"Himalaya" shows a Tibetan village that has engaged in winter yak caravans since time immemorial, to exchange its people's salt for goods they need. Old chief Tinle led the treks for years, but retired in favor of his elder son. Now the son's body has been brought back by another man, Karma, whom Tinle suspects wants to head the caravans.
Tinle (Lhondup) believes the honor of leading the caravan should remain in his own family, and visits a Buddhist monastery to convince another son -- a monk -- to take over, but clearly, the monk has little skill to lead it. Tinle then defiantly insists he himself will come out of retirement, but Karma says, no; HE will lead.
"Himalaya," of enormous intrinsic interest, is beautifully set in the Dolpo region of Nepal, and directed by Eric Valli, a photographer in Nepal who films for National Geographic. In this fiction feature, conflict builds, but the story is mainly an excuse to show what the film's characters and environment are all about, and who they ARE. It astonishes us that people still live this way in the 21st century. "Himalaya" seems to creates anew a time that has all but ended, although such caravans still exist, and were the subject of Ulrike Koch's 1997 documentary, "The Saltmen of Tibet".
Much of the film is simply pictorial, with Karma and Tinle making rival journeys, as Tinle squints at the clear sky and foresees ominous snow. In one passage, we endure pure suspense when part of a narrow path slips away, and the yaks and their masters must cross a perilous stretch. The real movie takes place in our minds, as we think about people who share the planet with us, yet lead unimaginably different lives. Would it be a blessing to be a member of a community like this? There must be something deeply satisfying about knowing one's place so perfectly in an ancient social structure and fitting into it seamlessly.
Oliver Dazat and Eric Valli
Tinle: Thinlen Lhondup; Karma: Gurgon Kyap; Passang: Karma Wangiel; Pema: Lhakpa Tsamchoe
Salt caravan, Himalayas, ancient traditions, perilous journe
Tibetan with English subtitles Reviewer's Name:
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