Rating: 2 out of 5
Reviewed by Steve Waters
Call me a cynic, but I'm overly wary of superlatives, especially when they hunt in packs. Subtitled Discovering Bhutan on the Toughest Trek in the World, Beneath Blossom Rain details Grange's attempt at the Himalayan Kingdom’s Snowman Trek, which 'traverses the Himalaya' (though not end-to-end, that's the much longer Great Himalaya Trail), scaling 11 passes above 4400m in 24 days.
With a small group of travellers, Grange pays his US$8,000 and embarks on a dogged mission over the high, thin-aired passes to Bhutan’s own Shangri-La, the far-flung and mysterious Thanza, which he claims to be 'the remotest village in the world'. This geographical largesse will come as news to Tristan da Cunhians and the Kerguelenese and may well have our good friends in Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland reaching for their harpoons.
The world's so-called 'Toughest Trek' includes three meals a day, hot drinks delivered to your bed and nothing to carry but your camera and jacket. It's enough to make Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Eric Newby and Ranulph Fienne’s fingers turn in their graves.
Bhutan’s compulsory tourist tariff (minimum US$200 per day) is supposed to protect the Bhutanese way of life by attracting high value, low impact travellers, as well as providing funds for village improvements such as schools and medicine. That’s fine, but it also places Bhutan beyond the reach of most independent travellers looking for altitude, who can head to nearby Nepal, Tibet, Sikkim, Ladakh or Baltistan for a fraction of the cost.
There’s no denying Grange’s passion for Bhutan and its people, and he is clearly a fan of the Snowman (which he has since returned to several times, including as a guide) but his prose is often clunky and at times so glowing it almost sounds advertorial. Packed full of 'gee-willikers' observations and down-home analogies (he 'jumps the shark' early on, comparing Buddhism to baseball), the author spends way too much time on self-examination. As his Aussie friend Rob would say 'Kev, mate, too much angst’.
The beautiful photographs of accompanying National Geographic photographer Peter McBride are done few favours by poor reproduction. Overall, Beneath Blossom Rain is a limited view of a very special part of the world. Check journalist Kira Salak's report of the same trip. For a more interesting read on everyday life in Bhutan, try Radio Shangri-La (Lisa Napoli) or Beyond the Sky and Earth (Jamie Zeppa).
Check LP’s Thorntree Forum for more details on the Snowman Trek.
Steve Waters has had too many hangovers over 5000m and now sits at sea level swearing at computers in LP’s Melbourne office.
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