Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey: Film Review

This adventure film/environmental documentary is as compelling as it is inspirational.

Wendy J.N. Lee's documentary chronicles an arduous 450-mile journey across the Himalayas undertaken by Buddhist monks and nuns to spread the message of environmentalism.

Even the most dedicated couch potatoes may find themselves spurred into action for environmentalist causes after watching Wendy J.N. Lee’s documentary about 700 people undertaking an arduous 450-mile trek across the Himalayas. Documenting the 2010 journey in somewhat haphazard but always compelling fashion, Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey well reflects its subjects’ goal of merging spirituality and environmentalism.

Trekking across the Himalayas -- which, with its abundance of glaciers, is often referred to as the “third pole” -- the hikers had to endure treacherous terrain and hazardous weather conditions that were signaled by an event before the trip even started. It was a “cloudburst” that occurred in the region of Ladakh, in India, known as “Little Tibet,” in which two inches of rain fell in less than a minute, resulting in massive flooding and mudslides.

The journey, designed to spread the message of the positive effects of environmentalism and the dangers of climate change, was led by the Buddhist spiritual leader Gyalwang Drukpa and his followers, including monks and nuns. The latter were notable for their rigorous practicing of kung fu, inspiring one hiker to comment, “I would put these nuns against any Shaolin monk any day of the week.” Also on hand for the trek were director Lee and her American sister Carrie, a lawyer physically ill-equipped for the rigorous conditions, who at one point had to temporarily recover in a monastery.

Displaying a reverence for any form of life that manifested itself in such behavior as carefully removing ants from their footpath, the journeyers walked from village to village, picking up half a ton of plastic litter along the way. They also planted some 50,000 trees, and took pains to educate the villagers on their responsibility to maintain their natural environment.

Narrated by Daryl Hannah, the film features gorgeous cinematography of its magnificent settings, a feat made all the more notable considering that its cinematographer was an inexperienced Buddhist monk shooting with solar-powered cameras.

Although the film was executive produced by actress Michelle Yeoh and features a cameo appearance by Indian film star Aamir Khan, its real stars are the hundreds of intrepid hikers whose efforts have since resulted in similarly inspirational Pad Yatra treks in India and Sri Lanka.

Opens Nov. 29 (Jelly Bean Films & Distribution)

Director-producer-editor: Wendy J.N. lee

Executive producer: Michelle Yeoh

Narrator: Daryl Hannah

Director of photography: Ngawang Sodpa

Composers: Pilar Diaz, Derek Zhao

Not rated, 72 min.