BOOK REVIEW: Himalayan Dreams by Kirsty Nancarrow

Vivienne Wynter

For many Australians, the nation of Nepal evokes images of adventurous Westerners trekking to Everest, sportswear brands like Kathmandu or the Buddha who was born in southern Nepal.

It is also a nation of great poverty, with the highest rate of child marriage in Asia, high rates of sex trafficking and low rates of education, often completely denied to girls.

Som Tamang, a Nepalese former child slave, is one of those remarkable people who refused to accept those limiting circumstances for himself or his community. He has devoted his life to improving educational opportunities and preventing child trafficking in his village.

After he met Cairns-based ABC journalist Kirsty Nancarrow to be interviewed about the Nepal earthquake in 2015, she was so impressed she wrote a biography about him.

If you want to feel inspired, energised and awed, that book: Himalayan Dreams, is for you.

When Som was at school (some 30 years ago), it was almost exclusively attended by boys and only available until Grade 5 in his village.

“In his heart, Som had always believed it was wrong for girls to be treated differently and he felt it was up to him to change the situation,” Nancarrow writes.

Small steps at first

Starting small, Som challenged his family’s decision to deny his younger sister the chance to go to school. They listened. His sister, Phulmaya, did receive an education and earned tertiary qualifications in pharmacy and social work.

After he was tricked into leaving his village to live with a family on the promise he would be educated, Som became a child slave. He escaped and worked as a porter, sending his savings home for the family.

From there, his life has been a trajectory of tenacity and determination to educate himself and the children in his community.

Starting with his own wages and then working through his humanitarian organisation, Friends of Himalayan Children, Som achieved his goal to make school education up to Grade Ten available to the boys and the girls of his home town.

That village, Batase, around 50 kilometres from Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu, now has a new school offering education from Grade One to Grade Ten and a hostel to accommodate students.

Young people also have the chance to work for Take on Nepal, Som’s thriving trekking guide business.

Along the way, Som and his community of supporters faced the earthquake of 2015, which destroyed much of the infrastructure he built and the Covid pandemic which shut down the school and his business for two years. The child slavery and sex traffickers were not too happy with him either but he overcame their influence in Batase.

Setbacks don’t stop him

Som led a team who rebuilt the hostel and helped secure international support to rebuild the school after the earthquake and kept his enterprises going after the pandemic.

Himalayan Dreams is Nancarrow’s first book and her journalistic skills translate well into being an author. The story has a strong narrative drive and the small number of main characters: Som, his sister Phulmaya, and wife Susan are drawn sensitively but without sentimentality.

Author Kirsty Nancarrow

Nancarrow, who volunteered at Som’s school for a month and experienced the poverty in Batase, skilfully brings Som alive on the page. You feel his infectious energy, good cheer and tenacity.

“I would say I’m a simple person with a big vision to focus on other humans, other beings, to make sure everyone is OK,” says Som.

Appeal to a wide range of readers

This book has appeal for young, old, male, female and non-binary readers because the narrative is not gendered or targeted to one age group. It’s full of stories of physical adventure and courage and it’s also full of stories of the women and girls of rural Nepal who seem to bear the biggest brunt of poverty and traditions that sometimes limit their lives.

Som’s story contains tragedy and joy, adversity and triumph in equal measure.

In 2024, there is no more child trafficking in Som’s village. There is a modern, well equipped school nestled in the terraced fields of Batase, with classrooms containing laptops and a science lab. There is a generation of girls and young women who know they have the same right to education and careers as their brothers.

‘Life has changed dramatically for girls in Batase village because of the support they received through Som’s organisation, Friends of Himalayan Children,’ says Som’s sister Phulmaya.

Himalayan Dreams is a breathtaking story of how one person, with no resources except his wit, courage and the backing of his community, was able to transform his own life and the lives of others for the better. He did in the most sustainable way: through the power of education.

Nancarrow, who suffered PTSD from reporting on traumatic stories over her 15 years with the ABC, says writing this story healed her.

Reading it might heal others too.

Himalayan Dreams retails for AU$32.95 and is available at


PHOTO CAPTION IMAGE AT TOP: Som Tamang and school children at Batase. Supplied by


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