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Book review: Where the Indus is Young by Dervla Murphy

I agree that this book was written back when times were less complicated, when people generally minded their own business and didn’t waste time or energy in trolling others.

However.  Where the Indus is Young is Dervla Murphy`s 1977  account of three months spent in the wilderness of Baltistan, living the rough life, subsisting on apricots and black tea for weeks together, traversing extremely dangerous mountain tracks. Given that Murphy was an intrepid traveller as well as a renowned travel-writer of her time, that`s all very well, even laudable.

But. For this trip, Murphy took along her young daughter, Rachel, a small tyke  who actually turned six while they were in Baltistan.

And soon, I was anxiously anticipating accounts of the very young one enduring the bone-chilling cold, walking upwards of 15 miles every day (yes really!),   making do with whatever food or no food she got, dossing down in very uncomfortable quarters, trying to sleep as gale gusts shrieked around the frozen wasteland, getting bitten by bedbugs and body-lice almost every night, using the most basic loos, almost going over the edge of the mountains many a time. All of which happened and all of which the little heroine went  through most stoically.

But. What startled me is the impatience in her mother`s tone when faced with the child`s needs. Rachel is offered mutton stew and she hasn’t eaten properly in weeks but Dervla tells her to refuse it because of some complications. The famished child subsides, eats a fistful of dried apricots and goes to bed.

She slips into a glacial torrent and is soaked to the waist,   engendering not panic but great irritation in Dervla!

She accidently cuts the thumb and forefingers of her left hand with a razor blade. The place looked like a slaughter-house with her blood all around and Dervla had left her First-aid kit behind. Then a chowkidar comes along and ties a bandage made on the spot from a strip of his shirt. Luckily, the wound heals.

Elsewhere, at least two times when the kid most needs a loving gesture or soothing words, Dervla snaps at her.

Let me quote the author herself:

When one is sitting adoring the high Himalayas, it is almost unendurable to be asked “How exactly does radar work ?’’

The air was so cold that Rachel could scarcely breathe.

Rachel`s delight helped to compensate for the hours of tedious chatter one has to endure in the company of a small child.

After breakfast we started out for the hamlet beyond Gomu, a 4,500-foot climb which proved almost too much for Rachel. About halfway up, she looked at me with brimming eyes and said, `I`m panted out. I can`t go up anymore.` To force a wilting six-year-old up that last demanding stretch would be sheer cruelty yet the idea of retreating when almost there went against the Murphy grain.

You can guess how that trek ended. They went ahead of course.

In the main, Dervla Murphy simply refused to let a six-year-old companion put a serious crimp in her travels. And thats all Im saying for now.

Related Links:

Book Review: The Himalayan Arc Edited by Namita Gokhale

Book review: Wild Himalaya by Stephen Alter

Book review: Himalaya, an Anthology edited by Ruskin Bond and Namita Gokhale

Book review: Walking The Himalayas by Levison Wood

Book review: Sikkim by Andrew Duff

Book review: A Step Away From Paradise by Thomas Shor

Book review: Becoming A Mountain by Stephen Alter

Book review: Nanda Devi, a Journey to The Last Sanctuary by Hugh Thomson

Baltistanbook reviewDervla MurphyHimalayasSheila Kumartraveloguetravels with a small kidWhere the Indus is Young

Sheila Kumar • November 15, 2018


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