RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
The last time I talked with British adventurer Levison Wood, he had recently completed an epic journey tracing the length of the Nile River. Near the end of that conversation last year, I asked him where he was going next.
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LEVISON WOOD: Well, I do have another big expedition planned for this summer. But I'm afraid it's top secret at the moment.
MARTIN: I had a feeling you might say that.
WOOD: But watch this space.
MARTIN: But hard to top walking the Nile. I mean, that's...
MARTIN: It gets a little difficult to come up with...
WOOD: It does.
MARTIN: ...More extreme adventures.
MARTIN: Well, Levison has, yet again, completed another extreme adventure. And he's written a book about it. It is called "Walking The Himalayas" because that's exactly what he did. Levison Wood joins me now from London. Hey, Levison. Thanks for being back on the show.
WOOD: Hey, there. My pleasure.
MARTIN: Your guide on this journey was a Nepali man.
WOOD: Binot. That's right.
MARTIN: Binot - how did you meet him?
WOOD: Well, I actually met Binot when I was 19 years old as a young backpacker. There was a civil war going on at the time between the Maoist insurgents and the government. And Binot actually rescued me one day. There was a - there was some fighting going on. And the entire royal family was actually killed in Nepal.
And Binot took me into the hills and looked after me for a couple of weeks. So that was 14 years ago. And so, when I decided that I was going to go walk the Himalayas, he made the obvious guide. You know, I wanted to go and repay my debts to him. And it was great to have this reunion and go and see his family after all this time.
MARTIN: How did you guys map out your journey?
WOOD: For me, this wasn't necessarily about climbing mountains or sticking flags in peaks. It was really an opportunity to share the story of the Himalayas - the history, the geography, the cultures. And it's such a diverse region. You know, the people in the western edge of the Himalayas - in Afghanistan and Pakistan - you know, don't really have that much in common with the people in the east - in Bhutan and Tibet - in terms of religion or ethnicity or language. But what they all do share is this common bond of living in the foothills of this great mountain range and sharing those daily perils and the dangers and challenges that comes with that.
MARTIN: You began your journey in Afghanistan, which is a place you had been before under very different circumstances, right?
WOOD: Yeah. That's right. I traveled to Afghanistan before as - both as a soldier - I was there back in 2008. But also, I traveled there a couple times as well as basically a backpacker. I'd actually gone kind of undercover, dressed as an Afghan. I learned a bit of language and trekked across the country in 2004. So it was kind of a homecoming to go back - and actually, yes, you know, Afghanistan - there are parts of it that are very dangerous - that you've got the Taliban and all the rest of it. But actually, you can also...
MARTIN: Well, in 2004, it wasn't a very stable time.
WOOD: (Laughter) Well, it got a lot worse actually...
WOOD: ...In the subsequent years. So there are still parts of it that are so remote that actually means they're safe because the only people that live there are nomads. In the area that I started walking in the Northeast, the only people that lived there were nomads. So the journey began in this place, this very remote part of Afghanistan. I got dropped off by helicopter because that was the only way to get there.
MARTIN: What's it called, the town you started in?
WOOD: It's called the Wakhan Corridor. It's this narrow valley that separates Afghanistan from Tajikistan, from China and from Pakistan. And to get dropped off there, literally on the roof of the world, the first person we encountered was this nomadic shepherd. And he had a big stick. And he came up and he sort of was prodding us, you know, wondering where'd we came from out of the sky. And he actually asked if we were, you know, Islamic State. He thought that we'd landed to come and convert his tribe into fundamentalism. And you know, he said look, we don't want any of that around here. So that was quite kind of reassuring, you know?
MARTIN: Ultimately, you made your way to Bhutan, which is renowned for being the happiest place in the world.
WOOD: That's right. Yeah, a very bizarre place, actually. I mean, it was kind of...
MARTIN: How so?
WOOD: It's one of these very unique place in the world that nothing else comes quite close. After the chaos of Nepal and India, going into Bhutan felt like entering a completely different world. Suddenly, the streets were clean. There was no pollution. There was no garbage in the streets. And to go into this almost pristine wilderness - I think Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world. And what that means is that there's literally so many trees there and so little industry that it actually produces more oxygen than anywhere else.
And it was just pristine. It was like going back in time 500 years. You know, all the houses are very beautifully decorated, very ornate. The people are happy. You know, there's no - there's not much dissent there. The people do as they're told and they kind of get on with it.
MARTIN: So you know what my last question is. Now where (laughter)?
WOOD: Now where? Where's next? Well, funnily enough, in just a few weeks' time, I'm heading off on yet another one. And again, I'm afraid to say, it's top secret.
MARTIN: Come on. Now this is just getting old.
WOOD: But I think you'll be interested in the next one, too.
MARTIN: Oh, do you?
WOOD: It's in your general direction, let's say.
MARTIN: OK. We'll stay tuned. Levison Wood - his newest book about his latest adventure is called "Walking The Himalayas." Thanks so much, Levison. We'll talk to you later.
WOOD: Thank you.
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