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  The Chatter Box : Messages from Michael
Message from beyond the grave by Michael Palin on 18 June 2004 2:51pm
Dear all,

I apologise, grovellingly, for not having reported back to you for so long. I thought of making excuse like a severe case of YRMLS (Yak-Butter Related Memory Loss Syndrome) or simply that Iíd fallen off a mountain onto my writing hand. The reality is much less interesting as it involves very boring things like writing deadlines and delivery dates.

Our last day of filming in the Himalaya was in early April this year, and as I have had to write the book in breaks between filming trips, over half remained un-written when I got back to London. With the help of my wife, who is getting better and better at ignoring me, and our three cats who say and do very little during the day-time, I was able to sit undisturbed in my room, watching spring turn to summer in the gardens of Gospel Oak and tap out a rough and ready account of 3,000 miles of astonishing travel.

Over in Washington, Basil Pao was working equally frantically, looking through his nine million photos for 300 which would be good enough for my book and a further 300 even better ones that would be good for his book.

Anyway, it looks as if the seven day a week, no alcohol before 7 p.m. regime has worked. Both books Ė Himalaya and Inside Himalaya by Basil Pao - are just about ready to go to the printers in north Italy, and weíre looking at publication in late September. I would love to go to north Italy and keep the words and pictures company as they churn through the presses in the shadow of the Dolomites, but after a short pause for breath I have to start work writing and recording the commentary for our six episodes. So thatís another summer devoted to the Himalaya!

What makes it all worthwhile is that we have some fantastic material, both written and visual, to work with, and as everywhere we went through was pretty difficult to get to, as well as new and strange to me, there is a real sense of adventure in the project.

The highest point of the journey was just over 18,000 feet (5,500 metres) and the lowest was on the very last shot of the series, floating out into the sunset on the Bay of Bengal. The mountains take no hostages. Conditions above 15,000 feet were always difficult, with lower oxygen levels making moving, breathing and sleeping more difficult. As we had once again set ourselves a lot of ground to cover we had very little recovery or acclimatization time and our ace BAFTA award-winning sound recordist John Pritchard, suffered a bad dose of altitude sickness and was hospitalized in Lhasa, Tibet. Heís now made a full recovery Iím glad to say. Both myself and Basil were struck down by a nasty virus that reduced us too coughing wrecks on one part of the climb. Youíll be glad to hear that all my misery was faithfully and unblinkingly recorded on film by our ace BAFTA award-winning cameraman Nigel Meakin.

All six programmes have now been edited down and Iím very pleased that each one has a distinct and different feel to it. Pakistan starts the series, and thatís very different from India, and Nepal and Tibet are both different again. Yunnan in China, at the far eastern end of the Himalaya is an eye-opener, and very beautiful, and Nagaland and Assam in north-east India are strange and lovely. To round off the trip, we have the high and the lows in Bhutan and Bangladesh, both fascinating places, but as different as chalk from cheese. Though the scenery is breathtaking, itís the people we meet who, as usual, make the programmes work.

So thatís where itís at the moment. Canít give much more detail because weíre still fine tuning everything, but I am quietly excited and looking forward to the first transmission, which we hope will be in early October, on BBC 1.

I shall be doing a book signing tour here in October and hopefully visiting Australia and New Zealand in November and Holland in December. Travel begets travel, but at least I can leave my sleeping bag behind!

Soon weíll be able to have more material about Himalaya on the site, and weíll be keeping you updated about where and when you can catch the series. Meanwhile watch the old ones on UK TV Documentary channel!

Thank you for being patient during my absence. Talk soon, as they say.


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