Up above the mountains

Vinaya Patil
Friday, 9 February 2018

Alex Lanchester, executive producer of the Himalayas episode of Sony BBC Earth’s new series Mountains: Life Above The Clouds, tells us about the show and his experience of working on it.

Mountains have always been majestic and awe-inspiring. They provoke both wonder and fear because life at high altitude is tough. Sony BBC Earth’s new series Mountains: Life Above The Clouds follows the animals who have made these wild places their home.

Episode II of the three-part series shows the mighty Himalayas, the highest mountain range which is home to extraordinary animals and remarkable ancient cultures. Executive producer of this episode Alex Lanchester tells us more. 

What’s your idea of mountains and the life it sustains?
Mountains are incredibly harsh environments and certainly the most difficult place to live in. The temperatures at some places are -14 and -15 degrees Centigrade, and you have dramatic variations and are exposed to dangerous UV lights. You are generally cut off from the rest of the world. It creates some incredible animals and incredible people. 
For instance, we filmed an animal in Himalaya in China called the Yunnan snub-nosed monkey; this is an animal you have to see to believe. It’s incredible. It has no  physical nose. It also has specially adapted blood to deal with the low oxygen levels that you experience at the high altitude. In the Rockies, this mountain range experiences the biggest seasonal change. There’s a great story in that programme with an animal called tiger salamanders. The climate gets so hot that the snow ponds in the mountains shrink and there is no water. Consequently, they don’t have food also. The tiger salamanders then resort to preying on other animals. These examples show how in such extreme conditions, the wildlife is sustained and they find ways to survive.

How was shooting in the Himalayas? Were they welcoming?
The people in the Himalayas were some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met. I’ve been lucky enough to travel across the world and film in a number of different countries. But it was so welcoming in the Himalayas. I think it is such an extreme place to live that the sense of community is still up and very warm. Everyone needs each other to help survive. In terms of the physical challenges, it really is tough. We did a number of shoots which involved trekking. We were in Ladakh, creating moments at above 4,500 metres. Because of the high altitude and lack of oxygen, you take three or four steps and you feel completely out of breath, you have to stop, recover your breath and then start walking again. There were more challenges as we were carrying huge cameras and technical equipment required to shoot in the mountains and had to take care of that too. But, all those challenges were made so much easier because of the warmth of the Himalayan people.

A beautiful incident that you experienced while shooting, something that you will never forget?
We had a 10-day trek all the way up to Everest base camp. I don’t think I will ever forget standing at the base camp of the tallest mountain in the world and looking at the mountains that climb up to Everest. Standing on the big attic, you feel very much that you’re on top of the world!

The challenges you faced?
The team filming in the Andes faced extreme challenges. While they were camping, they saw this bird that makes its nest directly on  ice. It’s called the glacier bird in the South America in the Andes. They experienced similar conditions such as the lack of oxygen and would suddenly wake up in the middle of the night because of that. In terms of Rockies, we used to sleep at night in tiny campus tents, coping up with horrible weather.  There you need to be absolutely still because any sign or any move of yours would alert the wild animals living there. You have to literally stay still, not move a millimetre, and its - 20 heavily snowing outside. You just have to sit there and capture amazing moments in the mountains.

Your upcoming projects?
Currently, what we’re working on is a series on the urban wildlife, showcasing what happens when animals live in cities and what can we do to help them and what is the future of that — how can animals and people co-exist. 

Mountains: Life Above The Clouds premieres on Sony BBC Earth on February 10 at 9 pm

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