Friday, June 17, 2011

Himalaya, by Michael Palin

Himalaya, by Michael Palin is a tourist and trekker's take on the Abode of Snow and its environs. Palin travels the length of the Himalaya, from the Khyber Pass on the border of Afghanistan to Indian Nagaland, bordering Burma (Myanmar). His take on the Himalaya is a broad outline, focusing on the people and cities associated with the mountains, as well as taking trips to see many of the important mountains of the world's highest chain, including Mount Everest. He travels generally eastward through the mountains and foothills, and visits many politically sensitive areas, including the Pakistan's tribal areas (in 2003, no less!), Kashmir, and Tibet in addition to the traditional tourist areas. His travels are designed for a television series, and the book is actually based on his travel journal that he writes when not filming.

I found the locations he chose interesting. He picks a lot of locations steeped in mountain history and culture, such as Hunza, Bhutan, Kashmir, and Himachal Pradesh. He also visits many places I would not normally associate with the Himalaya, such as Lahore, Lhasa, and Nagaland, though they certainly have some connection to it and provide some scope to the story. Correspondingly, he gives a pass to several locations that immediately come to mind when I think of the Himalaya, such as Sikkim (Kanchenjunga), the Garhwal Himalaya (Nanda Devi Sanctuary), Mount Kailas, Solu Khumbu, and Darjeeling. I found his representations of the peoples of the Himalaya somewhat limited, as he mainly associates and converses with the famous people of an area or at least those who are well off. Palin's contact with everyday people is somewhat reserved, witnessing them from a distance, and he really only speaks to them (after Pakistan, anyway) when they approach him. I did appreciate, however, his descent of the Brahmaputra to the Bay of Bengal, following the snows on their journey to the sea.

His visit to Mount Everest is somewhat limited. He arrives in November at the traditional northern Base Camp in the Rongbuk Valley. Climbers are conspicuously absent, though he visits the patch of green associated with the 1924 expedition. He remembers his childhood fascination with the story of Mallory and Irvine and reminisces about hearing the news of Tenzing and Hillary's climb to the summit. He also brings up the story of Maurice Wilson. His party spends a day walking towards the mountain, attempting to reach the snout of the Rongbuk Glacier (It's a bit further to walk than in 1924!), but turn back before reaching their goal as evening approaches. On his journey, he visits the bases of several other high mountains, including K2, Annapurna, and Chomolhari. Also, on his Annapurna trek, he is administered by three Sherpas, including Wongchu Sherpa, who had at that time summited Everest twice, and is currently the President of the Everest Summiteers' Association and runs a successful trekking and climbing business.

Overall, the book was pleasant and interesting, though not terribly adventurous. There are a couple tense moments, such as a run in with Maoists in Nepal. I imagine the television series was quite beautiful, as he visits some extraordinarily scenic locations and attends several colorful festivals. This is a nice book for a trekker's preview of the Himalaya, in case you can't decide where you'd like to visit, as it presents a wide variety of locations within the full spectrum of accessibility. Hope you enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment