Michael Palin just makes me smile. I can’t help it; it’s almost a Pavlovian reaction. Of course, Palin is most famous for being part of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which is what makes me smile when I see him. These days, however, he’s making clever travel documentaries. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen of his documentaries (most of Around the World in 80 Days and Pole to Pole), so when I saw the audiobook, read by Palin himself, about his travels through the Himalayas, I thought it would make for some good light listening.
Palin spent more than 120 days traveling the Himalaya, starting on the Pakistan/Afghan border and continuing through India, Nepal, China, Bhutan, and Bangladesh. It’s a difficult journey, with obstacles ranging from sickness and bad weather, to the abduction of one of the British Army officers who accompanied Palin in Nepal. But there’s also great beauty in the mountain ranges and in the people Palin meets.
There were parts of this book that I liked a lot. Palin’s anecdotes about the people he met and some of the strange experiences he had were entertaining and illuminating, pointing out cultural differences in a humorous way but without seeming to make fun. And he fills his descriptions with details, making it easier to picture the unusual places and people he visits.
Even though parts of the book worked quite well, I really think that audio isn’t the best format for this kind of travel memoir. Without a clear narrative, it’s hard to stay focused, and there are no maps or photos to help the listener get acclimated. Instead, it’s just like a series of amusing anecdotes with some talk of pretty scenery and lots of “after we left here, we went there.”
If you are interested in Palin’s travels, whether through the Himalayas, across the Sahara, or Around the World, his Web site (http://www.palinstravels.co.uk/) is filled with photos, interactive maps, video clips, and the full text of his books. I wish I had known about the site when I was listening to the audiobook. I think the maps and photos would have really enhanced my listening. But in the future, I’ll probably just stick with the documentaries.