Sunday December 23, 2012 AT 8:00 PM ET on CBC News Network
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Acclaimed natural history presenter David Attenborough takes us on a journey through one of the most extreme places on the planet.
The Himalayas are the world’s most massive mountain range, stretching 2,000 miles across Asia, a formidable wall of rock and snow with peaks five miles high, beyond air and warmth. But this is not the harsh inhospitable wilderness it seems. From mountaineering monkeys and leopards to snakes and spiders, the mountains support an amazing amount of wildlife. They supply humanity with many remarkable gifts, from pets and perfumes to religion and rice.
Journeying from West to East and following the seasons, the film begins in Pakistan, in winter. A snow leopard chases a markhor sheep, wolves hunt for frozen bodies in the snow and golden eagles soar above searching for prey. As ice slowly slides down the mountains, Hindu pilgrims take a bath in the melt water, worshipping the mountain and the water as a source of life.
Heading East, high-altitude langur monkeys feed on April flowers and buds. Unlike their lowland cousins, they live in peaceful groups. A solitary deer marks its territory with a musky resin, a heavenly perfume used since the days of Cleopatra. Monal pheasants parade their plumage and iridescent crests. Not far away, on the mountain border between India and Pakistan, border guards parade in similar style.
Many birds are trapped by the mountains, but barheaded geese fly in the jet-stream. As they pass over Everest, far below near Base Camp a tiny jumping spider attaches a silk line to a rock like a mountaineer, then pounces on its prey, a primitive springtail.
Flying with cranes and geese, we reach the high plateau of Tibet. Here a Tibetan fox teams with a brown bear to hunt pika, chiru antelopes charge each other like puffing steam engines and a snake basks in volcanic hot springs. Four major rivers (the Yangtze, Yellow River, Yarlung and Mekong) begin here. Flowing East, they cut through the Himalayas, carving spectacular deep gorges in Yunnan, China. Warm air funnelled up from the Tropics creates steamy Shangri Las where elephants and leopards wander the forests, while tropical monkeys, bizarre half-goat/half-cow golden takin, and elfin snub-nosed monkeys wander the hillsides.
In July, temperatures drop and it starts to snow. This triggers the monsoon, without which half of Asia would be a desert. The rains wash down millions of tonnes of fertile soil, another miraculous gift from the world's great 'abode of snow'.