Himalaya – Michael Palin (2004)

An interesting and witty collection of diary entries (my favorite!) from Michael Palin as he and his BBC film crew travel along the flanks of the Himalaya mountain range. (Note: Not HimalayaN mountains. Reasons unknown. Wiki says that their name means “abode of the snow.”)

Palin’s journey takes him across parts of Pakistan, Northern India, Nepal, Southern China (and Tibet) and a few more places, each written about and reflected on with humor and respect. Palin meets a wide range of people from the working class (and below) to the Dalai Llama and a king or two, and Palin is so charming about everyone. Not obsequious, but just seems like a friendly kind guy. (There is none of the idiocy of his Monty Python legacy, thank goodness.)

 Palin and his crew began their journey on May 12 2002, and ended on April 7 2004, although this was not done all at one go due to calendar and weather challenges. It can’t have been easy. Yes, Palin is a celebrity who had a team of minders and camera crew to smooth out the irregularities of foreign travel, but he still ended up sleeping in damp cold and leaky sleeping quarters (sometimes a tent) getting cold (or hot, depending on climate). It wasn’t all glasses of champagne and air-conditioned/heated buildings, so, as a reader, I admired his optimism and his sense of adventure. He was also tons braver than I would be with regard to what he ate. I am not half as adventurous as he was, culinarily speaking, so it was interesting to read as there is an extremely low (read “no”) chance of me even trying some of his diet.

I think the journey was also quite physically demanding with long walks/hikes at really high altitude (like at Everest base camp) and the weather wasn’t always lovely.

Palin’s photographer Basil Pao was also stupendous – his work featured strongly throughout the book and the photos were truly world class.

Overall, a fun read about travel in parts of the world way off the typical tourist path. (His other travel books are just as good, FYI.) This was armchair traveling at its best.

(Above):  The Taktshang Monastery, also known as the “Tiger’s Nest.” It’s a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and is in upper Paro Valley in Bhutan. The temple complex is built into a cliff side. (First built in 1692.)

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