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