Traveller Profile: Michael Schauch - A story of Karma

"Sometimes if we're left in one place too long, we can put the blinders on, and forget that there's a much larger world outside of our own.

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I grew up in Brentwood Bay (Vancouver Island), which at the time was a sleepy farming community. And although I’ve travelled quite a bit around the world (throughout Europe, Asia, North/Central America and Africa), I could never leave the west coast. Being an avid mountaineer, it was a natural move to eventually relocate to Squamish – which is home to some of the best rock climbing in the world, and mountains that rival the Alps.

Why/How did you start travelling?

I was bit by the travel bug early on. My mom’s from China and my dad’s from Germany, so they’d take my sister and I to different parts of the world to meet our relatives in Europe and Asia. I loved it. Seeing new places that were strangely different to me. Trying new foods. Hearing different languages. It was all so fascinating.

Apart from that, my dad would take us on camping trips across North America in one of those VW camper vans. It was a blast – getting to experience nature and seeing different parts of North America, from the Rocky Mountains, to Yellowstone Park and the deserts of Utah. I think that’s where I also developed a love for nature and being outside.


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At some point in my mid-teens, I felt a strong draw to go to Nepal. I’m not sure why. I was drawn to the big mountains, and the people and culture. When my sister gave me a Lonely Planet book about Nepal for Christmas one year – I think I was fifteen at the time – I was totally hooked.

he Cover of Michael’s book.
he Cover of Michael’s book.

You’ve just written a book, A Story of Karma. Tell us about it.

It is a story of love and deep family connections that transcend cultures and continents. It began in 2012, when my wife Chantaland I ventured into a relatively unknown valley, in northern Nepal called the Nar Phu Valley. The valley had been closed off to the outside world for generations, and was only opened a few years prior to us going there.

Our goal was to observe and learn from the people there, and capture a moment in time before the valley changed too much. I had a second goal, however, to climb this pyramidal mountain I had only identified through a photograph.

When my dreams were crushed before the very mountain (I was trapped in a snowstorm at 17,000 feet and my mule ran away with my climbing gear), it forced me to question why I was there – to question my values and my very identity.

Eventually circumstances led us to a little village, where we met a seven-year-old girl who was teaching a group of kids English numbers. Both Chantal and I felt a strange connection to her – almost a karmic connection. She showed such a passion for learning. When her friends asked for chocolate and candy, she just wanted us to teach her more English words.


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My new book, A Story of Karma is about the journey that led to meeting Karma (the little girl), and her family, and the years that followed.

Mike, Pemba, Karma, and Chantal at SMD School
Mike, Pemba, Karma, and Chantal at SMD School Photo by SMD School

What’s your best travel story?

Undoubtedly one of the most memorable moments was meeting Karma and her sister Pemba and their family that day in their village. This encounter changed my life.

When we visited the school where Karma was teaching, she was so confident in front of her peers. However as soon as they saw our team musician, Michael, and the guitar slung over his shoulder (they had never seen a guitar let alone heard one), they wanted him to teach them some music. The entertainer he was, Michael began to teach them a jazzed up rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. And then the real school teacher became motivated and brought out a traditional Nepali drum.

He wanted the kids to dance for us, one at a time. And started with Karma. But now that she had been singled out, she was like a petrified animal.

Chantal couldn’t take it and marched up there next to her. She started flailing her arms around in what was her best impression of a Nepali dance. Karma immediately began to giggle, and forgot about all of us watching, and tried to imitate Chantal’s moves. I’ll never forget it. It was also when I finally began to understand why I did not climb my mountain.

Children of Phu Village.
Children of Phu Village. Photo by Chantal Schauch

What do you believe in? 

I once met a very wise woman on our travels who said, “no matter where we come from, no matter how rich or poor you are, no matter how weak or strong, young or old, we all need help. And because we all need help, we allmust alsohelp.” This has stuck with me ever since. I believe in helping wherever I can.


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Part of helping means to listen and to try to understand others – to put aside our own lens and open our minds to other world views. I’ve found the more I learn to understand others, the more I actually understand myself.

What’s the biggest surprise you’ve had with a destination?

One experience that comes to mind was in the Tahltan Lands of northern B.C., when Chantal and I and a couple friends traversed the Spectrum Mountains and alongside Mt. Edziza with members of the Tahltan Nation.

My learning edges were stretched from all perspectives: culturally, historically, and ecologically. These learnings have helped deepen the relationships with our friends and family in Nepal.

Any times it didn’t work out? And how did you handle it?

In 2017, Chantal and I brought the girls back to their village since they hadn’t been there in two years. They were studying at Shree Mangal Dvip Boarding School in Kathmandu – a school we had found for them with their parents, that focuses specifically on enriching the Nepali government curriculum with Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, ethnic and cultural teachings.

As we were traveling back to their village, the family insisted we would stay with them in their home. It wasn’t much bigger than the bedroom of a typical Canadian house. And because we would be twelve staying together, I had no idea logistically how it was all going to work out.

Eventually it all worked out – Chantal and I were able to pitch our tent on the roof of their home. Living with them for that week in their home turned out to be one of the most unforgettable and incredible experiences of my life.


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One of the dinner gatherings they were invited to in Phu.
One of the dinner gatherings they were invited to in Phu. Photo by Arek Saczuk

What’s the strangest place you’ve visited?

When we were in the Lost Valley in the Himalaya, one day we noticed a cave high up on the cliffside. I decided to climb up to it to see what was in there.

It was a frightening climb as I didn’t have any climbing equipment or ropes with me. It turned out that I climbed right into a tomb, with hundreds of human bones buried in there.

Later, when we were back in Canada, we sent the coordinates of the cave to Mark Aldenderfer, who’s a distinguished anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer. He’d been doing research into Himalayan “sky tombs” as he called them a couple valleys over from us. Mark and his team were able to locate the cave, and date the bones back to more than 2,200 years old.

The Nar Entrance Mani wall.
The Nar Entrance Mani wall. Photo by Arek Saczuk

What’s your advice, tips or recommendations for our readers?

With COVID-19, Chantal and I have been spending a lot more time exploring our own backyard. Going on new hikes and climbs, and visiting new areas we’ve never been to before. We’ve lived in Squamish for six years, and before that we lived in Vancouver for 11 years. Yet there are so many mind-blowing places around us we had not yet visited. I would recommend to venture somewhere new around your home every week, or at least every month. It’s amazing what you’ll find and the people you’ll meet.

Anything our readers should know before trying to follow in your travel footsteps?

To not get too attached to a destination or outcome. So much about the beauty of travel and adventure is to embrace the unexpected encounters and new openings. The best way to experience this I think is to travel with an open heart and mind – to not bring our own biases and lenses with us.

Connect with the local people. Hear their stories. Learn more about their ways, their histories, and how they view the world and their lands. The more we learn, connect, and understand others, the more we begin to understand and re-connect with ourselves.

I invite you to read my new book, A Story of Karma: Finding Love and Truth in the Lost Valley of the Himalaya. I hope the journey touches your heart the same way it did mine.

Some answers were edited for length. For more on the the SMD school in Nepal,

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