Walking the Himalayas TX: 27 Dec 2015, Week 53
‘Walking the Nile’ explorer Levison Wood takes on a new challenge in this 5-part series: to walk the length of the world’s highest mountain range from Afghanistan in the west to Bhutan in the East. His four-month journey of some 4 million steps sees him trekking 1,700 gruelling miles across the roof of the world, teaming up with local guides and meeting monks, soldiers and nomadic tribes, as he passes through some of the most remote, beautiful, and perilous regions on earth - places few outsiders ever get to see.
In this new series – marked by the same intimate and authentic approach that made his previous series stand out – Levison again tests his limits. He confronts snow and ice, altitude sickness and earthquake-devastated landscapes, and treads carefully through one of the most fought-over areas of the world, navigating isolated Afghan valleys and the Line of Control between Pakistani and Indian Kashmir. The trip is also interrupted by a serious car crash in which Lev broke his arm and had to be flown back to the UK for surgery.
Amidst the hardship, though, Levison experiences the extraordinary beauty of Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, discovers a lush hidden paradise in Northern Pakistan, and tracks tigers through the Bardia national park, before ending his journey at the forbidden holy mountain which is now the world’s highest unclimbed peak. It’s also a more personal journey for Levison as he is reunited with the Nepalese man who saved him and gave him shelter when, as a 19-year-old visiting the Himalayas for the first time, Levison was caught up in the country’s political violence.
Episode 1 - Sunday 27 December, 9pm, Channel 4
Levison Wood sets out on his four-month challenge to trek 1,700 miles (some 4 million steps) along the length of the Himalayas. He begins his journey in Afghanistan’s remote Wakhan corridor, where the mountains first rise in the west.
This 200 mile long and 25 mile wide strip of land, bordered by Tajikistan lies to the north, China to the east and Pakistan to the south is so isolated and inhospitable that it never fell into the Taliban’s hands. It’s a part of the country few Westerners have ever seen, let alone set foot in, but it’s home to Levison’s guide, Malang Darya - one of the country’s best mountaineers.
Levison and Malang must trek through barren, snow-ridged valleys where nomadic tribes roam before attempting to climb the Irshad Pass, a 5,000m wall of snow and ice that stands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. But first they have to find some donkeys to carry their equipment.
After six hours of exhausting walking at altitude, they reach the camp of a group of nomadic Kyrgyz tribesmen –descendants of Genghis Khan’s armies. Life in this barren, desolate place is incredibly tough. Only half of Kyrgyz children here make it beyond five years old and the tribe’s chief, Ear Ali Bhai, tells Levison that life expectancy for men is 40 and most women die in their early thirties. He has been married four times, after his first three wives died.
The tribe usually survives on bread and salty tea, but Levison and Malang are special guests and a goat is slaughtered to mark the occasion. Levison is invited to eat one of the most sought-after delicacies – the eyeball.
The next morning, Levison and Malang set out for the Irshad pass despite being told it’s closed due to heavy snow. Their first target is to reach the next village and exchange the donkeys for yaks which they’ll need to make the ascent. With the elevation now 4,000m, there’s half the oxygen there is at sea level, and soon it’s clear that Levison is suffering the symptoms of altitude sickness with the nearest doctor four days’ walk away.
The weather changes rapidly – to freezing sleet and snow and it takes six hours to cover just 10 miles. Levison’s Kyrgyz guides are complaining that it’s too late and they want to go home. But just as they’re about to depart, Malang sees the village in the distance.
It’s the home to another tribe, the Wakhi, and their Chief Mirza agrees to provide some yaks in exchange for the donkeys. The Wakhi have used the Irshad Pass to trade with Pakistan for hundreds of years – but Chief Mirza tells Levison that as far as he knows, no one’s ever tried to climb it so early in the spring. He decides to accompany Levison and Malang to keep an eye on his animals. A bottle of whisky helps the new companions bond, and the chief and his men serenade Lev around the campfire.
On the trek towards the pass the walking is getting tougher and more dangerous, each morning is spent warming up around the fire, where the only way to defrost bread is by burning Yak dung – imparting a distinctive flavour. At 3am they attempt to climb the final 750m to the top of the pass before the sunshine hits the snowline.
The episode ends with Levison and Malang entering the Hunza Valley in Northern Pakistan, where they discover a rich, green paradise that confounds stereotypes of the country. But before long, they’re walking roads lined with anti-American graffiti as they head into areas of the country where the Pakistani Taliban are known to have a strong presence and towards the disputed, and heavily militarized border with India.
Series Producer and Director: Jamie Berry
Line Producer: Martin Long
Executive Producers: Jos Cushing, Melanie Darlaston
Channel 4 Commissioning Editor: John Hay
Production Company: October Films and GroupM Entertainment
Publicity contact: Mark Ogle at OH Communications
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