Book details

Publication date: June 2008
Features: B&W photographs, map, notes, suggested reading list
Series: Wayfarer
Keywords: Adventure Travel;Literary Memoir
Subject(s): BIOGRAPHY & AUTOBIOGRAPHY / Educators, Creative Writing, Creative Writing / Travel Literature, Creative Writing, Creative Writing / Literary Nonfiction, Adventure Travel / Literary Memoir, TRAVEL / Special Interest / Adventure, Travel guides: adventure holidays, Education, Adventure Travel;Literary Memoir, Travel, Biography, Education
Publisher(s): The University of Alberta Press

Ken Haigh. Ken Haigh is a graduate of Queen's University and the University of Western Ontario, where he studied English literature, education, and library science. In 1987-89, he taught for two years in Khaling Valley in Eastern Bhutan. Ken has also taught in China and in the Canadian Arctic. He lives in Clarksburg, Ontario.

"As a young teacher in the late 1980s, Ontarian Ken Haigh taught for two years in a remote Himalayan village in eastern Bhutan. This is an evocative memoir of that time and that place, redolent of the region's Buddhist legacy, its mountain trails and its timeless way of life." The Globe and Mail, August 9, 2008

"His adventures of teaching for two years in Bhutan have been my bed time reading for the past while. An amazing story, beautifully written."

"In 1987, with a degree in English Literature under his belt, Ken went, under the auspices of WUSC (World University of Canada), to teach in a remote Bhutanese valley, at a school that had originally been established by Canadian Jesuits. Ill-prepared and initially ill-at-ease, he arrived in a corner of the earth that was virtually untouched by the modern world. It was a landscape of lush valleys overshadowed by the oldest and highest mountains on earth, in a country rich in legend, magic and superstition, with a vibrant traditional culture in which every aspect of daily life was permeated by Buddhism; a country of mountain villages and friendly people, with gorgeous temples that were living places of worship, not tourist attractions.With eloquence, wit, and self-effacing humour, Ken traces the stages of his culture shock: the honeymoon period, in which everything was new and fascinating: the period of conflict in which a longing for Tim Hortons set in; the critical period, in which everything that was apparently wrong with the place grated on his nerves. Finally came a time of acceptance and transition into recovery and cultural adaptation. He relates how he learned to deal with lack of telephones, the constant haggling, the rats, the wild dogs, the leeches, the hundred-mile treks, the near death experiences on terrifying mountain roads, the frustration of language barriers, the monotonous diet, the sickness. Yet, despite the great discomforts, Haigh's book is a love story, the story of how a young Canadian teacher became captivated by the magic and the mystique of a strange land and its people....Ken Haigh's book is a 'must read' for any young person contemplating volunteer service overseas, and it's a first-class read for the armchair traveller. You can feel the mountains, hear the sounds, taste the food, see the colours and breathe the air of Bhutan, the only country on the planet where 'Gross National Happiness' is officially deemed more important than 'Gross National Product'." Patricia Grant, The Blue Mountains Courier-Herald, September 17, 2008

"Haigh's sensitive and penetrating account of two years' teaching in Bhutan shatters many Himalayan Shangri-la myths in projecting the many-faceted and tougher realities. Haigh's dedicated work there will evoke admiration." Peter Skinner, Outstanding University Press Books, Foreword Magazine, January/February 2009

"In Under the Holy lake: A Memoir of Eastern Bhutan, writer Ken Haigh revisits his time spent as a young school teacher in the remote Himalayan village of Kahling, Bhutan, and draws the reader into a place where the hurried pace of Western life gives way to simpler, gentler modes of living." Edmonton Journal, Christmas Gift Guide, November 19, 2008

"I put it aside for a few weeks, asking, 'Do we really need another memoir of a North American's brief stay in Bhutan?' Sorry about that, but we do. ... In 1987 and '89, he taught in the Khaling Valley in Eastern Bhutan. And now, 20 years later, Haigh has written a winner about his experience." – Andrew Armitage, Owen Sound Sun Times, January 16, 2009

"This is a beautifully written love letter to a country, simple and untouched, where Haigh spent two formative and hugely informative years. Haigh's experiences are those of every traveller eager to experience a new society and culture. He has to learn the mysteries of the local body language, the subtleties of everyday commerce, the wonders of the local customs (did you know archery is the national sport in Bhutan?), the importance of clans and families and mriad other miutiae. Haigh's ability to recall and describe this detail makes the book so fascinating. ... An example of these wonderful tales is Haigh's attempt to wear the local costume, a single piece of cloth known as a gho. He doesn't put it on right so the students strip it off and show him how, when worn correctly, it can make him look 'very handsome and vey dangerous.'" Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald, March 14-15, 2009

"Ken Haigh's memoir of teaching high school in Bhutan has been published by University of Alberta Press. Ken spent two years teaching in Bhutan and his book, Under the Holy Lake, is an engaging and informative tale of his adventures during a unique time in the country's history. After teaching in Bhutan, China and the Canadian Arctic, Ken earned his Masters of Library & Information Science at the University of Western Ontario. Shortly thereafter he moved to The Blue Mountains and worked as CEO until 2002 when he resigned to become a full time father and writer. Ken has since returned to work part-time at the Blue Mountains Public Library and he continues to write and actively parent his three school-aged children. Ken's book has been enthusiastically received by the Georgian Bay Communities." Hoopla, Spring 2009

"[Haigh's] book is knowledgeable, thoughtful, humane and stylish." Diplomat and International Canada, Spring 2009

"Ken Haigh's memoir of teaching high school in Bhutan has been published by University of Alberta Press. Ken spent two years teaching in Bhutan and his book, Under the Holy Lake, is an engaging and informative tale of his adventures during a unique time in the country's history. Ken's book has been enthusiastically received by the Georgian Bay Communities." Hoopla, Spring 2009

"At times, it's difficult to believe that Haigh's Bhutan, with its gentle (though often intoxicatd) people, lack of ethnic tension, dozens of languages, moutainside villages and monasteries, authoritarian but benevolent king, combination of a devout and traditional Buddhism with a system of government-funded English-speaking boarding schools run by Catholic priests and nuns, actually exists. And it doesn't anymore. ... Haigh was lucky to have been there when the country was open to foreigners yet relatively uninfluenced by them, and his sensitive, elegant reminiscences of mountain hikes and churned-butter tea, of Buddhist festivals and attentive, thoughtful teenage students, will make anyone nostalgic for that brief golden moment." Alex Rettie, Alberta Views, May 2009.

"Excellent, well written book of early experiences of Bhutan as it was opening its boundaries to welcome visitors from the West. Recommended reading for those interested in Buddhist countries and the insights that await for those with an interest in mindfulness and awareness of living for the moment."

"In spite of culture shock, Haigh persevered, turning into a remarkable teacher, complete with banjo, grit and imagination. And he is also a writer with sensitivity and an exquisite eye for detail. If you are planning on a career in overseas teaching, know someone who is now there, or simply want the best in Canadian non-fiction, you need not go much further than Under the Holy Lake." Andrew Armitage, Owen Sound Sun-Times, January 16, 2009

"In the late 1980s, Ken Haigh spent two years in the remote Himalayan village of Khaling, teaching in the local school. In Under the Holy Lake, he shares his experiences, his knowledge of the country and its culture, and the personal insights he achieved. The first three chapters recount his quasi-accidental journey to his teaching appointment in Bhutan, capturing the scene, the people, and a taste of the school life. In Chapter 4, "An Accidental Area," Haigh succinctly explains the history and current political situation in this heretofore overlooked "country of mountains." This historical rendering could easily have become dry, but the author maintains an engaging educational style throughout. But Under the Holy Lake is not only the socio-political description of a teacher, it is also the very humorous account of a young man experiencing a culture vastly different than his own. In Chapter 5, Haigh recounts his comical search for the ruins of the legendary King Dewa, complete with a growing entourage and an impromptu picnic. Chapter 8 becomes a bit more serious, as he describes the very real culture shock he underwent during his two-year sojourn in Bhutan. Throughout this engaging memoir, Haigh's personality is a calm foil against which the people and places he experiences are clearly depicted. While some of his students in the beginning may have thought he was "dangerous" because of his beard, he finds his place among them for a time, and leaves the reader with a lasting impression of a fascinating country, its people, and its place in the world." - Lori A. Dunn

"If you like to think about escaping from the hectic lifestyle of Western culture and settling down for a good long soak in a world that¹s really, really different, this memoir by Ken Haigh could go a long way to fleshing out your fantasies." Summer Reading 2010, Dilettante's Diary [Full review at]

There were times when he got tired of having to deal with the lack of telephones, and the presence of leeches, rats and wild dogs. He also hated the frustrating language barriers, the exhausting hundred-mile treks, his terrifying near-death experiences on steep mountain roads, the monotonous diet, and times he fell sick. But he learned to deal with these and other problems and shortcomings. He slowly began to accept them and adapted to the traditions and ways of living which initially had given him culture shock." Deekay Daulat, Bizindia, April l7, 2013 [Full article at]

ISBNs: 9780888644923 978-0-88864-492-3 Title: under the holy lake