Eric Valli invites us all to join in on a journey that takes place in the treacherous mountains of the Himalayas with the Oscar-nominated film Himalaya. Valli who has experienced the region firsthand delivers a film that boasts visually stunning mountainside scenery as well as a rare glimpse into the culture of the people high up in the mountainous region of Dolpo in Nepal.
This fictional piece of work was inspired by the extraordinary lifestyle that the Nepalese Tibetan people led and documents the importance of the salt trade to their livelihood.
The film begins with the death of Lhapka, the son of Tinle who is the aging chief of the caravan. Grief silently washes over Tinle and manifests in a form of stubbornness and rage. He immediately points the finger towards Karma, who is a rebellious but capable young man and also the caravan’s second-in-command. Tinle believes that Karma is vying for the position of chief but he is adamant about holding onto the tribal leadership so that his grandson, Pasang, can become chief. Thus, Tinle is determined to lead the caravan even though he is now weakened by age and has retired from the caravan journey for over a decade. The rebellious Karma insists on leaving earlier than the date set by the lamas. Many of the villagers are concerned by Karma’s actions of going against the lamas but yet, the majority follow Karma because he the most qualified. Tinle follows tradition and leaves on the set date after recruiting his second son Norbou, who has stayed in a monastery since the young age of eight,to come back to the village and support him.
Lhakpa’s widow Pema (Lhakpa Tsamchoe), her young son Pasang (Karma Wangiel), and the eldest members of the community. The boy has dreams of one day becoming chief. Tinle sets out on his caravan journey four days later than Karma with Lhakpa’s widow Pema, his young grandson Pasang, and his old friends who chose to stay behind to leave together on the set date. Tinle consistently pushes his group to persevere and move forward but due to their collective old age they struggle to catch up to the young-blooded Karma. Whilst speaking with Norbou one night, Norbou shares some of the wisdom he has gained from one of his mentors: “When two paths open up before you, choose the hardest one.”Tinle interprets this as a sign to use a shortcut to cross the mountains. This shortcut is much more dangerous and difficult than the path but it would allow them to catch up to Karma.
Not long after the shortcut, Tinle catches up to Karma but they still have disagreements about when they should move next. Tinle’s trek is plagued by a strong blizzard and he is left behind. Karma finds Tinle on the brink of dying in the snow storm and dutifully carries the old chief to camp. After his close brush with death, Tinle recognizes his mistakes and passes on the title of chief to Karma but even more significantly the care of Pema and Pasang. The strenuous journey comes to an end with a successful salt trade.
Valli provides a journalistic outlook of Nepal by artfully documenting the glimpses of everyday life for the people of the region in the film. He expertly showcased many different aspects of life through the conflicts Tinle faced ranging from funeral rituals, tribal meetings and domestic chores to even the secluded life in a Buddhist monastery. However like most films about this part of the world, it too has the premise of an adventure that lures in the audience to stay for beautiful scenes of the snow-capped mountains, golden grain fields and mighty yaks that roam the area. The meaning of life and family for the people of Dolpa was also well received since Valli tried to ensure authenticity to all the characters of the film. The values these characters possess and seek is a way for the audience to understand what it truly means to be from this region. The film also show the several indications of a travellers’ tale, but instead of through a foreigner making a journey it is through the local peoples. adventure, discovery, conquest, hardship, individual, achievement are all demonstrated in the caravan trip. The long conflicts between Tinle and Karma is synonymous to conflicts of an older generation versus the younger but perhaps even more so in this region of Southeast Asia. Nepal is a place where tradition is trying to be preserved but yet no place on Earth can survive without becoming more and more globalized. Tinle represents the old values and belief system, his way of life is authentic and familiar. Karma represents the younger generation who strive to lead better lives than their predecessors albeit their actions and new values may be met with disdain from the society. Maintaining the deep-rooted culture but also moving forward globally at the same time is a difficult balancing act, the caravan journey symbolizes exactly just that.
This movie has been executed carefully and sincerely. The life of the Dolopo people and their meaning towards caravans chief is well received and depicted beautifully. However it still falls into the caste of films made about these particular sites.