Where The Indus Is Young by Dervla Murphy

4 out of 5 stars

She knew she wasn’t at home as the slightly ominous sign over the desk read ‘Visitors are requested to leave their weapons at the desk before entering the restaurant’… The man she spoke to in Pindi could not believe that she wanted to go to Baltistan, as he tells her, even Balti’s don’t want to spend the winter in Baltistan as it is so cold. She was not to be dissuaded and paid for the flights to Gilgit.

Following on from her successful trip to South India, Derval Murphy was keen to see more of the subcontinent with her daughter, Rachel. They chose to explore, “Little Tibet,” a place in the Karakoram Mountains, high up in the Himalayas. They finally arrive in Gilgit on the 19th December 1974 after surviving what was once one of the most dangerous flights in the world. On the way there she had pointed out some of the routes she had cycled a few years before; Rachel thought she was dotty. They start to get an idea of just how cold it is going to be as fresh snow often falls overnight.

There was enchantment there, in the brilliance and silence of that noon hour, with golden light pouring in from a dark blue mountain sky and the lake a steady mirror full of the beauty of glittering peaks.

On dawn on Christmas Day, the band plays Auld Land Syne for 30 minutes without a pause, and then 30 or so riders on ponies rushed past and disappeared into the foggy morning. They would be travelling high into the mountains on a packed jeep to the place where they would begin their trek. Soon after they arrived in the region, Murphy acquired a pony that they christened Hallam as she intended to walk and trek her chosen route. They would be off as soon as the blizzards relented.

Their route alongside the would take them from village to village, enjoying the hospitality of the locals and marvelling at the magnificent views, though Rachel did say that the landscape was untidy. Both she and her daughter are tough, they survive on meagre rations all the way on their trip, are quite often chilled to the bone as they traverse the passes and mountains. They find companionship and hardship in equal measure, and her six-year-old daughter takes all of it in her stride, she is a natural traveller like her mother.

Here, Hallam and I waited for Rachel – a tiny red figure toiling gallantly up the steep white slope, with frequent pauses to lean on my dula and regain breath, for the air was exhaustingly thin.

I liked this a lot. It is written in a diary format so even reading this today, it feels that you are with her every step of the way. Murphy manages to get across just how tough life is for the people of Baltistan, partly because of their location in the Himalayas and partly because of the way that the land has degraded over time. It seems fairly safe compared to some of her other trips where she has been robbed, but the landscape is another factor, there are some heart-stopping moments as they cross the remnants of an avalanche or teeter at the top of a narrow path with the river hundreds of feet below.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Wonderful! I love how her daughter embraced all the travelling.

    • Paul

      Small children can be less phased than us with travel as they don’t know any different

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