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Archive for August, 2011

Himalaya

In Himalaya, Michael visits the Earth’s greatest mountain range – 1800 miles from the borders of Afghanistan to southwest China. He’d covered none of this ground before, let alone milked a dri, washed an elephant or swum at 14,000 feet… Himalaya 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.

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Episode 1 of 6: North by Northwest.
Episode 2 of 6: Passage to India.
Episode 3 of 6: Annapurna to Everest.
Episode 4 of 6: Roof of the world.
Episode 5 of 6:”Leaping tiger naked nagas.
Episode 6 of 6:”Bhutan to bay of Bengal.
(Video hosted on Youtube.)

e 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.

The Himalayan mountain system developed in a series of stages 30 to 50 million years ago. The Himalayan range was created from powerful earth movements that occurred as the Indian plate pressed against the Eurasian continental plate (see Plate Tectonics). The earth movements raised the deposits laid down in the ancient, shallow Tethys Sea (on the present site of the mountains) to form the Himalayan ranges from Pakistan eastward across northern India, and from Nepal and Bhutan to the Myanmar (Burmese) border. Even today the mountains continue to develop and change, and earthquakes and tremors are frequent in the area.

The population, settlement, and economic patterns within the Himalayas have been greatly influenced by the variations in topography and climate, which impose harsh living conditions and tend to restrict movement and communication. People living in remote, isolated valleys have generally preserved their cultural identities. However, improvements in transportation and communication, particularly satellite television programs from Europe and the United States, are bringing access from the outside world to remote valleys. These outside influences are affecting traditional social and cultural structure.

Nearly 40 million people inhabit the Himalayas. Generally, Hindus of Indian heritage are dominant in the Sub-Himalayas and the Middle Himalayan valleys from eastern Kashmīr to Nepal. To the north Tibetan Buddhists inhabit the Great Himalayas from Ladakh to northeast India. In central Nepal, in an area between about 1,830 and 2,440 m (between about 6,000 and 8,000 ft), the Indian and Tibetan cultures have {mosimage}intermingled, producing a combination of Indian and Tibetan traits. The eastern Himalayas in India and nearby areas of eastern Bhutan are inhabited by animistic people whose culture is similar to those living in northern Myanmar and Yunnan province in China. People of western Kashmīr are Muslims and have a culture similar to the inhabitants of Afghanistan and Iran.

ABOUT MICHAEL PALIN.

Michael Palin

Having graduated from Oxford University in 1965 with ambitions to be a writer and performer of comedy, Michael Palin (born Michael Edward Palin in Sheffield on 5 May 1943) made his first television appearance as the rather unlikely sounding host of a regionally-produced pop show for children, Now (Television Wales and West, 1965-66). Meanwhile, Palin began writing sketch material with Terry Jones (whom he had befriended at university) for various television shows, in addition to working in cabaret with him as a double-act. Their major breakthrough arrived when they were recruited to the writing team of The Frost Report (BBC, 1966-67). Not only was the series itself a huge success, it brought the pair into contact with fellow writers John Cleese (who was also a performer on the show), Graham Chapman and Eric Idle (who they had briefly met at the Edinburgh Festival in 1965).

Although he had begun to appear in sketches on the shows to which he contributed material, Palin’s major break as a performer was with the series Do Not Adjust Your Set (ITV, 1967-69). Ostensibly a comedy sketch show for children, but one that quickly gathered an avid adult audience, it featured Palin alongside Jones and Idle (with all three co-writing the series), David Jason and Denise Coffey, with short animation inserts provided by yet another future Python, Terry Gilliam. Palin and Jones followed this with their own series, The Complete and Utter History of Britain (ITV, 1969), a sketch series with, as the title implies, a history-based theme, although it failed to repeat the success of Do Not Adjust Your Set. Their next project, however, succeeded on a scale they could not have imagined. Monty Python’s Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74) finally saw Palin and Jones united with Cleese, Chapman, Idle and Gilliam to create what was to become one of British television’s most influential series, comedy or otherwise. Launched without any fanfare, the show quickly drew a cult audience for the sheer originality of its humour, turning the writers/performers into arguably the most important and internationally influential comedy team ever to work in television.

Palin followed Monty Python’s Flying Circus with his own superbly realised series, Ripping Yarns (BBC, 1976-79). Palin starred in each episode of this anthology series parodying early twentieth century Boys’ Own adventure stories, and co-wrote all the stories with Terry Jones. However, despite the success he enjoyed with Ripping Yarns (it won a BAFTA award in 1980 for best light entertainment series) it was the only post-Python comedy television series in which Palin appeared. He concentrated instead on feature films, co-writing and co-starring in all four Python feature films between 1971 and 1983, and gaining his first solo lead role in Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky (1977), an uneven fantasy-comedy with a medieval setting, loosely inspired by Lewis Carroll’s poem.

Lead roles followed in The Missionary (d. Richard Loncraine, 1981), a period-set story of a refuge for prostitutes in the East End of London which he also wrote and co-produced; A Private Function (d. Malcolm Mowbray, 1984), an Alan Bennett-scripted comedy set in a small rural town in a post-war Britain ruled by austerity and rationing; and American Friends (d. Tristram Powell, 1991), a gentle romantic comedy set within the environs of Oxford University in the 1860s, co-written by Palin and based on the story of his great-grandfather, an Oxford don. He also won a BAFTA award as best supporting actor for his performance in the comedy A Fish Called Wanda (d. Charles Crichton, 1988).

Although he co-starred in the Alan Bleasdale-scripted drama series G.B.H. (C4, 1991), playing a teacher in this story of political corruption, acting, whether in comedy or straight drama, increasingly took a back seat from the late 1980s, as he began to steer his career into new territory. Since the phenomenal success of the documentary series Around the World in Eighty Days (BBC, 1989), in which he followed the route taken by the fictional Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s novel, Palin has enjoyed renewed success with a spate of travel documentaries. All written and presented by Palin, they are – to date – Pole to Pole with Michael Palin (BBC, 1992), Full Circle with Michael Palin (BBC, 1997), Michael Palin’s Hemingway Adventure (BBC, 1999), Sahara with Michael Palin (BBC, 2002) and Himalaya with Michael Palin (BBC, 2004).

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