Saturday 24 October 2020

Blue Sky Kingdom

Finished October 16
Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya by Bruce Kirkby

This memoir tells of a family journey that was partially documented in film. Bruce, his wife Christine, and their sons Bodi, seven years old, and Taj, three years old, left their home in Kimberly, British Columbia and traveled for several months, fulfilling a dream to take their children and experience a time of reflection and cultural learning. For the trip to their destination in remote India, they were accompanied by a documentary film crew who documented their experiences in a film called Big Crazy Family Adventure
They traveled in adventurous ways, driving to the Columbia River, and then going down the river via a canoe-based catamaran, reaching the town of Golden after five days. From there they took a train to Vancouver, and a taxi to the wharf where the container ship Hanjin Ottawa awaited them. 
They'd had to do some research to find a boat that would take kids as young as theirs as passengers. It is during this section that the author discusses his older son and the journey that his family went through to discover that he is on the autism spectrum. This explained some issues that had arisen with his interactions and reactions to some situations, and made them able to plan and prepare for situations with Bodi in a way that would be less stressful for everyone. It was toward the end of this journey that they discussed this with Bodi himself as they knew it would come out when he viewed the documentary and they wanted to do it in a way that he wouldn't feel judged. 
From South Korea, they took a ferry to China, spending a few days in Beijing before travelling by train the Lhasa. After visiting their first monastery on the trip, they travelled by road on to Nepal. They spent a few days in Kathmandu and then moved on to India, entering near Lumbini, and traveling by car to Prayagraj where they boarded a riverboat and went down the Ganges toward Varanasi. It was here that they began to encounter some of the hottest weather they would experience, making it difficult to sleep and quick to get angry at circumstances. But they overcame that stress, continuing their journey by train, stopping briefly at Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and then enjoying a week in more luxurious rooms in Delhi, while they waited for filming permits to come through. Then more trains and a long bus ride brought them to Manali. At this point only a small film crew stayed with them for their overland trek to Zanskar. They began this trek at the village of Keylong, traveling by foot, and horse (for Boti for part of the trip). 
This is where the major part of the memoir takes place, at the monastery Karsha  Gompa. The family stays there for three months, living in the home of one of the former head lamas. They get christened with new local names and learn new cultural habits. They participate in the rituals and activities of the monastery and teach English and math to the young boys who live there. At this point it is sad to see that these monasteries are no longer the places where young boys can be educated and prepared for a variety of opportunities as the schooling is lacking in resources and good teachers. Bruce and Christine work hard at it, but they aren't trained for this and they often feel inadequate to the need that exists. When they leave, it is with heavy hearts for these young boys who they've grown close to. I enjoyed seeing the experiences here, how they integrated into the life of the nearby villages, helping their lama's family with harvest and learning about the culture that they can see modernizing even in the short time they stay there. More and more, the young people are leaving, and the technology that arrives brings change to the villages by introducing class division between those who can afford these things and those who cannot. 
When they left to return home, their trip took them the other way out of the valley, on another overland walking and horseback trek, this time without a film crew, ending up in Leh, and then flying on to Delhi. There, they hoped to travel home with the lama that hosted them, giving him a taste of Canada. 
Included in the book are photographs as well as drawing that Bodi did of various scenes and objects. 
Throughout the book, Kirkby gives lots of information on the places they visit, history and geography, culture and religion. I liked the way he integrated this information in natural ways into the journey and experiences, adding to the story in a very meaningful way. Bodi, in particular, took naturally to things like meditation and came out of his shell more in many of this culturally different environments, gaining confidence that would show when they returned home as well. 
I really enjoyed this memoir and the ways the family took to heart their experiences throughout their journey.

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