Michael Palin continues his trek. On his way to Everest base camp, he meets the King of Nepal, visits Annapurna Sanctuary, climbs a glacier and follows a Gurkha recruitment drive.
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From high in the sky on a brilliant morning, Nepal looks idyllic, but on the ground, things are different.
In these Himalayan foothills, communist insurgents, inspired by the work of Chairman Mao,
are waging a campaign against the government that has lasted eight years and cost nearly 8,000 lives.
As I'm to find out, things in Nepal are not always the way they look.
In the western foothills, far off the tourist track,
I'm with a party on their way to the village of Lekhani to witness a recruiting ceremony
for what is perhaps Nepal's best known export, the legendary Gurkha soldiers.
Oh, right, but you can't get to it by road...
'With me are senior Gurkha officers, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Adrian Griffith,
'an Englishman who's lived here for 15 years and speaks the language fluently.'
His interest in the tough fighting men of these hills goes way back.
When I was eight, I took the Victor, and it had a story called Johnny Gurkha in it and...
-The Victor magazine?
-I went to the Royal Tournament to see the Gurkhas.
They fired my imagination, and while at Sandhurst, I was lucky enough to get selected for the brigade.
I was commissioned into the 6th Gurkhas in 1979, so it's nearly 25 years ago.
And it's never been a letdown? What you read in the Victor...?
I say I wanted to be an engine driver, I became an engine driver and I enjoy being an engine driver.
Do you try and confine your selection to these groups?
Traditionally, we've recruited from the Gurungs and the Magars.
The Gurungs are mostly east of the Kali Gandaki, the river we crossed, and the Magars are in this area.
And this really is the area of the Poon Magars.
-The Nepalese government allow us to recruit, but they ask that we maintain a lower profile.
It's embedded in history. It's nearly 200 years it's been going on,
-one way or another, but they like it to be kept as low-key as possible.
But it's this lugging of loads up and down hills that really toughens people up,
and it's one of the reasons why they make such ideal soldiers.
I'm feeling quite toughened up myself by the time we reach Lekhani, where Adrian addresses the hopefuls.
HE SPEAKS IN NEPALI
All the recruits are given numbers.
Of the 251 applicants here today, only a fraction will go on to the next stage of testing.
We recruit once a year, and it's broken down into three phases.
This is the first phase - the opportunity for any man who wants to join the British Army to get in.
There are a lot more young men who want to join than we have places for.
Last year, for example, across Nepal, somewhere in the region of 24,000 were chasing 331 places.
-And so it is very important. But, clearly, the numbers that will get through today...
-I think the galla has an allocation of 100.
-Tell me who the galla is. Explain the role of the galla.
The galla is our recruiter. He is a retired Gurkha soldier,
in this case, a retired sergeant-major. He is resident in the area that he works in,
and he brings in the raw material into the recruiting offices.
-So he's pretty vital.
As members of the British Army, recruits will get paid ten times more than they would in the Nepalese army,
which makes a Gurkha a very attractive proposition.
As dawn breaks next morning, the village looks the same,
it seems to be enjoying itself in the same way,
but feels very different.
Despite the sunshine, there's a chill in the air.
Late yesterday afternoon, the galla - who is the recruiting officer -
told us that he'd been approached by the local Maoists,
who wanted to talk to him, one of us and the Gurkhas who we were with.
A meeting was held,
at the end of which the Maoists decided that they wanted to take the galla, Adrian,
two other senior Gurkhas off into the forest to meet the hierarchy.
Well, there was nothing we could do.
We waited here. They were taken off yesterday evening into the forest,
and this morning, they haven't returned.
As far as we know, there's no real danger, they just wanted to talk to them, but they're not back yet.
It looks as though the rest of the recruiting is off, and all the work done yesterday will be a waste.
And it looks also as though we probably will have to just get out of here as quickly as possible.
There's no obvious threat, but just knowing we're in Maoist-controlled territory changes the atmosphere.
From being a charming, rustic backwater, Lekhani now seems more like an out-of-the-way trap,
and friendly locals potential kidnappers.
As we head out of town, we pass yesterday's would-be Gurkhas,
looking as confused as ourselves.
We're two hours' walk from the nearest road, and only when we're there will we feel safe.
48 hours later, news that Adrian has been released safe and well reaches us in the lakeside town of Pokhara.
Adrian tells me what happened when he was abducted.
I was then introduced to Comrade Mahesh,
who was obviously a senior member of the Baglung Maoist party,
and I had a discussion with him for about half an hour, really on the Maoist cause.
He said that his aim in taking me particularly was to get publicity for their cause outside Nepal.
And they then, at 12 o'clock, walked us down to the road
which we'd driven up the previous day, and they'd arranged a vehicle for us there.
They said, "We must have one final cup of tea together." So we had a final cup of tea with our abductors,
they made a speech to the assembled villagers. At 1.30, we got in the vehicle and drove off down the hill,
-and that was the end of it.
-What sort of people were they?
-You speak Nepali well. Presumably you could make some judgment?
-They were very normal Nepalis.
They were a mix of different castes, but they were all very well informed in terms of their own cause,
but they were unremarkable, except in the fact they were very focused on what they were trying to achieve.
Now it's time to tackle the mountains.
We'll be trekking up to the 13,500-foot base camp of Annapurna,
whose summit dominates the horizon,
along with the classically beautiful peak of Machhapuchhre - "Fishtail".
The idea is to see a bit of the country and get acclimatised to high altitude
before we take on Everest and the Tibetan Plateau.
Followed by our sherpa guides Wongchu and Nawang, I set a less-than-blistering pace.
Namaste. Where have you come from?
We've come from Bamboo. Yeah, all the way. We were at the ABC and...
-That's the base camp. That's where we're going.
-Yeah, amazing there.
-How is it up there?
-Amazing! 360 degrees of mountains, gorgeous.
-Where are you all from?
-Israel, oh, wow, right.
Where am I from? ..Oh, England, that's right!
We've just started our climb - we're vague on details, like where we're from!
-So is this part of a long holiday?
-Yeah, it's a vacation from school.
Yeah. Any problems along the way?
We had a problem on our second day.
We actually slept here in Chomrong, and we met some Maoists.
-What did they say? "We're Maoists. How do you do"?
-There were three people and just one of them said...
-There was one with a gun standing behind him.
-Oh, I see.
And they were just telling us, "Hello. We are Maoists..."
We are communists.
Not really, just, "Hello, we are Maoists."
They started talking. They said each one of us has to pay 1,000 rupees,
and, um, we pay 1,000, they give us a receipt,
and there is now not going to be any problem on our way.
They say that they are the mountain people, and that this their area.
So you weren't...you weren't alarmed? You weren't frightened?
Or did they point the gun at you?
No, no. They didn't point the gun, but we tried to negotiate with them,
tell them that we are students and this is the beginning of our trip, and it's a lot of money,
-but we had to pay them eventually. They gave us a receipt. Do you want to see it?
-Yes, it might be useful!
If you're going home, you can give me the receipt!
-But it's in Nepali, so you won't understand what's written inside it.
-But it does say that we paid 1,500...
-Three of us.
I read Nepali, you see,
-and that says, "Arrest these three on arrival(!)"
-I suggest that you learn Nepali, I think!
-And your name...?
-And you are?
-Michael, it was a pleasure meeting you.
-I hope you enjoy your...
-Well, you're going downhill. It's all downhill from here, so good luck!
-Yeah, thank you.
-Thanks for the hints on the way.
-No problem. Enjoy.
'I'm already feeling breathless, but notices warn that things can only get worse.'
'Wongchu's been up Everest twice, so he should know.'
When do we get the, um, the height where you get mountain sickness?
Are we there yet or not?
Yes, you get the mountain sickness, and you must drink a lot of water,
and then you must use the soup,
and go slow,
-walk slow walk.
-Well, that's easy.
Then when you get headache, you must move down in the low place.
"Early symptoms - headache, loss of appetite, dizziness, fatigue on minimal exertion..."
I've got a bit of that! "What to do - get in touch with your nearest sherpa! Descend, descend, descend."
Well, that's pretty clear.
-It's not a cakewalk, is it?
We set off next morning with high hopes, encouraged by the locals.
So far, so good.
Much of the trek seems either downhill or along the valley floor.
Wongchu puts up with this but, like a true sherpa, doesn't really start to enjoy himself until it gets steep.
Lunch here, Wongchu?
No, up the hill.
Up the hill!
I just don't want to!
'The porters, carrying our equipment in bamboo baskets,
'positively scamper up the mountain,
'and Wongchu follows them like a man who's late for work.'
Wongchu, it's not the Olympic 100m!
The view is spectacular.
From here you can clearly why Machhapuchhre is called "Fish Tail".
'Mercifully, Wongchu has allowed us a brief stop at one of the guesthouses which dot the route,
'offering rare Nepalese dishes.'
Thank you, thank you very much. Boiled potato.
-Is this from your garden?
-Is it? Good, that's very nice.
-It's very good. Looks...
OK. And is this your lodge?
-Do you run it, or do you just work here?
And you have all nationalities up here, many countries, so, um, you speak English, don't you?
Do you have to speak other languages?
What other languages do you speak?
Well, a little bit English and Gurung and Nepali, that's all.
-And do you live up here?
-All year round?
-What happens in the winter? It's closed?
-I go to Chomrong.
-You have family in Chomrong?
Do you have to carry things up here?
-Yeah, sometimes. Like five kilo, five to ten kilo.
-Five to ten kilos?
I'm very impressed you speak anything!
After lunch, the path becomes a bit of a roller coaster -
out of one valley and down into the next.
Cor blimey! Wongchu sets...a pretty fast pace.
Mind you, he has been up Everest twice!
It's the afternoon now. I think walking this morning was easier.
We stopped for lunch, and it's really hard to get started again.
Every step suddenly seems like 12, and, you know, the stairs, the steps,
they're very well maintained, but they're never regular, so you're going at different speeds.
Anyway, stop moaning, Palin! On you go... You'll enjoy it when you're there.
We're getting higher up now.
Wongchu, I'm beginning to feel it. 3,000 metres are we?
-Are we above 3,000 metres?
-Yeah. It's a very nice place.
It's cool, it's shady. What is it?
Ah, this is a Hinku cave.
-A Hindu cave.
-What's a Hinku?
-Hinku means before this, some Hindu god
-and some Himalayan god were living here.
-That's why they call it, and also the long time people here... Yeti live here.
-Yeti lived here?
Go on! Really?!
-You believe in the yeti?
I saw...Yeti in the mountain.
-What did it look like?
-It looked like a monkey and it looked like people.
A big monkey. How big? How tall?
-The same as us.
-Are you sure it wasn't one of us? A lost climber?
-No, no. This is yeti.
Does it make a noise?
Um, sometimes they make noisy... They say, "Yeee!", like this.
Great. That's when you know there's a yeti coming!
That is the most wonderful sight, and if there's a yeti there as well...
-Let's go and have tea with the yeti.
-Point it out to me if I don't notice it.
-Yeti make tea very nice.
Oh, dear! If I can get down...
Be careful, this is the yeti route.
Our dream home for the night is typical of the lodges that have sprouted up in the last ten years
to cater for the trekkers.
The only problem with these wonderful Himalayan viewpoints is that actually, we can't see a thing.
Deurali looked so wonderful and inviting in the distance with the sun shining on it.
When you get here...after 15 minutes, the clouds came down and now we can't see a thing. It's also very cold.
On top of that, I'm not really feeling great.
I think it might just be a cold, but it might well be to do with the effects of altitude.
Who knows? I feel weary, and I know along there is the path to Annapurna,
so we're going to have to take that again fairly soon. But for now, keep taking the trekking honey.
Rub it on, you'll feel a lot better.
Halfway through the trek, and for the first time, some doubts are creeping into my mind.
I don't know how I'll go on today.
Last night was pretty awful.
I've got a throat like sandpaper,
and altitudes are rather unforgiving, from what I hear - things don't get any better as you go up.
Still, there's nowhere else to go. Nothing for it.
If I keep on, I hope I prove them wrong - that climbing does make you feel better.
We're entering the avalanche area.
When the snow comes down, these sheer rock faces are lethal.
Wongchu treats it with great respect.
He's seen people killed here.
I have my own private avalanches to deal with.
Waves of fatigue sweep over me, requiring increasingly regular breathers.
that's the camp - that's Machhapuchhre,
named after the glorious mountain, which is up there - Fishtail Mountain -
Macchapucchare, the sacred mountain, so sacred that I don't think they even kill animals here -
it's all an entirely vegetarian diet. Anyway, that's a little titbit. It's sublime and wonderful scenery
to be totally and completely knackered in - the last few...feet, 1,000 feet.
It's taken it out of me. I don't know if it's just this cold, or it's the altitude,
but really kind of just partly acclimatising to much higher...
higher areas we're going to be going into -
we're going up to Everest and that'll be...that'll be much higher,
so I just hope it is the cold and not altitude sickness, but I'm knackered to a standstill - it's pathetic!
I had to give my pack to somebody, I've become like a patient being carried up the hill by...
HE WHEEZES AND COUGHS
That's a cough and a half!
Cut to scenery!
It takes me another hour to reach Macchapucchare Base Camp, where everyone seems infuriatingly happy.
Wongchu, you're a great man, thank you.
-I couldn't have done it without you.
-Excuse me, sir,
-this is your tent...
-I just want to collapse somewhere.
This is your tent...
I haven't the energy to get in at the moment. I just want to stand here. I'm so pleased we're here, look!
Mmm, almost worth it.
-Thank you, Mingmar, very good.
-You're welcome. Would you like more?
'My lungs are already telling me we're pretty high.'
In fact we're over 12,000ft, and the view of the Annapurna Sanctuary is a revelation.
Nine of these summits are above 23,000 feet.
-On the left side, it's...our trekking peak.
People carry on walking up to that?
Er, individual people can climb it. It doesn't take that much...
-It looks terrifying.
And it takes such, not so long, like a couple of days to climb.
Huge snowfields up there, on the...on the rim, aren't they...?
And tomorrow when we get to Annapurna, then we can see all the glacier of the Annapurna.
It's sensational. I feel we're in the Himalayas now. I haven't felt it quite yet.
We've been to the Karakorum, we've been to the Hindu Kush, but this is it, you know?
HE COUGHS AND SPLUTTERS
..in the Himalaya!
Can I have a lie down, please?
Some time in the long night, my cold turns a corner,
and by the time Mingmar shakes my tent to see if I'm still in it,
I'm up and about, chewing the fat and meeting with my fellow mountaineers.
-Is your friend climbing Annapurna?
-Yeah, we have a friend,
who is the leader of the expedition, and another one - it is the last 8,000m mountain, last one.
-And have they got up?
-Annapurna, south face is the last 8,000m.
Wow. And he's summitted?
He's got to the top?
-So it's quite an exciting day for you, just...
Well, I hope he made it...
OK. See you up.
Good, good climbing, good climbing...
These are proper climbers.
I feel just a terrible fraud, really, but there you go!
The sun may be bright on Annapurna, but it's bitterly cold.
Our porters seem still dressed for the plains and they're carrying loads of anything up to 40kg.
Here we go.
HE GROANS I can just lift that!
Superhuman. I don't see how a body can cope with all that.
I suppose once it's up there, you're OK. ..A smile!
A smile, OK.
Well, good on you.
And there's me not even carrying my toothbrush.
I can't quite believe it. The end is in sight. Annapurna, Base Camp, ABC.
I'm so glad, despite the near collapse of the system yesterday,
that I made it, because it's just a stunning, stunning place,
and I would have missed all this, the Annapurnas one, two, three and four.
Unimaginative, but there are lots of Annapurnas - isn't that stunning?
I think I'm going to get there - I have a feeling I'm going to make it.
Well, I suppose this symbolises our achievement of the last five days.
This is the summit of Annapurna and it's just breathtaking,
really extraordinary, powerful scenery round here.
Despite everything, I feel that Annapurna has prepared me well.
At least I know what to expect as we head for Kathmandu, Everest and beyond.
After the emptiness of the mountains, Kathmandu comes as quite a shock.
Almost a million are squeezed into Nepal's capital, built on the widest valley in the Himalaya.
CAR HORNS HONK
Kathmandu must be used to crowds.
It's long been the meeting place for traders between India and Tibet.
When Nepal opened up to the rest of the world in the 1960s,
the spirit of easygoing tolerance that drew the hippies sparked a tourist invasion.
For me, the dazzling surprise is the beauty of the old buildings.
These are the work of the Newar people.
They invented the pagoda here and took it to China.
In Durbar Square, in the old city of Patan, local newspaper editor,
Kundar Dixit explains this rich heritage.
And it's a kind of living place, still - people do come here.
-I can see people sort of come to offer prayers and all that...
-It's not a museum. It's, you know...
They said there are more temples in Kathmandu than houses, and more gods than people. That has changed now,
but it's still a living place - you see people going off to pray in the temples, from their houses.
So commerce goes on, as well as the sort of...
'Nepal's love affair with tourism is pretty obvious, but there are clouds on the horizon.'
-As you can see, business is down...
-Is it? I mean, I can't tell,
but I've heard that it has suffered because...is this because of the Maoist problems?
Well, that too, but also internationally, I mean since 9/11, our tourism's down in every respect.
'The security nightmare is that the Maoists will bring their fight from the country to the city.'
-So there's going to have to be accommodation and compromise?
-Yes. There is no military solution.
Both sides have even said that there is no military solution.
This is a messy war in the world's hardest terrain. No-one will win - it'll just take the country down.
It must be quite exciting for you as a newspaper man to deal with this. Do you feel that you can take part
-in the debate?
-Well, you know, we started our paper about four years ago,
just when the country started going to the dogs, so maybe we're partly responsible for this!
I mean, but no, I think it's an exciting time to be here, and Nepal's press has never been freer,
-in a sense...
-..because there used to be curbs on reporting,
for example on the monarchy, on the military and so forth.
There's none of that any more. So there's a real paradox here.
Here's a country, there's an insurgency going on, but the press is totally free.
The Prime Minister has been sacked, parliament is in limbo, but the press is free.
So I think, um...that's why I think the challenge is to use that freedom, to bring about change,
and then spread the consciousness about people's rights.
We've been tipped off that the king is attending a ceremony in the heart of Kathmandu tonight.
Security is tight.
King Gyanendra came to the throne less than three years ago,
after nine members of the royal family were murdered by the crown prince.
The threat of assassination is on everyone's mind.
This rare ceremony, in which the king accepts the blessings of the goddess Bhadrakali,
is seen as a vital endorsement for the beleaguered monarchy.
Judging by the queues outside the royal palace next morning, the monarchy still has its supporters.
Along with Pratima Pande, a cousin of the king, I join those standing in line to receive his blessing
at the important Hindu festival of Dashain.
Looking a bit like a hotel receptionist on a very busy day,
the king plants one "tika" after another on the foreheads of his people.
The tika - a mix of curd, rice and vermilion powder - is applied in strictly hierarchical order.
Ministers, politicians, politicians' wives, army generals,
and, to the king's evident surprise, English television presenters.
-SHE SPEAKS IN DIALECT
-Michael Palin, BBC.
'And I get a handshake as well.'
-I hope you are enjoying our festival.
It's a wonderful start to our time here, to enjoy the rest of Nepal. Thank you.
1, 2, 3!
Apart from the bestowing of blessings, the festival of Dashain
-is the only time when the Nepalis are allowed to gamble.
-1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8!
It's by four, so eight!
-He wins everybody's money.
-He wins everybody's money?
Cowrie shells are shaken like dice and bets taken on how they fall.
'The trouble is, only one man ever seems to win.'
He wins again!
Pratima, Pratima, I think I've been set up!
You've invited me here and set me up! Your husband's a banker,
you're trying to get British investment into the country and...I don't know!
Next morning, Pratima takes me to the more sober surroundings of the temple at Pashupatinath.
90% of Nepalese are Hindu, and this is considered the holiest Hindu site outside India.
Across the river are the ghats where cremations take place in public.
The complex also includes a large enclosure where holy men,
dedicated to the god Shiva, live in well-publicised seclusion.
-This looks like an ashram, this place for the holy men.
-These are men who have renounced all their worldly possessions
and belongings, and given up their lives to this temple and to Lord Shiva
and you can see that they're dressed like Lord Shiva, or their appearances are like that.
Lord Shiva smears himself with ash...
-How old are you, sir?
-I have 56 years.
-56 years, and you've been 20 years here, in...
And before that, were you also...? Were you a Sadhu before that?
Er, Sadhu, 35 years.
-Yes, yes... and that...86 years...
-86! Great respect.
-HE SPEAKS IN DIALECT
86 years without a razor or a scissor.
Because he's very, very thin.
Very thin. Is he... Are you strong?
-HE SPEAKS IN DIALECT
-He does yoga.
I don't want him to, if he doesn't want to...
'I only hope I can get a leg over at 86!'
Down at the Ghats, business is brisk,
as funeral pyres and attendants are worked flat out to cope with demand.
I think every Hindu,
or every religious person...
comes to Pashupatinath. It is THE place to be cremated.
Sons carry the body and walk barefoot,
and they bring the body to Pashupatinath and leave them.
They walk through the town barefoot and bring the body here?
-And there's no burial in the Hindu religion?
-It's always cremation.
They shave their heads also, after the cremation.
A sign of mourning is that you shave your heads, for men.
When the royal family all died and they had...
-Were they all, sort of, cremated about the same time?
Five of them were cremated on the same day,
along the banks of the river.
It was very sad and unbelievable and...
everyone was...traumatised, put it that way.
-The whole of the valley, nation, was traumatised.
Well, this morning, there can be no more delaying
or beating about the bush.
We can no longer put off the toughest part of a tough journey.
The time has come to cross the Himalaya.
Leaving Kathmandu, we shall drive north across the border,
from the land of Maoists to the land of Mao,
turning off the main road to Lhasa
and making for Base Camp at the North Face of Everest.
The mountains begin to close in
and, as we round one of the last corners in Nepal,
there at the end of the valley is my first glimpse of Tibet.
But now it's the red flag of China that flies over its frontier.
Well, this is a very special place.
This is Friendship Bridge behind me,
which connects Nepal and China.
And it's one of two international crossing points in the whole region.
The other one being the Khunjerav Pass and the Karakorum Highway -
blocked when we went there.
So this currently seems to be the only way of getting through the Himalayas on a major route.
Quite why we attempt a rear entry into China, I'll never know.
It's all part of the usual border confusion.
But though I may not know where I'm going, I know what I leave behind.
Goodbye. Yes, thank you. Thank you so much. Yes.
I don't quite know what happens now.
Wongchu, it's time to say goodbye.
Don't leave me here! Don't leave me here! How'll I survive without you?
What's your last message to me? Eat food. Always eat.
-Keep eating. Keep eating.
-Eat and drink. OK, but no alcohol?
-in the mountains!
-In the mountains.
Once across the border, we climb astonishingly quickly, out of the verdant valleys
and on to the treeless lunar landscape of the Tibetan plateau.
They call this the roof of the world
and for the next few weeks, I won't drop below 13,000 feet.
The prayer flags that mark the high passes
show that despite efforts by the Chinese in the 1960s and '70s,
religion still exists here.
What no longer exists is a country called Tibet.
We are now in what is officially the Tibet Autonomous Region -
a part of the People's Republic of China.
Whatever you call it, it's a land of superlatives.
Look at that!
MICHAEL CHUCKLES Wow!
Well, great moment. My first...first view of Everest.
I mean, apart from photos in restaurants and things like that.
And...just the most glorious, mighty view.
And it's the very, very heart of the Himalayas out there -
giant mountains and four or five of them all over 8,000 metres.
And Everest there, just slightly, um...touched by the cloud.
It really does... does, um...make it all worthwhile.
It's also the highest I've ever been in my life.
I'm at about, um...
5,300 metres now, which is about 17...
over 17,000 feet, so a big first.
And the sun's shining! Unbelievable! Unbelievable!
Now all we've got to do is get there!
Everything is abruptly and dramatically different up here.
From the look of the buildings, whitewashed in Buddhist style,
to the look of the people - Mongolian rather than Indian.
PEOPLE SING A FOLK TUNE
In one village a festival has just begun. My Tibetan guide, Migmar,
tells me these sort of things go on for days.
So we have to hire some yaks from local people.
It's difficult to get permission to film in the Tibet Autonomous Region
and I know everything we do will be closely monitored, but as Migmar explains our plans for Everest,
this only adds to the sense of adventure.
The monastery, between the Everest Base Camp and the monastery,
they are 8km.
So we need to hire some yak from that monastery
-to carry our equipments to Everest Base Camp.
-So the yak don't mind the height? I mean, they can survive in very cold, high altitude?
-But yak usually like, normally like, high altitude.
-Yeah, they do.
Yeah, if they go down... feeling not so good.
A road takes us close to Everest Base Camp.
It was built by the Chinese to support their successful ascent of the North Face in 1960.
Rongbuk consists of a monastery,
half a street, a guest house and an almost unbelievable view
of the highest point on the planet.
This is the highest monastery in the world.
It's just been rebuilt by the local monks
to replace an older one destroyed,
along with thousands of others in Tibet,
during the Cultural Revolution.
The monastery is home to 30 monks and 30 nuns.
MONKS AND NUNS CHANT
'It's hard to imagine what degree of devotion
'enables them to survive the bitter cold and isolation up in Rongbuk.'
It's a cold, cold place. I've brought you this...
'The gift I present to the abbot seems to offer a clue.
'It's a thangka, a painted scroll, from Kathmandu,
'of the Buddha, the Enlightened One.'
'They look at it with real affection.
'The harder their life is, the closer it will bring them to an understanding of him.'
'What Buddha would have made of the Rongbuk Guest House, I don't know.
'Run by the monks, it's Spartan, to say the least.
'The consolation is having Everest as my neighbour
'and the weather out there looks good enough to raise hopes
'for a climb up to Base Camp tomorrow, Sunday.'
The good news is our transport's arrived.
The only problem with being so close to Everest...
it's, um...you're very high up,
there's very little oxygen and you have to keep breathing...
very hard! When you're just slightly dozing off, suddenly, oh! Wake up,
gasping for breath, trying to just get that oxygen in.
So it's actually bloody uncomfortable at night.
I know Everest is out of the window,
I know it looks lovely, but I'd exchange it
for being two foot off the ground, with showers and a flushing toilet.
Conditions next morning are perfect.
Prayers for our safety are written and hung with all the others,
to be carried with the wind, up to the gods.
I find walking still quite an effort at this height,
but as we head towards Everest,
I've a feeling that adrenaline will overcome altitude.
Well, I don't know if it's the yaks, or the Everest effect,
or the fact that I don't have the stinking cold I had on Annapurna,
but I'm actually enjoying this!
We're higher than on Annapurna and I'm feeling pretty good so far,
I'll go a little further up Everest, as they say. See you!
YAKS' BELLS RING
Sunday lunch is taken at a little over 17,000 feet.
This is what we call black tea and...
and butter...simple life...
-in the countryside...
The same like this.
-We have first the lunch, dinner... we have...and supper.
-That's barley? Yes?
-And is...that's to make a drink?
-Or...or to eat?
-For to eat.
-So it's black tea.
-That's for you.
Yak butter in it? An experiment. Well, I suppose, yes.
A bit of yak butter, I suppose.
That really makes it taste better, probably,
does it, or taste worse?
Cheers to you all.
Thanks, guys, very much,
for getting us up this far...
Not too much further for me, no doubt.
-Yes, good, actually. Salty.
Salty tea, very good.
Do these guys have any, sort of, um...
-anything other than tea that warms them up on the way?
-They have some alcohol, chung here.
-Barley beer. Ah.
-Is it good?
-The tea was good, so...
-Would you like to try?
-Yeah, I'll try a bit.
That's rather an attractive bottle.
So this is made of...? This is barley, really...?
Ah, right, lovely.
-A bit of chung, OK, cheers! Down the hatch!
Bottoms up, as they say in the Sahara!
-Oh! Wow! Agh!
It's very cold.
Cold and strong and quite appley.
What do you think I am? An alcoholic?
Yes. Yes. Is it strong?
-Usually, custom, we do this...
-What do you do?
-First, this is for Buddha.
-Second for God. Third one for heaven.
-Then we can...three times.
Usually for Chomolunga.
-First one for Chomolunga.
-First one for...
..Chomolungma, which, of course, is what...for Everest? OK.
-Next one for Buddha.
For Buddha! The great Buddha.
-Third one for human. Third one for human?
-For human beings.
Third one for human beings. Whee!
-Right. And then...? Drink.
Ah! That's great. It's like a, sort of, appley ginger beer.
-It doesn't feel strong. Is it strong?
-Yes, it's very strong.
GUIDE SPEAKS IN TIBETAN
I suppose one of the great events of my childhood was the conquest of Everest in 1953,
but as a boy I can remember being even more fascinated
by the idea that Everest might have been climbed 30 years before.
In 1924, a guy called George Mallory
made Base Camp here for an attempt on the North Face of Everest.
A few weeks later, he and his climbing partner,
Andrew Irvine, were observed
disappearing into a cloud only a few hundred yards
from the summit of Everest. Neither were ever seen again.
It's one of the great mysteries.
Did they, or did they not, climb Everest in 1924?
Well, I'm not going to attempt that!
We've still got a lot of the Himalayas to see,
so I think I'll call it quits here at Everest Base Camp.
The trouble is that the yak herders are such lovely people
that we might just tag along for a bit, get a little closer.
Much has been written of the lure of Everest,
and though I don't have the energy to dance up and down,
I do feel a quickening of the heart the closer we come to the mountain.
Maybe it's easier to understand this
if we forget that Everest was named after a Victorian map maker
and call this mighty mountain
by her Tibetan name -
Chomolungma, Goddess Mother of the Earth.
Next time on Himalaya, I cross the Tibetan Plateau,
see inside great monasteries,
land up in Lhasa - the Forbidden City -
watch kung-fu debating
and spinning prayer wheels,
attempt a builder's line dance.
I see pilgrims,
holy lakes on the roof of the world,
Tibet's equivalent of the Eurovision Song Contest
and all the fun of the horse fair.
Himalaya, entertainment at the highest level.
Michael Palin continues his Himalayan trek. During a Gurkha recruitment Palin is disturbed by Maoist insurgents, but survives to suffer as he climbs to 15,000 feet and sees the majesty of Annapurna Sanctuary. In Kathmandu he is blessed by the Nepalese king before meeting some holy men. Crossing into Tibet he meets his first yaks at the highest monastery in the world before heading up the Rongbuk glacier towards the summit of Everest.