Himalaya (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 27, 2013 by  


Attempting to get people (non-actors) from a remote village, filming in a remote area with a film crew having to endure high altitudes and terrible weather and trying to capture something so beautiful, deep and memorable is quite rare in cinema today and not sure if anything like this can ever be made ever again.  A visually stunning film, Eric Valli’s “Himalaya” is highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Kino Lorber. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Himalaya


DURATION: 108 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1 Aspect Ratio, Tibetan DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Subtitles

COMPANY: Kino Lorber

RATED: Not Rated

Release Date: December 31, 2013

Directed by Eric Valli

Collaborating Director: Michael Debats

Written by Nathalie Azoulai, Olivier Dazat, Louis Gardel, Jean-Claude Guillebaud

Screenplay by Eric Valli


Thilen Lhondup as Tinle

Gurgon Kyap as Karma

Lhakpa Tsamchoe as Pema

Karma Wangel as Passang

Karma Tensing as Norbou

Labrang Tundup as Labrang

Jampa Kalsang Tamang as Jampa

Tsering Dorjee as Rabkie

Filmed over seven months in the forbidden Dolpo region of Nepal, HIMALAYA tells the story of a generational struggle for the leadership of a tiny mountain village between its proud old chief and a headstrong young caravanner. The balance of power shifts uneasily as they make their annual salt trek across the Himalayas. A visually striking and spiritually captivating portrait of life in one of the world’s most extraordinary places, HIMALAYA is both intense drama and a gorgeous tapestry of the fast disappearing traditions of Tibetan life. A huge box office hit worldwide, HIMALAYA remained on the VARIETY top film box office chart for over six months and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. This brnad new transfer has been remastered in high definition from Kino Classics in this stunning new transfer making its debut on Blu-ray.

Eric Valli’s “Himalaya” was the first Nepalese film to be nominated for “Best Foreign Film” for the 72nd Academy Awards.

A French filmmaker known for his documentaries in Asia, to capture the life of the villagers, Eric Valli who has lived in Nepal since 1983 as a photographer and author for “National Geographic”, “Geo” and “Life” magazines, knew that the best way to get authenticity was to use the real villagers in his film.  With the exception of two people, everyone person and local animal are from the remote Dolpa District of Nepal.

It was a difficult film to shoot as the Dolpa District, despite being the largest area in the nation, there are no roads.  There are no vehicles and Valli and crew, like those in the village areas, would have to walk and hike.  And because they were filming in an eight month period, they would have to endure freezing temperatures like the villagers they were shooting.

And most importantly, because of the long time required of using the people from the village, the challenge of shooting a film with them meant being sensitive to their needs and understanding of the culture, which was difficult for the French filmcrew.  Especially when dealing with actual elderly village chief, Thilen Lhondup, who plays the protagonist, Tinle.

But Valli was able to capture the life of the upper Dolpo people who live in the mid western uphills of Nepal and their traditional customs.

Originally released on DVD by Kino back in 2002, “Himalaya” will now be released on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber in Dec. 2013.

“Himalaya” revolves around the village chief Tinle (portrayed by Thilen Lhondup) who is very close to his grandson Passang (portrayed by Karma Wangel).  One day, a group of herdsman from the village returns and a young man named Karma (portrayed by Gurgon Kyap) has told Tinle that his son was trying to take a different path which the herdsman did not want to follow and ended up killing himself.

Shocked that his son has died, also because he was the person looked to succeed Tinle as the next village chief, the family is hurt by the death.

But there is not much time to mourn as the villagers know that the winter is coming, a harsh winter that brings freezing temperatures and villagers must travel a long distance with their yaks carrying salt to trade for wheat, that would ensure food for the families for three months during the freezing temperatures.

And with Tinle’s son now dead, they must select a new village chief to carry on.    And the best hunter they have in mind is Karma.

Unfortunately, Tinle despises Karma’s family as his family killed his grandfather and Tinle assumes it was Karma’s doing of killing his son in order to become leader.  But the village tells him there is no proof of that.

Tinle tells them that he can still do the trade, but they remind him that he is old and the young will not follow him.  They will follow Karma.

But Tinle tries to tell the fathers of the young that as long as they still are fit, they can endure the walks like the used to.  He also tells them that he can have his grandson Passang walk with them and he can learn the custom, but others fear he is too young to even be the next village leader and that Karma is the best choice!

Meanwhile, we learn that Passang has a good relationship with Karma (which upsets Tinle), but also his mother and Karma also attracted towards each other.

Wanting to make peace, Karma tries to establish friendly relationships with Tinle and whatever has happened in the past is past.   But Tinle will not accept Karma.

Tinle goes as far to the monastery to fetch his son, a painter named Norbou (portrayed by Karma Tensing) as a village chief, but Norbou tells his father he has no experience with trades, hunting or anything. That’s why he left the family at a young age, to become a painter.  But his father insists that Norbou join them in the next annual trade, so he must learn.

Because the young must respect their elders and Norbou must respect his father’s wishes, he reluctantly decides to return home and become part of the trade, despite not wanting to be village chief.

This leads to Karma making a decision that for the annual event of trading salt for wheat, he wants to do it four days earlier.  This creates a problem in the village as the young people want to follow Karma but because decisions are made by the Gods, which Tinle follows closely, this goes against their customs.

And so, a group led by Karma leave to do the annual trade with a lot of the village yaks.

As for Tinle, he and his family and fathers of the young who left, bring the remaining yaks and follow the rules of the Gods in order to get the wheat that they need.

But this journey becomes personal as Tinle wants to beat Karma and show him his rash decisions are bad and that following the path of the Gods are absolute.  But most importantly, beating an impulsive young man that the villagers see as the next village chief.

Who will make the trade first?  Tinle or Karma?


“Himalaya” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 aspect ratio).  The film was remastered in HD and the film looks fantastic!  The film retains its grain and colors are much more vibrant and clear with this Blu-ray release compared to its 2002 DVD counterpart.

At first I had my doubts because the opening credits looked as an older film would look but after the opening credits, once we get to see the Dokop people in their natural environment, in different seasons, Valli and his film crew were able to capture the beauty of Himalaya mountains and landscape with efficacy.


“Himalaya” is presented in Tibetan DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  For the most part, the film is a dialogue-driven film, so dialogue and also its musical soundtrack are crystal clear but the soundtrack is primarily front and center-channel driven.


“Himalaya” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by director Eric Valli.
  • Making Of – (27:11) A fascinating featurette documenting the eight months of filmmaking of “Himalaya” and the challenges that the film crew had to endure.
  • Electronic Press Kit – Featuring the TV promo trailer and four promotional trailers.
  • Trailers – Theatrical trailer for “Himalaya”.

For anyone who has watched the epic film “Himalaya”, one can easily feel nothing but respect for filmmaker Eric Valli and the film crew for attempting something so challenging and also dangerous.

Eric Valli has lived in Nepal but he was not filming in a populated area with streets, his goal was to capture the upper Dolpa people who live in the mountains, where there are no roads, no vehicles (according to wikipedia, as of 2012, there is now one vehicle in the area) and people still follow their customs.

But it’s the cultural tradition of capturing the trek that these people have in trading salt for wheat, crossing mountains with their villagers and yaks over long distances for weeks.  In order for their villagers survival during the harsh three months of -15F temperatures.

But possibly aside from the environmental challenges for Valli and the film crew, the challenges of working with non-actors from the upper Dolpa district.  People who were disturbed from their everyday routine for eight months and suffice to say, it was testing the patience of the villagers, especially village chief Thilen Lhondup who plays the main character Tinle.

To maintain a sense that even with this foreign film crew, to not lose face in front of his people and show that he is the boss.  So, the film crew had to walk a fine line and it became a stressful situation, compounded by the fact that the film was shot so high up in the mountains that the film crew could only work five hours due to respiratory issues because they were not accustomed to the very high altitudes.

Also, there were no cars, no roads, so as the caravan had to walk, as did the film crew (in terrible weather conditions at times).  The only way of getting equipment was via helicopter but even then, these were significant challenges.

So, it was surprising that “Himalaya” was even made, but Eric Valli and the film crew managed to pull it off and to create a film that captures the cultural traditions of those living in the remote mountain region of Dolpa.

But as the Himalaya surroundings play a major role with this film, it’s also the people that brought this film to life.  Thilen Lhondup was magnificent as the main protagonist and this village chief may not be a professional actor but somehow he looked as he was.  He brings a variety of emotions to the film and seemed believable.

The film utilized two real actors, one being Gurgon Kyap who plays the role of the young adult Karma and actress Lhakpa Tsamchoe, who plays Passang’s mother and also love interest for Karma.  These two characters bring the romantic element for the film.

But “Himalaya” revolved around the character Tinle and also his grandson Passang, played by the very young Karma Wangel who brings a humorous side to the film because of his curiosity.

As for the Blu-ray release, the film looks much better in HD.  Having owned the 2002 DVD, colors are much more vibrant, detail is much more apparent but clarity and the colors are what stands out in this remastered HD release of the film.  Lossless audio features crisp dialogue and music and the wonderful “making of” documentary and audio commentary are included.

Overall, “Himalaya” is a film that I respect Eric Valli and the filmcrew for taking on major risk and challenges to get this film made.  I respect Thilen Lhondup and the Dolpa villagers for allowing the filmmakers to film them especially for eight months straight.  But what Valli was able to capture is a culture not many people know about or are familiar with.  Their long-standing cultural traditions that have been practiced for many generations.

Attempting to get people (non-actors) from a remote village, filming in a remote area with a film crew having to endure high altitudes and terrible weather and trying to capture something so beautiful, deep and memorable is quite rare in cinema today and not sure if anything like this can ever be made ever again.

A visually stunning film, Eric Valli’s “Himalaya” is highly recommended!

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