The blue sky was clear and early afternoon sunlight bounced off the glaciers, gullies and rock walls of the Langtang peaks, but the helicopter captain was keen to leave. He was concerned about the effects of altitude after several hours filming in the high meadow above Kyangjin Gompa. I could see the Hollywood team were groggy, hauling heavy camera equipment in the thin Himalayan air, and I was beginning to feel lightheaded myself.
Director Julien Temple called to us from across the hill: “Let’s just try one more time with the flute players and local kids, but without the yaks and ponies.” Laxman had a headache and his back hurt from carrying Rinchen – the young star – up and down the ridge on his shoulders, simulating the swaying movements of an elephant against the mountain backdrop.
Dazed with fatigue and breathless, the film crew once more realigned their gear, the local extras were ushered into position, silver reflectors were repositioned, the clap-board snapped action, Rinchen set off regal on his fake elephant, and the cameras rolled for the last time that day.
I looked around as we quickly stowed the paraphernalia, thanked Thiley Lama, our Langtang fixer, and his friends, waved to the yak handlers and horsemen, and piled back into the big Russian chopper. We took off slowly, the rotors roaring and prayer flags flailing, as the squat stone monastery and small cluster of flat-roofed houses receded beneath us, dwarfed by the rampart of towering white peaks protecting the Langtang Valley. Soaring south, it took only a few minutes skimming above the hilltops back home to Kathmandu, but it seemed like another world.