A riveting work of narrative nonfiction centering on the unsolved disappearance of an American backpacker in India--one of at least two dozen tourists who have met a similar fate in the remote and storied Parvati Valley.
For centuries, India has enthralled Westerners looking for an exotic getaway, a brief immersion in yoga and meditation, or, in rare cases, a true pilgrimage to find spiritual revelation. Justin Alexander Shetler, an inveterate traveler trained in wilderness survival, was one such seeker. In his early thirties, Justin quit his job at a tech startup and set out on a global journey-across the United States by motorcycle, then down to South America, and on to the Philippines, Thailand, and Nepal--in search of authentic experiences and meaningful encounters while documenting his travels on Instagram. His enigmatic character and magnetic personality gained him a devoted following who lived vicariously through his adventures. But the ever-restless explorer was driven to seek out ever-greater extremes, and greater risks, in what had become a personal quest--his own hero's journey.
In 2016, he made his way to the Parvati Valley, a remote and rugged corner of the Indian Himalayas steeped in mystical tradition and shrouded in darkness and danger. There he spent weeks studying under the guidance of a sadhu, living and meditating in a cave. At the end of August, accompanied by the sadhu, he set off on a spiritual journey to a holy lake--one from which he would never return.
Lost in the Valley of Death is about Justin's search to find himself, in a country where, for many Westerners, the path to spiritual enlightenment can prove fraught, even treacherous. But it is also a story about all of us and the ways, sometimes extreme, we seek fulfillment in life.
"Fascinating... A technicolor mystery... In prose that moves like a clear river...Rustad has done what the best storytellers do: tried to track the story to its last twig and then stepped aside." - New York Times Book Review
"Haunting... a moving portrait... Rustad draws readers into a tale of adventure and tragedy that, despite its dark outcome, is illuminated with a remarkable sense of humanity... Equal parts tribute and travelogue, this is sure to enthrall those curious about a life lived to the extreme." - Publisher's Weekly (starred review)
"Fascinating." - Kirkus
"Remarkably well-crafted and captivating, a powerful addition to the literature of quests and wilderness exploration." - Booklist
"Rustad proves himself here to be a masterful storyteller, unfolding character, plot, suspense, pathos, bathos and half a dozen other Greek nouns so meticulously that you're not going to want to put this book down." - Toronto Star
"One of the most haunting books of recent times. Through spellbinding story-telling, drawn from impeccable research, Harley Rustad takes us not only into the evergreen story of a young man in search of his better self, but into the mystical pull of India, the latter-day community of global pilgrims, and the casualties found along the way. This is Somerset Maugham's classic Razor's Edge updated to the Age of Instagram." - Pico Iyer, author of THE ART OF STILLNESS and THE OPEN ROAD
"In Justin Alexander Shetler, Harley Rustad has found a character equal parts Shantaram and Into the Wild's Christopher McCandless. It is hard to imagine anyone able to illuminate this haunted, driven, marvelously complex person more richly and thoroughly than Rustad has done here." - John Vaillant, author of THE TIGER and THE GOLDEN SPRUCE
"A mysterious tale of a spiritual seeker, a survivalist on a motorcycle pilgrimage through the Himalayas, who places his trust in a sadhu, only to disappear like honey on a razor's edge. A wonderful book." - Wade Davis, author of MAGDALENA and INTO THE SILENCE
"Justin Alexander Shetler went to India in search of adventure and authenticity and never came back. Was his disappearance the result of a crime, an accident, or a profound spiritual transformation? This mystery beats at the heart of Harley Rustad's gripping and propulsive book, which is part travelogue, part pilgrim's quest, part detective story. With empathy and reportorial rigour, Rustad traces the origins and evolution of Shetler's desire to live a bold, meaningful life-and to share that life, post by post, with a growing online following. The result is the classic hero's journey updated for a hectic, hyperconnected world: think The Lost City of Z meets Eat Pray Love, only set in the Himalayan foothills in the age of hashtags." - Kate Harris, author of LANDS OF LOST BORDERS
"A compelling read and a fascinating story, which Harley Rustad tells with great flair and even greater compassion. The parade of parents with kids gone missing in India's Parvati Valley moved in parallel to my own plight-each of us facing the same suite of bewildering possibilities from natural death to foul play to a new life." - Roman Dial, author of THE ADVENTURER'S SON
"Lost in the Valley of Death beautifully evokes the mystical landscape and treacherous terrain of the High Himalayas, and the spiritual quests with which they have forever been associated. This chronicle of a wilderness survivalist and Instagrammer, and his mysterious disappearance, is an engrossing journey into the dark mysteries of the Parvati Valley, a hippie haven and retreat, and of the lost pilgrims whose stories still haunt the region." - Namita Gokhale, author and director of the Jaipur Literature Festival