Transcript of Interview with Jane Marshall for Writer’s Voice with Francesca Rheannon

Transcript of Interview with Jane Marshall for Writer’s Voice with Francesca Rheannon


HOST INTRO: The Happy Valley, the mythical Shangri-La.


What can real-life Happy Valleys teach us?


“I feel like if we can spend time in a place like one of these Happy Valleys that still holds these wisdom cultures that had these technologies and these systems that survived thousands and thousands of years before industrialization, that maybe we can learn how to respect the land again.


Maybe we can learn how to live in balance rather than only taking or only consuming or only filling ourselves as humans.


And instead, from these wisdom cultures, we can also give in a way that will allow our planet to survive, essentially.”


That’s Jane Marshall. Over her 17-year career as a travel writer, Jane Marshall has wandered the planet, always in search of wild, high-altitude, off-the-beaten-track places.


During her travels, she discovered something profound.


On three continents, she found hidden valleys known locally as Happy Valley.


Her quest to discover what makes them happy and learn from their indigenous keepers.


Inside these Happy Valleys, Marshall found a balance between humans and nature.


She also discovered within them a deep feeling of peace.


Jane Marshall is a travel writer who lives in Alberta, Canada.


Her previous book was Back Over the Mountains, A Journey to the Buddha Within.


She’s the founder of the Compassion Project, which provides free healthcare and education to a mountain community in Nepal.


Jane Marshall, welcome to Writer’s Voice.


Thank you for having me.


First, tell us just a little bit about yourself.


You’re a travel writer and you have been to some of the regions that you speak of in the book, well, particularly to Nepal.


And you say that you’ve been searching for Happy Valley your whole life.


So give us a little bit of that backstory.


As for me, I’ve been professionally writing since somewhere around 2006.


And writing has just always been the way that I communicate the most, I guess you’d say, authentically in this world.


I’m somewhat of an introvert, although I also really love people.


I just need time to create and think.


So writing really gives me that opportunity to think carefully about what I’m going to say and how I’m going to communicate it.


So I feel I can be really authentic when I’m writing.


And so, yeah, I became a writer writing professionally for local newspapers and magazines.


And I have previously written another travel book, as well as my current one, Searching for a Happy Valley, A Modern Quest for a Shangri-La.


Travel writing is really my passion.


It’s a bit cliche, but travel is extremely important to me.


So I’ve been to lots of places around the world.


And when I travel, I find I really open myself up to those places.


And I experience everything in a really fresh way.


So thinking of the word happy and the happy valleys that I searched for and have been searching for, as I say in my book my whole life, I find a lot of happiness and authenticity when I travel.


And I find that when we travel as human beings, it just opens the world to us.


And we have the opportunity, if we’re brave and we let ourselves be vulnerable, to open up and to learn from other cultures and to learn even from the land itself.


Well, that’s a beautiful answer.


Thank you so much for that.


So this book, Happy Valley, is about three remote valleys, three remote happy valleys on three different continents, yet they are united by certain characteristics.


What are those?


So this is what really got me.


So the first happy valley I ever learned about was in Nepal.


So I was doing work for my first book, and I found this valley called Tsum, T-S-U-M. Very remote at the time.


Well, and still, there’s no road.


And to get there required multi-day trek or multi-day expedition.


And it was called the Valley of Happiness or Happy Valley.


And within that valley, I found so much peace.


And it certainly wasn’t easy to get there, nor was it easy to be there.


Very basic living and basic food and a lot of physical exertion just to get around every day and to get there.


But there was this deep-seated happiness that was evident in the faces of the Himalayan people that were there.


I also traveled later to Morocco, to the Atlas Mountains and found a happy valley called Happy Valley there.


And then later, I also traveled to a happy valley in Alberta.


So your question, the common characteristics in these three valleys and what makes them happy, I found, first of all, that they were fairly remote.


So they weren’t super easy to get to.


It required some effort.


So of course, with Nepal, it required a multi-day trek.


Plus I live in Canada, so I had to fly halfway around the world to start the journey.


And then in Morocco, same flying quite a long ways away, and then taking a taxi and a vehicle for a really, really far distance into the Atlas Mountains, and then connecting with the indigenous Berber or Amazigh culture there.


And then happy valley in Alberta, which is my home province here in Canada, it’s also quite remote.


You have to drive south almost to the US border.


And then it’s not on a main highway, although you take main highways partially to get there.


There’s actually no cities close by, it’s a couple hours to the nearest city.


And again, it’s nestled within the mountains and hills.


So they’re all very remote.


They’re all also protected by indigenous cultures.


So even though they’re in these three different places around the world, they have a deep and very, very old indigenous history within each of them.


So the feeling there and the history there is very, very different.


And so I was keen to learn more from the indigenous people themselves about what made those valleys happy.


They’re also home to very rare plants and animals, each of them.


So they’re sort of removed, almost like a hidden Shangri-La.


And so yeah, home to rare plants, rare animals.


For example, in Alberta, thousands upon thousands of elk migrate down into the protection of the valley and stay there for the winter.


And then they go back up into the mountains where I live.


And so these elk, these beautiful big deer, but bigger, they migrate there.


And rare species of plants have been found within that valley too.


So also the rare plants and animals.


And then the thing that really got me, that just really blew my mind and also created so much curiosity in my writer’s mind was the, I’ll use the word anthropomorphization of land.


And this is done by the indigenous people who live within the valleys and have protected them.


So for example, place names in these valleys or rocks or structures in the land, or even an overlay of the land itself would relate to human body parts.


It would also, they also relate to like, if you almost looked at these valleys, some of them from an aerial view and looked down with this wisdom of the indigenous people, you could see like, if you’re like zoomed out like a Google map and look down, you could see, for example, in Alberta, their creators outline in the land and then different landmarks corresponding to his body parts.


And this is Napi, the Blackfoot, part of the Blackfoot belief system of the Blackfoot First Nations.


And then in Nepal, very, very similarly, there are places that corresponded to like, like to a vagina.


The one is called the Khandro Sangam, which means the female way or the sacred way of corresponding to like the sacred secret parts of a female and then goddess and God’s parts to all around or the parts of famous yogis who had traveled within this valley.


So that was the other really interesting thing that connected these three valleys on these three continents together was the seeing the human and also the divine, which often takes human form in the land and as not separate from the land.


And thus that makes the land special and sacred and something to protect.


And you mentioned this sacred spot in Nepal.


You also say another thing that unites these happy valleys is that women are honored as a balancing and powerful force.


Is that true for the other two as well?


Yes, definitely.


So I learned more about that from the Blackfoot Tsogkhatapi peoples in Alberta.


I even have a quote here I could read.


It’s not my words, but it’s a quote from a Blackfoot woman who did her master’s research on this.


I’m just paging through to find it.


All right.


So this quote comes from Paulette Fox, who did her master’s thesis and this comes from it from the University of Lethbridge.


So she says, in Blackfoot culture, women are stronger spiritually.


They pick the sweet grass, the sage, the berries, the herbs, the roots, because they are closer to Mother Earth.


And therefore, when they pick these things, it is stronger energy.


And she goes on to say, our hair is the grass on the prairie.


Our bones are the mountains.


Our veins and arteries are rivers, streams, creeks.


Our breath is the wind.


Our heart is in the middle of the earth.


So for us, Mother Earth is more than just a provider.


For us, she’s our teacher, our protector.


We learn from her.


We heal from her.


If we feel like giving up, we sit on her.


This is Writer’s Voice, and I’m Francesca Riannon.


We’re talking with Jane Marshall about her new book, Searching for Happy Valley, a Modern Quest for Shangri-La.


You know, as you spoke, it reminded me of something I haven’t thought about for many, many years.


Back when I was in my 30s, I was a fabric collagist.


I would make tapestries out of applique.


And my two greatest pieces of work were these drapes that I made.


One set was, I lived in West Virginia, so there’s mountains there, and I was making this for a restaurant that was there.


And one set of drapes was a mountain as a woman, and the other set of drapes was a mountain as a man.


Yeah, and I just so related to what you were just talking about, because I’ve had the experience of creating that, and kind of when you create something, of course, that’s artistic, it becomes part of you.


And such a beautiful, beautiful image.


Now, one thing you say in this book is that our human future depends on these happy valleys.


What do you mean by that?


I think that we’re in an environmental crisis right now, and I’m 42 years old, and I’ve been watching this happen since I was a child.


And as a child, I viewed nature as so pure, and since 1980 when I was born, I’ve seen all the changes and the glaciers melting, and the big changes taking place on our Earth by observing it in different countries and in my own mountains, and by traveling on snow fields that are smaller and glaciers that are smaller.


Our world is in a climate crisis, and this is scientifically proven.


And if we don’t find different ways of thinking, I just don’t see us getting out of this.


And it’s so unfortunate that it takes a major wake-up call or an environmental disaster to sort of wake us up again.


But if we can, if we can learn from happy valleys, I feel like there’s a different way of thinking that could propel us forward, that could give us a hope for our futures.


So when I say that in my book, I mean that before industrialization, before our current age, which is kind of a new age, it’s just a few hundred years old, there were these indigenous cultures who, some of them or many of them had these technologies and these spiritual systems and these ways of thinking that allowed them to use the Earth and to live with the Earth and to understand the Earth and the water and the sky very well, so that they didn’t use it up and so that they were in balance with the Earth and with themselves as human beings.


And I feel like that there was a closer relationship.


I’ve experienced this in the rituals with the Himalayan people, the way that they honor with song or the way that they live with the land, especially in Tsum Valley, in such harmony with the land until 2008, I believe, 2008, I think, that valley was completely sealed off from tourism.


So even in 2008, when we’d all, you know, we all had electricity or many of us have had electricity and these modern things that supposedly improve our lives, the people in Tsum did not, and yet they were very happy and they did have a sustainable lifestyle, though very difficult with farming, subsistence farming, but they had a relation and have a relationship with the land that is very deep and a respect for it.


I feel like if we can spend time in a place like one of these happy valleys that still holds these wisdom cultures that had these technologies and these systems that survived thousands and thousands of years before industrialization, that maybe we can learn how to respect the land again.


Maybe we can learn how to live in balance rather than only taking or only consuming or only filling ourselves as humans, and instead from these wisdom cultures we can also give in a way that will allow our planet to survive, essentially, is what I mean.


Yeah, in fact, you call these technologies advanced subsistence technologies, and I was struck by that because it put me in mind of, you know, experiments that happened, say, in the 1970s.


I’m thinking of Gaviotas in Colombia.


I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about that, but there’s a wonderful book called Gaviotas, which were basically called, now I’m blanking on what the actual term is, but they’re low energy technologies.


For example, think of passive solar.




So, these are advanced.


Why did you use that term, advanced?


I think that we’ve lost some of those abilities to sense the land, to observe, because we have so much technology around us and so many comforts.


We’re often sealed.


Like right now, I’m sitting in my home in Canmore, Alberta.


Outside the wind’s blowing and the sun’s shining and there’s a lot going on, but currently I’m inside and so I’m a bit separated.


So, I’m not at this moment experiencing the land and the weather and the outside environment.


In terms of being an advanced technology, one example, Wade Davis, who actually endorsed my book, which was really kind of him.


He’s an incredible person that I admire a lot.


Wade Davis wrote his book, The Wayfinders, and within his book, he wrote about the wayfinders of Polynesians, people that could navigate by the stars and they could cross huge expanses of ocean while looking at the stars.


To me, that’s an advanced technology.


It may not be mechanical or it may not be computerized, but I feel like so often we think of advanced as being technological or techie, but actually advanced technology can also be like awareness or the power of observation in order to find food or in order to just understand the subtler things in the world that allow us to survive.


Yes, and recognizes that we are part of nature, not separate from it.




We are part of nature and not separate from it, and we don’t always need to find comfort and separation from it in order to be happy.


We can find happiness in the environment, observing, being in the present moment, and being okay with not always being so comfortable.


And in that discomfort, we can really learn a lot.


Now, Jane Marshall, in this book, Searching for Happy Valley, A Modern Quest for Shangri-La, you went to three places, as we’ve talked about, and you mentioned some of them, but let’s dive a little bit deeper.


First, you write about, and I don’t know how to pronounce it actually, Eit Bougamesh.


Tell me how to pronounce that.


Well, I think that’s pretty good, and I’m also, it’s not my first language, which would be Amazigh, but I say Eit Bougamesh.


So tell us about Eit Bougamesh in Morocco, in the Atlas Mountains.


Your guide, you had a guide there, Ahmad, and by the way, I did a little exploration of the place on Google Earth, and it just looked unbelievably beautiful.


And I was really struck by the buildings that really seem to be part of the landscape.


They are constructed from the earth.


But the thing that most struck me was something that your guide, Ahmad, told you.


He said solidarity was what characterized his community there.


So talk about solidarity, you know, the way that people not only worked with nature and the land, but with each other.


I loved how he said that, solidarity, and it was a sweet moment.


We were sitting together at the burj or the goat house.


So we were even above Happy Valley, sort of a little bit higher and slightly removed.


So I feel like it gave us some perspective.


And I loved hearing him talk about that solidarity.


He said that in the cities in Morocco and the cities that he goes to, because he’s a travel tour guide all around the country, but he’s from the Atlas Mountains and the Amazigh or Berber culture.


So he used that word solidarity.


And he also spoke about longing for Happy Valley when he’d been away from it for too long, where it was where he really felt whole and complete.


And it’s where his ancestral heritage and roots are.


So the word solidarity in these valleys, all of them, especially, and certainly in Bukhamez in Morocco, this idea of solidarity or community, it could also say it was definitely strong.


So there are different villages dotted throughout the valley and each village has its own community.


And then there are different ways of working with each other, the ways that they harvest and plant and create and make food.


It’s all and even the ways that they utilize the water canals.


So there are these little water canals throughout the valley and they feed all of the land, all the crops.


So they work together and every year it’s somebody else’s turn to clean out the canals.


So one family does it one year from what I understand and then another family does it another year.


And so in this way, the whole community keeps the water flowing.


And then they also help each other with harvest.


So it’s never one family on their own.


And so when I compare that to my life here, like if we use my life as an example, I certainly have community and probably more so now that I live in this mountain town of Canmore, I’ve developed and actively sought out community.


And of course I have my family, but I don’t like, I just live in a house and if I have to take care of it myself with my husband and our two children, there isn’t necessarily quite that connection.


And definitely, I bought a house here on a piece, it’s like a small house on a small lot, all I can afford in Canmore because it’s expensive but beautiful.


But it’s not as if my whole neighborhood is connected to this whole piece of land, for example.


We don’t all work on our lawns together.


We don’t all harvest our, you know, whatever we’re allowed to harvest here.


It’s not like that.


It’s more individual.


And that was the other word that Ahmed used was in the city, it’s more individual, it’s more individualistic and in the Happy Valley, there’s more solidarity.


So there’s the whole community working together for a particular goal.


And then also what I think is really interesting is those old roots, those old roots of family and history and heritage that are there.


So the family lines go back a long way.


Yeah, so I think hopefully that answers your question that for that word of solidarity and how the community works together to get food, to clear the canals, to connect with the land and to keep balance so that they can use the land year upon year without overusing it.


So let’s now move to the Happy Valley in Alberta, Canada, the province where you live.


You have a family connection to Happy Valley.


You’ve mentioned that it’s close to the, it’s on the Blackfoot reservation, I guess, or Blackfoot territory basically is what it is.


And you went there with a particular purpose in mind, and that was to connect to the First Nations people there.


Tell us about that place.


So yeah, so that place, it’s a very wide open valley.


And on one side are the Rocky Mountains, and on the other side are what’s called the Porcupine Hills.


And then within that is ranch land, some reserve land, and some conserved land, some land that will never be allowed to be developed upon, which is great.


So I was really hungry to connect with the Indigenous culture in that Happy Valley and in my own province, because it’s something I’ve always tried to do.


And my grandpa also always tried to do too.


But I have found because of our very difficult history in terms of cultural genocide of the Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada, it’s a mess.


And it’s very segregated and separated because the Indigenous people, of course, live in cities, just we all live together too.


But there’s also the reserves where the land is separate.


So I just didn’t know how.


I just didn’t know how to connect.


And I sensed that there was this wisdom culture like I’d touched in Nepal and Morocco.


I’d sensed that it was close.


And I know there’s ancient, more than 11,000 years of Indigenous history right where I live, but I didn’t know how to access it other than through sort of the colonial ways of what we learned in school or just through not from the directly from the source, if that makes sense.


So I didn’t know how, but I knew that I wanted to.


So it all started with learning about my family history, my grandpa wanting to buy land when he was a younger man with a young family in Happy Valley.


And he never realized that wish.


And then it moved on to me connecting with Conrad Littleleaf or Pita Picoan.


I’m not great at the pronunciation of his spirit name, but Conrad Littleleaf, who is an interpreter at Headsmashed Inn Buffalo Jump.


So that’s a buffalo jump and archeological site on the edge of Happy Valley.


I connected with him and I connected with a few other elders through a friend of mine named Ken.


And he’d entered the community by teaching.


He’s a teacher and he taught at some outreach schools and worked with the Blackfoot people and started doing rituals and ceremonies with them.


And so Ken was like my cultural liaison or my cultural broker who brought me in and connected me.


And from there I was able to meet elders.


I was invited to go to a Sundance ceremony.


And I also was so grateful to be able to bring my husband and my two children or two children to a sweat lodge ceremony.


And so in this way, I was quite nervous at times because I didn’t know the correct protocol and I was putting myself into just a very new situation.


But my heart was just ready and open and I really wanted to learn how to connect and how to learn, especially how to learn what really happened here in Alberta and here in Canada in terms of that cultural genocide and the residential schools so that we can all heal together and move forward together.


I just have to share with you that I was invited to two sweat lodge ceremonies on the Blackfoot Reservation in 1993, I believe it was.


In 1994, I met a woman there whose father was a medicine man and I just met her at the, you know, it was the Glacier National Park in the store.


She was working in the store and we just got to talking.


And she invited me to a sweat lodge that evening, which was just with her family and it was really extraordinary.


The way you described the sweat lodge ceremony in your book was very much like that.


He spoke, you know, he sang songs about the eagle and, you know, spoke about the relationship between the earth and the people.


And then the next year, she invited me to go back for a sweat lodge ceremony that was of people across the border.


So both Canadian, on the Canadian side, the Blackfoot people, and on the US side, it was at the annual powwow.


And I had the most incredible experience because I had a thyroid condition and her father had asked me what did I want to, you know, pray to Creator about and I wanted to pray for health.


And, you know, when my turn came, because each person was there for a reason, of course, when my turn came, it was pitch dark as you describe in the book, and he gave me some sweet kind of pemmican, I think, to eat.


And then all of a sudden, this glowing ball of light began to move around the inside of the space as we were all sweating there and he was chanting and it was just extraordinary.


I mean, I wasn’t hallucinating it, it was a real thing.


I kept on looking at it, I could not explain it.


And from that moment forth, I never had any trouble again with the condition that I had, you know, even though there are physical signs that I have it, it’s an autoimmune disease, I’ve never had any symptoms.




See, there’s a mystery, there’s mystery there and there’s these technologies we were talking about before, sometimes these spiritual technologies, we just, you know, other cultures have developed them really, really deeply and so there’s healing to be found, right?


Yes, and I asked about the light afterwards and people just took it for granted.


You know, it wasn’t even something to be surprised about.




Now let’s go back to some of the history that you uncovered.


And one of the things that really shocked me that I hadn’t known about was the policy of starvation that was practiced by the settlers, the white settlers.


The destruction of the buffalo wasn’t for getting skins, it was for starving people of their livelihood.




The more you read about it, the more I read about it, the more we all learn.


And with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, it’s just horrendous.


I mean, I didn’t learn about that in the 80s as a child, that the government systems that were in place and the ruling parties coming from Europe were actually killing the people.


And I think until we really realized that this was an actual cultural genocide that continued on for a long time.


And then with residential schools, after the food source was gone and people had been sickened and starved and their ability to live in harmony with nature was robbed and stripped from them, and they were put in the reserves and the rights were removed and they became weakened state.


And then they were put in the residential schools stolen from their families.


I mean, all of the elders, Conrad Little Leaf, Morris Little Wolf, and the Owl Talks were all in residential and day schools and they were all tortured.


And they were all abused.


And until we understand that this happened, and this happened to the majority of people’s grandparents, great-grandparents, maybe even them themselves were sitting with elders, then how can we move forward and connect?


It’s Canada’s history and it’s the history in the United States.


And it’s been hidden and it’s starting to come out.


So when I started writing my book, these stories were still not really in the media about the residential schools.


Some people knew about these things and some people, many didn’t.


And even just the undercurrents of racism that I write about in my book, it’s pretty common.


Although in the last few years, I feel like there’s hopefully more hope and that might be different if you asked a Blackfoot person, they might feel very, they would know a lot more than me, of course.


But I do think in the collective consciousness, we’re starting to understand more about the atrocities that happened on this land that we now inhabit together.


And we need to know about it.


And you talk about a process of personal decolonization.


You said that when you decolonize yourself, Happy Valley let you in.


Say more about that.




Sometimes these terms kind of freak me out in a way because they’re big terms.


But I mean, it is decolonization.


No matter what, I grew up, I was born as a white woman whose grandparents came from Hungary, Poland, Ireland, England, that kind of heritage.


And I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


And then I grew up in the educational system that I was born into, which was public school, which was pretty good.


But in social, we learned about brave explorers.


And it was a colonial curriculum.


It came from that perspective, at least.


Also with my grandparents, their parents were settlers and they didn’t carry out the atrocities themselves, but they were part of the system that was put in place.


And so I have always felt that something was amiss in the things that I was learning in school.


I knew it wasn’t the whole story.


And I used to write my own stories about this, trying to get to the bottom of it.


But without direct contact with Indigenous people, how do you get the real story?


So it took a long time.


And then studying, reading, I swear, every time I had a book in my hand, my husband would say, sweetheart, is that another book about cultural genocide?


And I’m like, yeah, it is.


He’s like, are you okay?


I’m like, yes, we need to know these things.


I’m okay.


I did do some self-care throughout the process, but it was heavy stuff.


But I needed to do that to break open my own mind and the things that I’ve learned until age in my 30s when I was writing this book so that I could see the truth and also understand the truth of my family’s past.


And so once we have that awareness, we can decolonize ourselves.


We can just become human.


And I found so, oh, it makes me very teary, really, so much strength and huge compassion.


And I don’t even know the right word, and I’m a writer, but being allowed and welcomed to ask questions by the elders and the Indigenous people I spoke with, like as me, Jane, they were always helping me relax.


Because there’s a lot of fear around asking certain questions or making a fool of yourself or coming across as, I don’t know, wrong somehow.


I want to be sensitive when I go into these situations and connect with and talk with Indigenous people because my heart’s in it for the right reasons.


They were always just so open.


And even through all that the elders had been through and continue to go through, they were always ready to talk.


I mean, they would give me the lesson that I needed in the moment, somehow knowing, and I just had to show up and listen.


So my re-education was being vulnerable, going into places that I had no idea the answer, no idea, and just listening.


And they would always bring it back to the fact that race doesn’t matter.


I mean, it matters, but race isn’t the main thing.


It would go underneath the way that we look, underneath everything to the point, the place where we’re just all humans.


And then that’s the place where we can connect with nature.


That’s the place where we can connect with each other as human beings.


And I appreciated that so much.


So now let’s go to Nepal.




As you said, you’d been there before.


In fact, you created a charity called the Compassion Project, which brought a health clinic to the area.


That’s right.




And a kindergarten too.


We used to have a kindergarten up there.


Yeah, that’s wonderful.


But tell us about this journey.


You followed a guidebook that was actually created by an ancient Tibetan Buddhist master.




And that just…




I know.


It sounds unbelievable, right?




Okay, so tell us about that.




So I first learned about this happy valley in around 2008, I assume.


The sort of spiritual name of it is Khymo Lung Bayo.


So I’ll just start by defining a bayo.


A bayo, there are several of them, are secret hidden valleys in the Himalayas.


They don’t follow national lines, so some in Nepal, in Bhutan, in Tibet.


And these places were hidden secret valleys.


And in the 8th century, there was an Indian saint or scholar or yogi, you could say, named Guru Rinpoche, which means precious one.


His name was Padmasambhava.


So back then, he’s credited with bringing Buddhism from India to Tibet, one of the masters who did that.


And if you go into most households in the Himalayas, or many temples, you’ll find statues of Guru Rinpoche.


So the legends, stories, and histories go, he traveled throughout the Himalayas and into these remote valleys, and he hid treasure.


So he hid things like teachings that will lead someone to enlightenment.


He also hid things like malas, or like the beads or rosaries that you count prayers on.


These different ritual objects from Tibetan Buddhism.


And in some cases, and in the case of Beol Khyamulung or Khyamulung Beol, the body of a Tibetan princess, the daughter of King Trisong Detsen, is actually one of these treasures, and it’s purportedly buried or hidden in the Tsum Valley.


So they were hidden there, and they were left there.


Hidden by Guru Rinpoche and his consort, so a female practitioner as well.


So they hid them.


And the reason they hid them was because not everybody was ready to receive them at that time.


So some of the teachings were meant to be revealed in the future.


So these treasures were hidden.


And so the way that it goes is a tertÁ¶n, which is a treasure finder, in the future would have a dream and a vision about where these treasures would be, and they would find a guidebook.


They would go somewhere and pull a guidebook out of a rock or a monastery, and they would be able to read it, and it would guide them into the secret hidden valley and to these treasures.


And then that tertÁ¶n would reveal them, like pulling texts out of solid rock, stories like this.


And that text was meant to be revealed hundreds of years later, a thousand years later, when the world needed them.


So these are then used and people like use them, Tibetan Buddhists will use them as prayers and they’ll recite them and they’ll learn from them.


Also these valleys were meant as places that you could go for protection in times of like environmental devastation or for the Tibetan people when they had to flee Tibet because of the Chinese communist occupation.


Many Tibetans fled from Tibet into Nepal, some stopping in the Bayul and staying to meditate and they found solace there.


Oh, that’s incredible.


You went to a place that you call the center of the lotus.


And I mean, the photos also are incredible.


I mean, this was, it seems like a grueling journey.


You’re going, you’re like crawling up vertical mountain sides.






So tell us, tell us about some of the experiences that you had and the things that you found.


It was such an adventure.


It was really the greatest adventure of my life and it was very grueling.


So I’ve been to Tsum numerous times and the main valley is, it’s an expedition on its own.


I actually take groups of trekkers up there or I, or my friend Tenzin, who I traveled with for this expedition for this book, he also takes groups up there.


So the main Tsum Valley is a wonderful expedition already.


Going to the heart of the Bayul or the heart of the Happy Valley requires making a sharp left-hand turn into an insanely tight gorge and that’s called the Eastern Gate.


So this Bayul has four gates or yeah, four doors or gates.


And once you enter into them, it’s like entering, it’s entering a physical landscape.


It’s also entering, you can view it as entering layers of your mind.


So you start at the outer gate and you work your way into the essence of your mind.


This is in Tibetan Buddhism.


So but on a physical level, we turned left at a suspension bridge and at that point, no more tea houses, no more services, no more toilets, no more anything except for what we had on our backs.


So I traveled with my friend Tenzin, who’s a guide.


We had two porters, Rinzin and Tenzin, and then my dearest friend, Annie Pema.


And Annie Pema is a Tibetan Buddhist nun.


And she and I, she was the climax of a previous book that I wrote called Back Over the Mountains.


And she’s a dear friend of mine.


I have to say some very sad news though.


She’s my age and I just unfortunately found out that she passed away in the winter.


So I’ve lost my dearest friend.


But she was able to realize a dream of entering the heart of the Baol before she passed away of heart failure.


She was strong at the time she made it with me.


We were there together.


We had some extraordinary experiences together.


So that will live on for us forever.


So yes, we made our way up and we had our tents on our back.


We had our food.


We had everything that we would need for about a week to survive completely out there, deep in this massive gorge.


So we followed a little nomad trail.


And we went deeper and deeper and higher and higher.


It started out as jungle, red to the sky.


It was like rhododendron trees and leafy, beautiful, gorgeous jungle.


It was very wet.


It was raining a lot, thick mud.


And we were carrying all the stuff on our backs.


And we went up and up and up.


And then we broke into more of a sub-alpine environment.


But if you could imagine the drop-offs from this trail into this Sarfou or this gorge, the name of this valley, the side valley, were intense, like hundreds and hundreds of meters, sometimes more than a thousand meters.


So it was spectacular scenery.


And camp one, we slept in the shadow of a big cliff in our tents.


Camp two, we found a yak hut way up high, and we used that to cook.


And these yak huts are for the nomads.


So they’re basically just some stacked stone walls.


And then when somebody goes to live there, like the nomad, they pull a tarp across the top for a roof.


So very basic, but a little stove inside and a dirt floor.


So we cooked there, and then we slept in our tents.


And then camp three was extremely difficult.


We had to take just what we needed for a night, and we had to do hand-over-hand scrambling around massive ridges that fell off all the way down to a glacier.


And so that’s some of the pictures that you’re speaking of where we’re literally clinging to grass, and there’s a 700, 800-meter drop below.


And we’re making our way around so that we could see the heart of the Bayeux, the sacred mountain called Tachypelsang.


And you say you discovered a lesson there, a main lesson, that didn’t have to do with finding actual treasures, but finding something else.


Yeah, there were lots of lessons, actually.


But it’s true.


It’s not just about finding the treasures, because we didn’t actually find a physical treasure, but we found the locations where the treasures had been revealed, like the treasure cave and the lion-faced rock of Sengidong Puten, a blue, fierce female Buddha.


We found these spots.


We found almost all of them that were in this guidebook from the 8th century, and we could see them, we could find them.


But it’s true.


The treasure that we found, that I found, was the treasure of being able to be uncomfortable in nature, in my own skin, in my own mind, with my own neurotic tendencies.


I think I wrote self-loathing.


All the things that are part of our mind, the beautiful and the difficult, and to be able to just be okay with it.


And that’s really the goal of Vajrayana Buddhism, or Tibetan Buddhism, is that goal of finding the big picture and being okay with all of it.


Well, Jane Marshall, it is just a wonderful book that you take us on the journey with you to these happy valleys.


Your book is Searching for Happy Valley, A Modern Quest for Shangri-La, and thank you so much for talking with us here.


Thank you, Francesca.


It was so lovely to speak with you.


Jane Marshall’s book, Searching for Happy Valley, is out from RMB Publishers.



About Francesca Rheannon

Francesca Rheannon is an award-winning independent radio producer. In addition to hosting Writer's Voice, she's a freelance reporter for National Public Radio and its affiliates. Recipient of the prestigious Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award for reporting on substance abuse issues for her news series, VOICES OF HIV, produced for 88.5 WFCR public radio in western Massachusetts. She is also finishing a book on Provence (PROVINCE OF THE HEART) and working on a memoir of her father, THE ARGONAUTS.