Himalaya Audio CD – Audiobook, Oct 4 2004
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--The New York Times on Full Circle
"Charming and often hilarious."
--New York Daily News on Full Circle
"Ever affable and eclectic, Palin disarms and delights. He has an unerring eye for the bizarre. His book is sheer escapism, pure entertainment, and I love it."
-- Sunday Times (London) on Sahara
About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
With Himalaya, it's like he handed over his diaries and someone else wrote them up, culling his personal observations and somehow the end result is Palin seems distant from his own diaries! Given how much he seemed to have enjoyed his romp through the Himalaya's in the DVD, you'd think the same enthusiasm would have been captured in his journal of the trip, but alas... Somehow its been blandified. A lot to references to the journey itself with a BBC crew in tow heading into politically trying areas would have made fascinating reading, but there is very little reference to it. Furthermore, there seems to be whole chunks of history dropped in as if someone thought they ought to pad out the entries with bits of historical triva. In places, this renders the book little more than just another travel novel.
Its still an interesting book, but somehow, the personal feel that existed in his first couple of travel books is missing. And having seen the show, there seems to have been more personal observations mentioned in the show than in the book! The daily entries absolutely fly by at supersonic speeds with hardly any mention of the people he is meeting - the same people which seemed to have made such an impact on him in the actual Himalaya program! In fact, the only place where the show and journals conincided was over his meeting with the Dali Lama - here at least, we learn of Palin's nervousness as the clock counts down to meeting this great man!
I still enjoyed this book, but not as much as the show or his original books and really felt it was more like reading anyone else's travel novel on the bookshelf. What made Palin different in the beginning was the insight it provided into making a program like this and he didn't dwell on historical snippets. Anyone with a bit of time, money and connections can make the journey Palin did and write about it, but few do it with a BBC crew in tow and with a Pythonesque viewpoint! That adds a whole layer of interest, humour and logistical complexity greatly downplayed in this book.
This was a very interesting trip in beautiful and exciting places. Many countries around the Himalayan Mountains were visited, some of them well off the tourist track and some of them with security problems such that the team needed armed guards. Specifically, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Nagaland, Assam, Bhutan and Bangladesh were visited. A total of 3000 miles was traveled during 125 days (6 months), and many beautiful and exciting images, encounters and interviews resulted.
High points (ha, ha) of the trip include several treks on foot up into the mountains, visiting the Dalai Lama, milking a yak, talking to a retired headhunter, buying booze in Pakistan, having an almost-encounter with Maoists in Nepal, watching bull racing and no-rules polo, and giving an elephant a rub-down. There are also many interesting encounters and interviews with local people who are special in one way or another.
In my review of the DVD version of "Himalaya" I complained that the program wasn't really about Michael Palin's trip, as such, but was simply a string of encounters and events that made "good TV". The program ignored the travel aspect almost completely, and jumped from place to place in search of the images and people that the TV viewers would find exciting.
The book version of "Himalaya" is a more complete account of the trip, including a lot of material that was skipped in the TV program, and some experiences not even included in the extra material on the DVDs.
But still, the book account of the trip is not really a day-by-day account of the trip either. For example, I'd like to know what happened on "day 6" and "day 11", etc. These days are simply not mentioned in the book.
One nice thing about the book, as compared to the TV program on DVD, is that Michael Palin's personal opinions are more evident, as is his enjoyment of traveling and experiencing new people and places. There is more of a "personal touch" to the book, and his wit and charm make it very readable and enjoyable. Michael also writes candidly about the health problems he experienced and the reservations he had about travel in the places where there were security problems. All of which makes the book better than the DVD version in my opinion.
Finally, a note about the audio versions of this book. There are both abridged (6 hour) and unabridged (11 1/2 hour) versions in existence, and some resellers are selling the abridged version as unabridged, so beware. Michael Palin himself reads both versions, and he does a great job.
In the Introduction Palin describes how the idea for an expedition across the Himalaya was sprung while looking for a new adventure after his previous trip through Sahara. This book is a "traveller's account" and not a "mountaineer's account" of Palin & Co.'s journey through six countries and 3,000 miles of Himalaya. The journey took about 18 months of planning and about 6 months of filming/travel. "Apart from missing out some rest days and days at airports, I've presented the journey as a continuous narrative because that, in effect, is exactly what it was."
Of course certain problems were known from the outset on this highly sensitive part of the world: The British Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to most areas; the whole Khasmir region was/is highly volatile; the Maoists in Nepal are engaged in a guerrille war with the government; the Chinese government is highly sensitive about film crews in Tibet; the Indian government has concerns about safety in Assam. On top of this, there is (still) the East/West-tension following 9/11 and the deadly SARS epidemic in China.
Palin breaks down the journey on a country-by-country basis, starting at the Khyber Pass on the Afghanistan/Pakistan-border on the western side of Himalaya, passing through Pakistan, India, Nepal, Tibet, China, Bhutan and eventually finishing at the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh on the east side of Himalaya. Palin uses a witty, entertaining writing style to detail the adventures, findings, and observations in and of each country. He is rarely opinionated, although he sometimes places questions about lifestyles, etc. I don't want to discuss too much details in this review, but the variety of landscapes, climates, lifestyles, religions within this 3000 miles distance is astonishing. The text is accompanied by lots of beautiful photographs taken by Basil Pao.
Yes, I do like this book which accompanies the BBC-series with the same name. The book is easily readabble with lots of fantastic pictures describing this enormous journey across this bizarre area of our planet. Whether you like the TV-series or book better is a personal choice, I have also seen the series and like both. I would like to conclude the review with some words from the book: "... Himalaya was a wonderfully, magically, brilliant journey, with more gasps of astonishment per square mile than any other in my entire life. And for once, I think I might be right."
I can commend this book if you do not take it too serious!