Hot on the heels of his adventures in the Sahara, Michael Palin takes on the abode of snow and begins a 2000-mile journey across this mighty and majestic region of Asia. Encountering extremes of wealth and poverty, altitude and freezing cold, he once again brings his unique wit, charm and wisdom to each of 6 episodes. Along the way he encounters, among many others, the Dalai Lama, the Bhutanese Royal Family and the once feared head hunting tribe of the Konyak. While on his travels he passes through Afghanistan, across India to the feared Death Zone near the base of Mount Everest and then onto the Bhutanese capital before arriving in the Bay of Bengal.
Michael Palin has yet to grow tired of tromping around the planet on behalf of the BBC--or so he says in a special, pre-departure introduction to his always gratifying, sometimes thrilling Michael Palin: Himalaya. He makes a point of acknowledging that he is, and feels, considerably older than during the making of his first, exotic travelogue, 1989's Around the World In 80 Days with Michael Palin. (Palin has made three other globe-tripping series between Around the World and Himalaya.) But despite his age (61 at the time of Himalaya's production), Palin remains enthusiastic about experiencing people and cultures new to him. Moreover, despite Himalaya's itinerary through conflict-riddled border nations in the shadow of that fantastic mountain range, Palin confesses to enjoying travels through countries "with a bit of an edge."
So be it. Working for the fifth time with co-director Roger Mills and several other key crew members, Palin launches the series in Pakistan. There he rides the handsome Khyber rail, visits a dentist with an extremely slow drill (shudder), discovers Pakistan's love affair with guns, and takes in the almost mythic spectacle of bull-racing. Episode 2, "A Passage to India," begins at an altitude of 14,000 feet, bypassing K-2 to watch a fascinating and, happily, peaceful manifestation of historic hostilities between Pakistan and India. Specifically, Palin enjoys a day-long contest of ceremonial drills between Indian and Pakistani soldiers, literally set on either side of a white borderline between nations. The host also visits a fantastic temple for India's 20 million Sikhs, and finds vestiges everywhere of Britain's former colonial rule.
Later episodes find Palin in war-torn Kashmir (India and Pakistan vie for control), where he discovers a houseboat where Ravi Shankar taught sitar to George Harrison. Palin also gains an audience with the Dalai Lama, who recognizes the Monty Python star and laughs through most of the interview. Other series highlights include unnerving signs of recent violence in Nepal (where insurgent Maoists battle the king's army, the latter reinforced by British officers); settling into base camp at Mt. Everest; travels through Tibet (where China's forced modernization awkwardly co-exists with Tibetan antiquities); taking in devoutly Buddhist and environmentally progressive Bhutan; finally ending in a compelling excursion through Bangladesh. Special features include deleted scenes, very much worth the time to extend Palin's travels. --Tom Keogh