Michael Palin’s latest adventure takes the nicest man in show business into the magestical Himalaya.
I always wanted to be an explorer, but until September 25, 1988, it seemed I was doomed to be nothing more than a very silly person,’ Michael Palin remarked on the launch of his now famous flagship show Around The World In 80 Days. Although originally intended as a one-off, the Phileas Fogg recreation stormed the ratings for the BBC and infected Palin with a severe case of the travel bug that has seen him trotting around the globe with follow-up documentaries: Pole To Pole, Full Circle, Hemingway Adventure and Sahara.
Aged 61 the Monty Python member admitted that despite not feeling as young as he did in 1988, he yearned to embark on another challenge and Himalayacould be his greatest yet. A 2,000-mile expedition across a gargantuan mountain range – taking in conflict riddled countries, witnessing heart-wrenching extremes of wealth, suffering altitude sickness and battling blisteringly cold temperatures – the show still boasts Palin’s patented Englishman abroad sctich but marries it to some truly moving imagery.
Currently being aired on StyleUK, Palin’s journey sees him ride the Kybher railway, witness the ceremonious drill between soldiers on either side of the Pakistan-India border, bypass K-2 and reach altitudes of 14,000 feet, pass through Afghanistan to the feared ‘Death Zone’ near the base of Mount Everest, take in the sights of the rarely visited Bhutanese capital Thimphu, before arriving in the Bay of Bengal.
Highlights from the six-part ramble through the abode of snow include: a visit to the spectacular Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar, boarding the houseboat where Ravi Shankar taught sitar to George Harrison in Kashmir, coming face-to-face with unnerving evidence of violence in Nepal and bedding down at the Everest base camp. Palin’s meanderings through Tibet and Bhutan are also as fascinating as they are enlightening.
Simultaneously educating and engaging, the show is as much about the weird and wonderful people he encounters as the stunning scenery and awe-inspiring ambition of the journey. While on the road, Palin meets the Dalai Lama (who laughs almost continually throughout the interview), the Bhutanese Royal Family and a head hunting tribe. Presumably borne out of years as a Python, Palin’s unique brand of humour either entertains or annoys and while his jokes are sometimes communicated with an overtly patronising tone, his enthusiasm more than makes up for his sometimes awkward wit.
This brand of compulsive viewing will always be tinged green with the jealous awareness that Palin is getting paid for what must be the best job in the world, yet Himalaya, like his previous escapades, is an honest, ‘warts and all’ account that has proven to be an inspiration to innumerable viewers – eight million per show when it premiered in the UK.
He may still be a tad silly, but his insightful travelogues means his epitaph will amount to more than the Lumberjack song. Michelle Byrne.
Himalaya, Tuesdays, 19:00, StyleUK.