Explorer is a strange term to use in the 21st century. However, it would be the best way to describe Levison Wood (who looks like he has walked straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, by the way). Rugged, charming and debonair, the best selling British author and photographer has covered stories and events around the world for over a decade. His work has featured in international publications and channels around the world including Channel 4, the BBC, National Geographic, Discovery Channel and the Sunday Telegraph.
In 2014 he completed a nine-month expedition walking the length of the Nile, which was documented in a critically acclaimed Channel 4 series and accompanying book. In 2015 he embarked on an even more ambitious challenge to walk the length of the Himalayas (1700 miles) from Afghanistan to Bhutan. The 5 x 60′ documentary series appeared on C4, with Levison’s book published simultaneously in January 2016. It was subsequently voted ‘Adventure Travel Book of the Year’ at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards.
Lev’s most recent expedition ‘Walking The Americas’ from Mexico to Colombia aired on Channel 4 as a 4 x 60′ series in January 2017, whilst his accompanying book became a Sunday Times bestseller.
Lev has recently returned from his latest epic expedition — a 5000 mile circumnavigation of the Arabian peninsula from Iraq to Lebanon, with a new book, documentary series and theatre tour all in the pipeline. However, I was more interested in his book, Across the Himalayas, since it’s set closer to my land, India. So when I got the opportunity to interview him, I jumped at the chance to explore the book. Wood told me over the phone, “The Himalayas is the region I have been familiar with for the past 15 years. I backpacked there when I was much younger, and over the course of the last 10 years, I have been to mountaineering. It’s a fascinating region.” Discovery Channel aired the series, Walking The Himalayas, which documents his unforgettable walk while the book, as you’ve just read was a literary success.
“The documentary and the book are not necessarily about mountaineering. What you will see in the series is not about the mountains. It’s about the culture and some of the more unusual communities you will find — not only in the Himalayas but in the entire region from Afghanistan to Kashmir to Nepal and Bhutan,” he said.
Trekking 1,700 gruelling miles across the roof of the world, teaming up with local guides and meeting monks, soldiers and nomadic tribes, Wood treaded carefully through one of the most fought-over areas of the world, navigating isolated Afghan valleys and the Line of Control between Pakistani and Indian Kashmir. Along the way, he passed through some of the most remote, beautiful, and perilous regions on earth — places few outsiders ever get to see. Said he, “I wanted to challenge the stereotypes and show people a part of the Himalayas that they haven’t thought of before.”
He hopes to inspire people to see for themselves what they can find. “For people who haven’t been to the Himalayas, the diversity in just how unusual life can be is what the series is about,” he said.
Traveling to the holy Ghankar Puensum was fascinating for Wood. “Bhutan is a very different country. The culture there is very traditional, homogenous. All the houses there are similar. Everyone wears the national dress. That in itself was an unusual experience. Going to Ghankar Puensum, a holy mountain in Buddhism, was special because very few tourists go to Bhutan. So there are no travellers on the road,” he said.
Another strange experience was playing Buzkashi, the Afghan national sport. “It’s like polo but with goats,” he said. One shock for the explorer was that in Bhutan, the whole village worships phalluses. “Where I’m from, it isn’t considered quite the thing,” he said.
I found yoga useful for getting my body accustomed to using muscles we don’t normally use. I tried it for the first time about two years ago in England and quite liked it. So when I traveled to India last year, I learnt yoga in Rishikesh. It was great to meet the gurus who are real yogis.
Asked how he gets around in a country where so many languages are spoken, he said, “It’s easy to be lazy when you are British because everyone in India speaks good English. Even in the more remote places where people didn’t speak English, even in small communities up in the mountains where there is no electricity I felt very welcome.”