Going to Extremes

DOCUMENTARY CHANNEL – Saturday 27 December, 8.30pm

Nick Middleton continues to explore the hostile lands that lie around the Silk Routes on the ancient border between East and West, travelling across Kazakhstan to the world’s most toxic environmental disaster zone, Voz Island in the Aral Sea. Following the Kazakh water course across the desert, Nick starts his journey in the lush pastures of the Tien Shan, hunting with some of the world’s last golden eagle falconers, before taking to the air to follow an ancient river course through the desert in a home-made microlite. Finally he arrives at the Aral Sea, the enormous lake that has been reduced to a shallow toxic sludge by mismanagement of the country’s delicate water supply and overuse of chemical pesticides. To make matters worse, it hides an island that houses a former Soviet biological weapons testing centre, and no-one knows just how much anthrax, Q fever and botulism is left behind. Donning his biological weapons suit, Nick hitches a lift over there with some of the once-prosperous fishermen, who are now forced to look elsewhere for their income, to try and find out.

DOCUMENTARY CHANNEL – Saturday 20 December, 8.30pm

Nick Middleton continues to explore the hostile lands that lie around the Silk Routes on the ancient border between East and West, taking on the rocky Gobi desert. It’s the dead of winter, he’s travelling in a motorcycle sidecar, and it’s colder than a deep freeze. Second only to the poles, this is the least populated place on earth; but for the nomadic descendants of Genghis Khan who do live here, life is sweet. Mainly thanks to the myriad uses they have found for the desert’s most ubiquitous resource: stones. In these temperatures, where even engine oil freezes, stones can keep you alive at night, cook your meals and even act as a pre-prandial tonic. Travelling south into Turpan in China, Nick meets people who earn their daily bread underground, keeping ancient hand-dug canals flowing so that they can produce the famous pigeon-flavoured wine that has been the region’s speciality since the time of Alexander.

Saturday 13 December, 8.30pm on DOCUMENTARY CHANNEL

Nick Middleton continues to explore the hostile lands that lie around the Silk Routes on the ancient border between East and West, taking part in one of the world’s hardest pilgrimages: the circumnavigation of Mount Kailash in Tibet, the holiest mountain in Asia. It’s an 18-kilometre trek at extreme altitude, with the highest pass 6,700m (20,000ft) above sea level. In preparation for Nick’s ordeal, the Drochba nomads teach him what life is like on the very edge of altitudinal sustainability. But as he travels higher and higher, Nick’s problems with altitude really begin to kick in.