You probably know Michael Palin as a member of the brilliant and influential Monty Python comedy troupe. He’s now known as quite the world traveler, and appears in a wonderful series of BBC videos documenting his journeys.
Last night I finished watching Himalaya, about his travels along the 2,000-mile ridge of the Himalayas, visiting Pakistan, India, Tibet, Nepal, China, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Bangladesh in a marathon Asian expedition. He has a personal audience with the Dalai Lama, visits Everest Base Camp, meets monks and tribespeople, deals with altitude sickness, and is a charming, humble host who is genuinely delighted by and interested in the people and places around him (like the Chinese bathroom labeled “Number One Toilet in Heaven and Earth“).
It’s a six-hour series. As I recall it comes in 3 DVDs with two one-hour episodes each; one DVD makes a fine evening’s viewing. The series expanded my knowledge of world culture and history (especially modern Tibetan history, an area where I had been and still largely am shamefully ignorant). It’s an amazing trip through a beautiful and exotic part of the world, with a wise, educated, intelligent, fit-looking and very charming man from the north of England as your guide. Have I mentioned that I find Michael Palin very charming? I have such a crush on him.
He’s a wonderful host, clearly out to really see the country and the people as they really are, and hotels and tourist stops are infrequently seen. He stays in a tent with a family of herders; he treks over the countryside on foot and even on an elephant’s back. He’s trekking and exploring and learning, not traveling in maximum comfort and style.
Himalaya is highly recommended. It’ll make you want to see the world, something I’m sad to say I haven’t yet done. Palin is obviously a compulsive, passionate, and inveterate traveler, and his excitement and satisfaction in his journeys is infectious.
Palin was recently nominated by the U.K.’s Wanderlust magazine as one of the top ten world travelers of all time — and is the only one of the ten still living. Not only did he travel Asia for months for this BBC series, he also spent a year traveling from the North Pole to the South Pole (covering 16 countries as he went), as well as several more months traveling in Africa for his BBC video series Sahara.
Here‘s the official website of his amazing world travels for the BBC.
The “Palin effect,” according to Wikipedia, is when areas that Palin visits in his videos suddenly become much more popular to tourists. He makes it all seem so wonderful, while not glossing over hardship, political unrest, and the unfortunate role of women in many of the societies he encounters.