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Archive for February, 2007

Pakistan: The road to Shangri-la

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(Video hosted on VEOH).

A legend tells of an utopian kingdom hidden among the towering mountains of inner Asia. A paradise on Earth, yet a place apart. A place of spiritual contentment and eternal life. A place that’s become known to the West as Shangri-La. For century’s romantics, adventurers and the devout risked their lives searching for this heaven on Earth. Many perished in the quest. Those who returned told of a journey through hostile lands, of crossing treacherous mountain passes & desert gorges in their search for a valley where people live for hundreds of years. To this day its whereabouts remains a mystery… David Adams goes in search of Shangri-La in the icy valleys of the Himalaya and Karakoram Mountains in Far North Pakistan. Shangri-La is a fictional place described in the 1933 novel Lost Horizon by British author James Hilton. In the book, “Shangri-La” is a mystical, harmonious valley, gently guided from a lamasery, enclosed in the western end of the Kunlun Mountains. Shangri-La has become synonymous with any earthly paradise but particularly a mythical Himalayan utopia ? a permanently happy land, isolated from the outside world. The word also evokes the imagery of exoticism of the Orient. The story of Shangri-La is based on the concept of Shambhala, a mystical city in Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Himalaya with Michael Palin

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imalaya might well have been Silk Road, which was a proposal from Roger Mills, our series producer. But when I opened out the atlas, the largely desert character of much of the Silk Road made me think it might look too similar to the Sahara. Then my eye caught the word Himalaya and I was immediately excited by the prospect. I had never been to any of the area before. The character of the series would be as high and mighty as Sahara was flat and mysterious. And no-one could accuse us of ‘going soft’ as we got older.

We were under great pressure from the BBC to have a series ready for transmission no more than two years after Sahara, and as Himalaya also entailed the preparation of two books to go with the series, the pressure was very tight from the beginning.

After two or three months of preliminary recces, we began filming on the Pakistan/Afghan border in mid-May 2003. Filming continued on and off, for a total of six months until our last shoot in Bhutan in April 2004. All the book text (over 100,000 words), photographs and layouts were ready for the printers by early June. The commentaries for the series were written and recorded through the summer and the first episode aired on BBC-1 on October 3rd 2004.

Himalaya means “Abode Of Snow” and I think we all underestimated the physical demands of working at altitude. We’d climbed mountains in previous series, but never spent such sustained periods at extreme height. In Tibet we spent over a month working at, or well above, 4000 metres (over 13000 feet).

Himalaya was not just about high mountains but high anxiety as well as we visited some of the political flashpoints of southern and central Asia. The Pakistani border, the disputed region of Kashmir, Tibet and Nagaland were all tense at times, but, ironically, the nearest we came to a dangerous confrontation was in tourist-friendly Nepal, where Maoist insurgents abducted our Ghurkha officers during filming.

The spectacular beauty of the highest mountain range on earth and the profusion of different religions and small tribal communities fighting for their survival amongst these mountains combined to make this one of the most physical demanding and spiritually satisfying of all the journeys.

I hope that by choosing to travel the entire 2,000 mile length of the range, we showed that there is much more to these mountains than Everest and Annapurna. For the first time, the vast spread and enormous influence of the Himalaya, winding its way through six countries, has been examined as a whole.

If you look at a map the Himalaya range resembles a raised eyebrow above India. I hope this adventure will have raised a few eyebrows and opened a few eyes to these epic and magnificent lands.

If at times it was hell, the hell was always beautiful !

Michael Palin, London. October 2004.

Burma – Land of Fear

John Pilgerohn Pilger and David Munro go undercover in one of the world’s most isolated, and extraordinary countries, Burma, which Amnesty International calls ‘a prison without bars’. They discover slave labour preparing for tourism and foreign investment. International Actual Award for Risk Journalism, Barcelona, Spain, 1996; Bronze Plaque in the category of ‘Social Issues – International Relations’, The Chris Awards, Ohio, 1996; Gold Special Jury Award, ‘Film & Video Production division’, WorldFest-Charlest on, 1996; Award for Best Factual Programme, RTS Midland Centre Awards, Birmingham, 1996; Gold Apple in the category ‘Politics: Social organisations in other lands’, National Educational Media Network Film & Video Competition at The 1997 NEMN Apple Awards, Oakland, California, 1997; the updated version won a Gold Special Jury Award in the ‘Film & Video Production division’, WorldFest-Houston, 1999.

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Coca Cola PART 3: COLONIZATION

Coca Cola PART 1: THE BIG SELLthree-part series shot in the US, Canada, Russia, England, France, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, the Sahara Desert and China, THE COLA CONQUEST takes us from Coks invention by a morphine-addicted Civil War vet to the brink of the 21st century. Along the way we explore the delicious paradox at the heart of Coke: how does a soft drink, more than 99% sweetened water, come to wield enormous power and assume such significance in so many peopls lives?

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ART 3: COCA-COLONIZATION – Tea spills in China, wine in France and blood in Guatemala, as Coca-Cola teaches the world to acquire a taste for “The Real Thing”. But as Coke – and Pepsi – are busy abroad conquering new markets, upstart colas are nipping at their heels back home. From the jungles of Papua New Guinea to the “Coca-Cola Olympics” in Atlanta, we see the globalisation of American pop culture, and corporate influence on the souls of the nation.

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