• Lost in the Valley of Death

  • A Story of Obsession and Danger in the Himalayas
  • By: Harley Rustad
  • Narrated by: Harley Rustad
  • Length: 10 hrs and 41 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (193 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In the vein of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, 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 30s, Justin Alexander Shetler quit his job at a tech start-up 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 also 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 yet shrouded in darkness and danger. There, he spent weeks studying under the guidance of a sadhu, an Indian holy man, 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 - a journey from which he would never return.

Lost in the Valley of Death is about one man’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.

©2022 Harley Rustad (P)2022 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Lost in the Valley of Death

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False Inspiration

Jason Alexander’s unexplained disappearance is the subject of this book. His cult status as a seeker and survivalist have elevated this lost soul to unfounded status as an example of spiritual enlightenment. The facts were that it was Jason himself who promoted this image thru countless posts (facebook, instagram etc) and mislead his followers with lies and omissions. Jason was shady- a troubled man, not a role model. He was a drop out, a druggie, and a drug dealer. His fame and notoriety were because of his handsome good looks and his careful projecting of his image (eagle tattoo, motorcycle, flute). In the end, his life choices were self destructive. This book should not glorify his lifestyle.

8 people found this helpful

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Careful Treatment of a Delicate Story

Justin Alexander's story is easy to romanticize, and over the years since his disappearance I've been frequently frustrated by zealous fans only seeing the heroic story of Justin, and not recognizing the troubled man behind the myth and the collateral damage that quaked those who loved him in the aftershock of his disappearance. Justin had a tender, charitable heart, whose positivity wraps the world like a warm embrace. But he was... maybe he still is... a red-liner. Someone who could never coast, even when his motorcycle was headed downhill. This book is the only biography I've found on Justin that treats him fairly, rather than blindly worshiping his Herculean feats.

As a young adventurer who draws inspiration from Justin's life, I also see his final weeks as a cautionary tale. Though his disappearance has caused my heart to ache for years, I'm also thankful for his story, as when I find myself seeking an edge, I remember Justin's mom... The love for her son keeps me from falling over.

7 people found this helpful

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Lost in the valley of death - gripping but could have been better researched

I started this reading the review in New York times, the story itself an extremely interesting one , Justin is charismatic, interesting and the portrayal is superb! What I had problem with is the portrayal of India, found is astounding that even in this day and age it is described time and again as some kind of hippie destination rampant with sadhus and drugs and hippie culture and corrupt and inept police officers etc etc! The most glaring inaccuracy i have to mention is the description of Krishna as a warrior prince who advices Arjuna against war and guides him towards peace in the Bhagavad Gita!!!!! It is exactly the opposite, Krishna advises Arjun to take up arms and fight for the right! He counsels him on defeating evil and making sure righteousness wins against all cost! Well, i had to mention this but there were sone inconsistencies through! Pronunciation could have been better of Indian names... over all a very good listen though!

4 people found this helpful

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Informative Yet Irrigating

I appreciated learning about the culture of travelers and pilgrims that the author thoroughly depicts in the latter half of the book, particularly those who travel to, and often do not return - for many reasons - from India. And though the author thoroughly examined the life of Justin Alexander, I believe his interpretation of his life was ultimately romanticized. To my surprise and irritation, Rustad chose to refrain from revealing a key component of Justin’s early life experience until late in the book. Key, because it was most likely the reason his subject could never be content and was really just a sad and lost young man looking for something he’d never find and in a way that I couldn’t help but feel was solipsistic and self-aggrandizing. It’s a sad story and one that frustrated me, because, having worked in a prison with those who’d suffered some of the same early life experiences, it was quite clear that life’s meaning and healing was not going to be found by wandering in the wilderness with a staff made into a flute and half starving in a cave. Sometimes the damage done, that the author withholds for so long, cannot be healed. Or can only be assuaged by using drugs which of course end up just adding to the destruction of a person’s body and soul. But ask any of my inmate students and they’d say there is some chance of healing by helping others who suffer, or in my view, by working to save the planet that travelers like Justin Alexander so ardently seek to see and experience. I guess Rustad’s subject, did at times contribute to the lives of others - building a school in a town destroyed by an earthquake for instance - yet oddly the author doesn’t examine the meaning of this experience in Justin’s life, nor why it wasn’t enough to give him a meaningful direction- and yet clearly, it wasn’t. But his dilemma over creating a false instagram persona and seeking always to know the “meaning of life” maybe could have been remedied by living with greater authenticity, and maybe by just accepting the fact that life has no meaning but what we, ourselves, can offer it by doing what we can to contribute some good to the world. I’d never have finished this book, had I read it, but I don’t regret listening to it. I’m only sorry the author did not approach his subject with more objectivity and greater attention to the science of psychology so as to offer readers a far more nuanced portrait of his subject that could have said much more about the effects of Justin’s kind of early life trauma and the burden that is the American definition of what it is to be a man.

2 people found this helpful

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Don’t let the narration stop you

I read the other comment on the author’s narration and agree that this is not his skill. But please hang with it; the story and book are fantastic and once you hear him for awhile the rhythm begins to work. An immensely fascinating and provocative story.

2 people found this helpful

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Pronunciation of Sanskrit

Literally would have taken this narrator 30 minutes to learn the pronunciation of Sanskrit words. His mispronunciation is distracting and irritating. Come on audible!!

Story is lackluster. Book is too long. Not my favorite

1 person found this helpful

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Immersive Story

The narrator is excellent, as is the writing. The reader is left to make their own conclusions about Justin the person. An inspirational and heartbreaking book all in one.

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welll researched, educational story

the blend of confusion with information in this personal yet not unique circumstances made it very interesting

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Too long.

Story of Justin is interesting. Also the stories about India Syndrome and other lost travelers. There are too many long passages of quotes from books and myths. The narrator is monotone and pronounces some words incorrectly—peeve of mine in audio books.

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An engrossing adventure story

Don’t be put off by the narrator’s halting delivery — give it five or ten minutes and soon the narration begins to fit the story. The author, who is also the narrator, has such simpatico with his subject that you begin to feel like Justin Alexander Shetler is telling his own story, halting, somewhat self-conscious, questioning, authentic. It’s an affecting story, and very well written and presented here. It was well-worth the credit spent.