Searching for Happy Valley: A Modern Quest for Shangri-La
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, separated by vast oceans, she found hidden valleys known locally as “Happy Valley.” Her quest: to discover what makes them happy and learn from their Indigenous keepers.
The happy valleys share common characteristics. They are geographically isolated and protected by walls of mountains; they are home to rare and endangered plants and animals; they exist outside of protections zones — which gives them autonomy but also makes them vulnerable; their Indigenous populations name the land after human and divine body parts; and women are seen as powerful. Inside these Happy Valleys, a balance between humans and nature has been struck. Sleeping on ridges, in caves, and in the traditional homes of local people, Marshall makes grueling journeys to the heart of the happy valleys as she strives to comprehend the deep peace she feels within them.
In a world facing environmental devastation, illness, and unprecedented mental anxieties, Marshall’s book offers an alternative. She immerses herself in the land and forms deep connections with its people so she can learn sustainable ways of living their Indigenous populations have honed over millennia. From a goat herder’s hut in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, to a Sundance ceremony with the Blackfoot/Soki-tapi people of Alberta, and ultimately to her dangerous pilgrimage in Nepal where she reaches the heart of a sacred land studded with treasures hidden by a famous yogi, Jane Marshall takes readers on the greatest adventure of all: The search for Shangri-La and the wisdom that can save the planet and our own hearts.
Our conversation covered all of this and a little bit more as we talked about the effect on her family and those close to her, her spiritual beliefs, and more. This was a fun one for me.