Sacred Mountains of China
You might remember that over the past year or so I’ve reviewed two motorcycle travelogues, on DVD and in book form, that were made by Ryan Pyle and his brother Colin. In addition to those great bike treks around China and India, Ryan Pyle has branched out and taken us on a trek on foot around some of the most incredible locations on Earth. Extreme Treks: Sacred Mountains of China is available on Blu-Ray and with an accompanying book. Let me tell you about them.
It’s hard not to draw a comparison with the brothers’ motorcycle journeys, especially given that the first one took in part of the region where these walks take place. I shall try and avoid comparisons as much as possible, but two things leap out and will recur at some point: One is the superior feel of this DVD, and the other is the increased depth of immersion in the landscape.
The DVD/Blu-Ray takes us on four treks, each of which is a pilgrimage in the Tibetan culture, circumperambulating four great mountains on the Tibetan plateau. I won’t go into the details of each one, but for reference, the four mountains are Minya Konka, Mount Kailash, Amne Machin & Kawa Karpo. No, I’d not heard of them before either. Perhaps I should have since I lean heavily towards Buddhism and am fascinated by the beliefs. In each case, Ryan Pyle dons his impressive walking kit and braves altitude sickness, exhaustion, illness, dangers in numerous forms, endless discomfort and the most extreme and sudden changes of weather to hike around one mountain, the journey varying from perhaps five days to twelve (if memory serves me). We are treated to such sights as yak herding, bathing in ice cold water, trying to put up a tent in a full-force mountain gale, other pilgrims on the routes kneeling in devotion on stony mountain paths and often Yak Butter Tea.
The journeys undertaken in this DVD were not done alone. In their motorcycle adventures, while the brothers had a support van with a camera, most of the actual filming was done by the two journeyers on bike cams and hand-held cameras, and the presence of the support van was barely noticable. Here, Ryan has a full support team of local guides, cooks, sherpas, and his loyal cameraman – who I felt for, as he performed the same trek but filming it at the same time. And the result of the increased team support means that the actual technical side of the travelogue in terms of filming, sound etc, is vastly superior. In fact, I would say the camerawork in particular is excellent.
What you are left with, then, is a very well filmed and well-produced journey, which is made worth filming by the enthusiastic, immersive and open attitude of Pyle himself, who is clearly in love with China and the Tibetan world, and equally clearly wants to make everyone else fall in love with it too. His enthusiasm and willingness to completely lose himself in this world is catching, and because of that, everything he introduces us to is that little bit more fascinating and attractive.
In summation, the video series is stunning, well-produced and enjoyable. The scenery is probably the biggest star. I’m not a lover of mountains, myself. I like hills and grassland and sea coves and so on. But it’s really hard not to be impressed and stunned by the beauty of these places, which have been so lovingly and clearly captured on film. I recently started watching Levison Wood‘s Himalaya walk, having thoroughly enjoyed his Nile walk. But sadly, having watched Ryan Pyle’s treks, I found Wood’s journey to feel tame and uninteresting by comparison. Perhaps because he doesn’t display the same connection to his environment?
Then there is the book that accompanies the series. This is a worthwhile purchase even if you’ve watched the series, for it’s not a text repeat of what you’ve already seen. From the start of the book (and I read it after I watched the Blu-ray) it was clear there was more to the book, as it begins by going into the whole background of Pyle’s life in China and the reason for the Treks in the first place. And throughout, the book goes into a level of detail that the series clearly could not due to constraints of time and flow. The book draws on more sources, details more than you see on screen and, of course, tells us more of what the explorer was feeling and experiencing as he trekked. It works nicely as a counterpoint to the series.
If you like your travelogues, this comes highly recommended. I will watch it more than once, that’s for sure. And reading the book has nudged me to want to be that little bit more adventurous in our own outings, even if at a rather tamer level. I am unlikely to come face to face with an angry yak in my searches for Roman ruins in deepest Romania, but the need for adventure is infectious. And if the pics in this review aren’t enough to persuade you to watch it, I don’t know what will. 🙂