Where the Indus is Young: A Winter in Baltistan
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One winter, Dervla Murphy, the four-footed Hallam and her six-year-old daughter Rachel explored `Little Tibet' high up in the Karakoram Mountains in the frozen heart of the Western Himalayas - on the Pakistan side of the disputed border with Kashmir. For three months they traveled along the perilous Indus Gorge and into nearby valleys. Even when beset by crumbling tracks over bottomless chasms, an assault by a lascivious dashniri, the unnerving melancholy of the Balts - the heroic highland farmers who inhabit the area - and Rachel's continual probing questions, this formidable traveler retained her enthusiasm for her surroundings and her sense of humor. First published in 1977, Where the Indus is Young is pure Murphy.
sniggered while they watched me carrying the load and tack to the room, which is about ten feet by thirty and has a big over-fed woodstove. Soon Rachel and I were sweltering, so accustomed have we become to living in cold rooms and depending on our clothes for warmth. While writing this – on the floor, by the light of my own candle, in a corner as far as possible from the stove – I am dripping sweat; and poor Rachel, though exhausted, is unable to sleep because of the heat plus noise. Everyone in
we were again on the edge of the Gorge, and now my heart sank not at the thought of the ghrari but at the prospect of negotiating that unspeakable path. Descents are always more difficult and Akbar had gone far ahead with a Mendi friend. Holding Rachel’s right hand (the drop was on our left), I moved down slowly and steadily, trying to keep my eyes off the river – which was not easy, since its noise and movement had an hypnotic effect. All went well until we came to a point some 250 feet above
has been half-starved for months. When Rachel rode him up and down the level space in front of the Rest House he went well enough, but on my leading him up a steep stretch of track he slowed ominously. His owner is asking one thousand rupees, which is absurd. A first-class polo-pony in good condition will fetch four or five thousand locally, but this poor creature is not worth more than a few hundred. If we do buy him he will have to be put in good condition when we get to Skardu – a considerable
salted butter tea, poured from an antique engraved silver pot, eighteen inches high, into which two red-hot wood embers had been dropped just before the brew was served. When Rachel’s expression unwittingly betrayed her opinion of this concoction a pot of ‘normal’ was at once prepared for the bungo – a delightful word, meaning girl-child. After lunch Abbas Kazmi took Rachel to our new home, at the southern edge of Skardu, by a short cut impassable to horses, while Kalbay Abbas guided Hallam and
inane bureaucratic rituals. But one has to feel sorry for him. Even within the last fortnight his goitre has become more prominent and it is now affecting his voice. (Many male Baltis sound like castrati.) He has tried to get treatment, both here and in Pindi, but none of the pills worked. What a pampered minority we Westerners are, taking expert medical care for granted, as part of our birthright! A major problem here is the food-container shortage; in Coorg last winter we had the same problem