An austere but not unattractive combination of photographic essay and Buddhist tract. Downs is the son of the Hugh Downs, but he tells us next to nothing about the road that led him from his native Chicago to Gompa Zhung, a little Sherpa village in northeastern Nepal, where (or close to where) he lived for two years. Nor does he explain why, though still a young man, he often sounds like a graybearded ascetic: ""Death offers a precious opportunity to break the habit of associating the self with the body,"" etc. Had he been less programmatically self-effacing, Downs might have written a richer and more accessible book, but this one has its virtues. Chief among these are 140 fine black-and-white photos portraying a cheerful, earthy, unassuming people and their hard but apparently altogether sane existence. Downs arranges his pictures in three groups: first, an overview of the Sherpa world, with a special focus on the Mani Rimdu festival (celebrating the arrival of Buddhism in Tibet); next, a close-up study of several Sherpa craftsmen, most notably a monk and painter named Au Leshi who was Downs' guru; and, finally, a brief but gripping record of a Sherpa funeral service and the concluding cremation. Downs adds lengthy captions and a generous sprinkling of quotations from Buddhist scriptures, Coomaraswamy, Eliade, and the like. Despite the occasionally humorless homiletic tone, the result is a thoughtful, appealing sort of pilgrim's journal.