Expedition Borderlands with Levison Wood and Ash Bhardwaj review: Journey of a lifetime, not to be missed
Expedition Borderlands with Levison Wood and Ash Bhardwaj: Two London-based explorers show the never seen before villages on both sides of LoC, including PoK, which even a seasoned backpacker is yet to explore.
“This border man…this damn border,” says Ash Bhardwaj as he hangs his head in disappointment on being stopped just a few kilometres away from the destination in his journey with fellow explorer, Levison Wood. This leaves the two and me feeling even more empathetic toward the broken families living on each side of the border in similar frustration and pain. Expedition Borderlands with Levison Wood and Ash Bhardwaj on discovery+ touches upon such unimagined lives of locals on both sides as the two go on to travel 2500 kms across the line of control. During the course of their journey, the docuseries also shows never seen before heavenly glimpses of Kashmir and even Pakistan, which continue to be off limits for the hundreds of bikers riding to Leh and Ladakh every year. The breath-taking visuals are enough to earn the show a recommendation for not just travel and adventure lovers but anyone who will never be able to tread those rocky paths.
First things first, what I liked about this expedition is its stark contrast with the more popular Bear Grylls’ series and the purpose it solves. As Ash and Lev pass through villages which are hardly connected to the country by any means and even need permissions to visit them, they see a common thread that binds them together – the pain of not being to meet their relatives over decades. How they take messages and gifts from their hosts on this side for their long-lost relatives on the other side is heart touching.
Lev and Ash not just take a difficult journey through difficult terrains but also deal with tonnes of paperwork involved in getting through every checkpoint here, in PoK (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) and on the other side of the border. Sometimes they manage to pass through, sometimes they don’t. As they travel from Tyakshi, Turtuk, Nubra valley, Dras, Kargil, Teetwal, Gurez in India to Lahore, Peshawar, Khyber Pass, Nowshera, Taxila, Skardu, Khaplu in Pakistan, the biggest beneficiary seems to be the viewer who gets to see where a common traveller cannot dare to venture. What sets the show apart from all other travel shows out there is the locations they visit, the people they meet and the experiences they gain which remain off bound for a seasoned backpacker. Now who knew Dras is also known for brown bears and Kargil is not just a war site. They do all from playing some polo in Turtuk, mud wrestling in Amritsar to being showered with currency notes while dancing with the Sufi singers during a qawalli performance in Lahore.
But the biggest winner of the series is the absolute breath-taking visuals they capture. The snow-capped mountains of the Gurez valley in Kashmir, the uninhabited terrains across LoC and the all-grey views they get to see in the final bits in Pakistan, can leave anyone in awe. Needless to say, the show deserves to be seen on a bigger screen, as big as you can arrange for.
It is worth a praise how it avoids showing what’s already out in the public domain. While the explorers manage not getting lost in the beautiful shikaras of Srinagar, they, however, couldn't complete their Amritsar trip without a visit to the Golden Temple. Blame them for being indulgent or the magic of the place is such that the series almost takes a pause as the two Londoners get lost in its charm. While Ash connects with his Indian roots, Lev feels thankful for getting shelter in the temple during his earlier expedition.
The four-episode series appears to be no less than a lifetime experience that shows what has always been hidden from the eyes of those who sit in Delhi and Islamabad. The timing of its release also holds significance as it releases less than a month after India celebrated 75 years of Independence with an English man and an Indian origin UK resident taking the road less travelled. The irony being its easier for a British passport holder to visit India or Pakistan than those from these two nations. Even Lev is once told by a guide about how his ancestors were the Britishers who were actually responsible for dividing the country into two, making a border that continues to bleed even today.
Expedition Borderlands with Levison Wood and Ash Bhardwaj releases on discovery+ on September 8.