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Posts Tagged ‘Ryan Pyle

Sacred Mountains of China

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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. 🙂

Buy the Blu-ray here, and the book here on Amazon UK (or look it up on any other site of your choice).

Written by SJAT

January 21, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Tough Rides – China

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We’re taking a brief break from books again this week to look at a different kind of media. For those of you following this blog, you’ll remember that earlier this year I reviewed a great motorcycle adventure in both DVD and book format called the ‘Middle Kingdom Ride‘, and that during the summer I reviewed the second in the series – ‘Tough Rides – India‘. Well the great news is that Ryan and Colin Pyle are busy producing the third adventure in the series, this time in Brazil, to which I am eagerly looking forward. But in the meantime, here’s a worthily re-packaged re-release to grab the attention of anyone who hasn’t yet seen that and who has an interest in travel and/or bikes.

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When the Middle Kingdom Ride was first released I have no doubt that it was intended to be a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It certainly felt like it, and it had been a whole change-of-life, drop-everything-and-try-something amazing project. Having decided to pursue further ‘tough rides’, though, the original has been re-released but with a new name, new look and new format in keeping with the budding series. The DVD of MKR is now available on Blu-Ray as ‘Tough Rides: China’ (you can buy it here.)

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So why a new review? Well because the new format deserves the press. I thoroughly enjoyed MKR when I first watched it, and my only real complaint with it was that the sound quality occasionally dipped. Well the blu-ray format is much clearer, which alone makes it a worthwhile improvement. But the real value is in the display. You see, one of the most amazing things about the travelogue was the scenery, which is absolutely stunning and captured with style and grace, especially considering the minimal manpower and equipment available on the journey. Truly, the scenery was breathtaking. And on Blu-ray, that really comes across. Don’t take my word for it. Load up the blu-ray on an HD widescreen and when you’re looking at the Mongolian and Tibetan landscapes it’s like something from Tolkien. Simply stunning.

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The menu navigation on this edition is also much improved and having the series on one blu-ray instead of two DVDs adds another level of ease to it. And in case you’ve not read my earlier review, I’ll include a little something about the background of the ride from it out here. Do check out the whole review here for more information, though. If you enjoy a good travelogue in the vein of Michael Palin’s or Levison Wood or Billy Connolly, then these deserve your attention.

(From earlier review:)

Amazingly, this tremendous journey, painstakingly documented in both text and film, was carried out by the two stars from their own funds. They did not receive the financial and logistical backing of the BBC or Nat Geo, or any of the great media groups that usually produce such series. They did not get given special treatment from the authorities as media stars. They were not donated bikes. They used up their savings, sold a house, quit jobs and did it themselves. Did what? you ask… Oh yeah. Here’s what they did:

Ryan Pyle is a freelance photographer from Canada who’s lived in Shanghai for a decade now. He loves China. He loves the culture and the people and has been documenting it with his camera now for years. He’s also an enthusiastic, if relatively amateur, motorcyclist. His brother Colin owned a company back in Canada, but was tiring of the life and sought adventure – and he’s also a biker! So from Ryan’s enthusiasm and Colin’s need for change was born the idea of the Middle Kingdom Ride. The Middle Kingdom, you see, is a phrase derived from China’s name for itself, based on the principle that China was at the centre of its world. Ryan had this crazy idea that the two brothers could leave behind work and ordinary life – including, most wrenchingly, their wives – and take two bikes and a small support crew and ride around the circumference of China. China hold the longest unbroken border that can be driven or ridden, and to do so would not only be fascinating and an amazing achievement, but it would also be a world record.

Ryan and Colin sought financial and logistical support, but the deals they made fell through, leaving them alone. Not to be thwarted, the pair decided that they would do what they intended, with or without support. And so they found a filmmaker who was enthusiastic over the idea, who would travel behind the bikes in an SUV. And through careful planning around the route, arranged a series of local guides from each region who would join the support vehicle for a section of the trip. That was it. Two brothers on bikes, and two men in an SUV behind them.

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Written by SJAT

October 22, 2015 at 9:42 am