by Dina Mufti, Researcher, Arctic/Mountains team
Getting home …
Three days before leaving Dolpo in the high Himalayas of Nepal, I twist my ankle, twice. We are two days trek from our pick up point and nowhere near a doctor. We hire a decrepit horse for me to ride. But I am no rider. I think about the 5000m pass ahead and saddle sores, then focus on a hot shower and warm bed, and get on the horse.
The crew are ahead and I’m alone with the landscape. Lush river valleys, soaring peaks and a frozen river fill me with awe. I spot lammergeyers, Blue sheep, and Buddhist relics as I plod along. At the 5000m pass I am surrounded by glorious peaks, including Dhauligiri – one of the most famous peaks in the world.
Then it’s all downhill. It’s too steep for the horse, so I use two sticks to walk – twisting my ankle a third time might break it. The horse and I are re-united in a wide river valley, lined with medieval mud houses where the smoke from fires inside remind me of home. The journey has taken seven hours. Children greet us – “Namaste sister”, dancing around the horse as we head to camp.
The next morning we pack our gear and look to the skies… 7am … 7.30 ….8.15, nothing. We were expecting a Russian MI17 helicopter at 7.30, and it’s late. Later in the morning it can get too windy to land, but It’s the only way we can get out in time for the flights home. We want to take the sherpas with us, otherwise it’s a six day trek to their families. Suddenly a great shudder, and a beast of a helicopter comes hurtling down the valley. Tears and cheers of relief.
The helicopter lurches to the ground like a weary mammal. The clearly miserable pilot takes us in with a cursory glance before signalling ‘6 only’ – but there are 11 of us who need a ride.
Our fixer, Tenzing Sherpa, goes into negotiation overdrive but as soon as we load the kit it comes hurtling back out of the door, thrown out by the pilot’s sidekick. Challenging Tenzing is a dangerous thing. He is a formidable logistics man and no surly airman is going to man-handle him.
With a lot of shouting seven of us manage to get on, sad to leave our sherpas to their trek. Boarding is frenetic and we barely say goodbye to these friends who have guided and saved our lives on more than one occasion. Our kit is thrown unceremoniously in the middle of the helicopter and I have to sit on top of it. Then a huge judder and we take off, waving goodbye through the murky windows as we rattle into the sky and are gone ….
Dale Templar, Series Producer, Human Planet
Documentary location cameras are without doubt fickle and temperamental beasts. Our camera beast of choice on Human Planet is the Panasonic Varicam, which films the stunning slo-mo footage we love to see in landmark documentaries. These are not cheap cameras, yet no matter what checks, tests and double checks they go through; no matter how much loving care we give them during their breaks from filming; no matter how much metaphorical cotton wool we pad and pack them in during transportation, recently they seem to have a knack of breaking down at the worst possible moments. The fact of the matter is, we can take dozens of silver boxes full of filming kit on location but if the camera doesn’t work, that’s it, literally end of story.
At the moment we have clearly upset the camera gods. This week our cameraman in Kenya, Warren Samuels, could not believe his luck. Day 1 on location and the lions he wants to film are, for once, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing. He rushes to unpack the camera, switches it on and in the viewfinder he gets ERROR flashing in red. It’s the moment of pure HORROR all TV camera operators face at some time or other. It will take us four days to get a new camera to him. Let’s hope the lions are understanding and realise that today’s performance was just a rehearsal.