even further compound on this deplorable
    writing, he also uses parentheses. Put all three of these together and you have
    mess of letters all over the page.

    I would
    expect someone who has a creative writing degree to write at least with an
    educated approach. Instead, the story is full of grammatical errors. I also
    would expect someone with this degree to use similes and allegories appropriately.
    How do you compare a yak with a half-ton first grader? The book is littered
    with unbearable and unrelated comparisons. Similes, allegories, and comparisons
    can be very connecting to a reader. However, he fails horribly at using them appropriately.

    As for the
    story content, I felt like the author was telling me and not entwining me in
    his experience. For a trekking book, I expected something that would enthrall
    me and put me in his place. Instead of having the feeling that other books like
    “Into Thin Air”, “The Long Walk”, “Dead Lucky”, or “Without a Paddle” give you,
    the author only presents his experience as in a journal and doesn’t make this transcend
    to other readers.

    There are
    other facets of the book that drove me to cursing and drinking. He has an inner
    critic psyche that is obnoxiously annoying which he gives dialogue in the book.
    The other trekkers all seemed the same. I could not decipher any of them from
    the others. He states the Snow man Trek is the hardest in the world, but all
    the gear is carried by a team, the tents prepared for him, meals cooked, and
    tea served in bed. Indeed the trek is physically demanding and at high altitude,
    but by no means is having tea served in his tent qualifying him for the hardest
    trek in the world. Finally, his writing about the German female one day behind
    on the trek is not only inflated but also just damn creepy. He might as well be
    comparing himself to a predator. I would like to see Ingrid’s interpretation of
    his book.

    In the
    beginning and end of the book he states how he is failed at becoming a
    screenwriter and turned down by a Disney fellowship. The fact that he has a
    degree does not make him qualified. The best way I can describe how much I
    hated this book is by comparing it to some of the reviews. Some were better
    written than this acclaimed creative writing author. If one enjoys an 8th
    grade reading level and doesn’t catch all the poorly written material, then by
    all means read the book. If one is looking for a well written book, I would
    look elsewhere.

    Here is the
    information about the publishing company (Nebraska University Publishing): We primarily publish nonfiction books and scholarly journals,
    along with a few titles per season in contemporary and regional prose and
    poetry. On occasion, we reprint previously published fiction of established
    reputation, and we have several programs to publish literary works in
    translation. Through our Bison Books imprint we publish general-interest books
    about the American West. Our primary mission, defined by the University through
    the Press Advisory Board of faculty members working in concert with the Press,
    is to find, evaluate, and publish in the best fashion possible, serious works
    of nonfiction.