Palin does the usual touristic stuff in Kathmandu: the burning ghats, sadhus, Swayambhu and Boudhanath which will perhaps be interesting only to those who have never been to Nepal. Elsewhere in Himalaya, Palin is hosted by Imran Khan in Pakistan and in Bhutan by the indomitable former Bhutani Chief Justice, Dasho Benji. To be fair, Palin doesn't quite buy Bhutan's self-conscious peddling of exotica and has a slightly raised eye brow about goings on in Drukland.
On second thought, if you have seen the series forget about the book. When Deb Mukharji served briefly as Indian ambassador here in 2001, the joke in New Delhi was that whenever the outdoor-loving plenipotentiary went off on a trek all hell would break lose in Kathmandu. Indeed, Mukharji was either in Langtang, Khumbu or Rara during some of the most serious riots, massacres or government collapses in Kathmandu.
Now we know why Mukharji was so eager to get out. The former ambassador is a keen photographer and some of the pictures he has reproduced in The Magic of Nepal are works of art. The book itself is a labour of love, and this was one Indian ambassador who had fallen in love with the serenity and grandeur of Nepal the other was his successor, Shyam Saran. 'There is no other place in the world where a room with a bed and warm dining room awaits the visitor at over 15,000 ft,' Mukharji writes. Since the preface to the book is written by Stan (Lonely Planet) Armington, Mukharji can be forgiven for sometimes sounding like a trekking guidebook. And you wish he had written less and blown up his pictures more.
Pictures like the one of the arid desolation of the Kali Gandaki looking north from Kagbeni accentuated by the black and white print and on the next page is a striking colour picture from the same spot of a rainbow and a suspension bridge spanning the river. Or pictures like Kangtega floating on a bank of clouds or a closeup of water tumbling over moss-covered boulders on the Langtang Khola.
Mukharji obviously has a soft spot for water (in the form of ice, liquid and vapour) and mountains, as well as the interplay between them. The photographer's eye is caught by 'uncommon beauty in common wayside scenes'.
The adventurer in Mukharji wanders up to a remote cul-de-sac in the Langtang Valley and remembers seeing these same mountains from the north while in a speeding jeep on the Tibetan plateau and he muses: 'Besides being the source of life, giving water and being the abode of the Gods, the majesty and mystery of the Himalaya also have something to do with their remoteness, the valleys and gorges to be traversed.' Sooner or later, the Nepal Himalaya will be crisscrossed by highways too and these mountains will never be the same again.
by Michael Palin
Weidenfeld & Nicolson
The Magic of Nepal
text and photographs by Deb Mukharji
Rupa & Co, 2005 New Delhi pp 164