Sunday 7 April 2013
Dervla Murphy, Where the Indus is Young
Among the many reasons why I love Dervla Murphy is this one: she's the most effortless geography teacher I have ever come across.
Do you know where the Baltistan is? I do, now, but if you asked me a week ago, I would reply with a perplexed stare. Baltistan? Isn't it somewhere around the Baltic Sea?
(No, actually I knew that it's nowhere near the Baltic, I was born in Poland and I'm familiar with the geography of the region. Still, I think the resemblance of the two place names is uncanny, worthy of a further investigation to establish if it's a coincidence).
The Baltistan is, in fact, a mountainous region in Northern Pakistan, consisting mainly of habitable valleys between the Karakoram peaks. It is a pretty inhospitable terrain, with little vegetation and extremely cold winters. Into one such winter, 1974/5, Dervla Murphy and her (then) six year old daughter, Rachel, went pony-trekking.
Temperatures falling more than thirty degrees below zero. Scarce food, spartan accommodation. Mountainous, precipice-hugging tracks with a tendency to disappear. Rock avalanches falling across the aforementioned tracks. These are only some of the hazards that winter in Baltistan can offer.
I'm sure all parents will read Where the Indus is Young with fascinated horror. These days children are reared in ultra-protective environments and Baltistan is anything but. It is probably a good idea to stress here that both mother and daughter survived their adventure without any major injuries. Even though they did not wash or change clothing for three months... Yeah, that's another shocking (to a Western mind) aspect of their journey. I guess freezing temperatures blunt one's yearning for hygiene. Personally, I was completely not surprised to hear that such a spell of 'dirty living' did no harm, but I do know people who faint at the very thought of bacteria. They probably shouldn't read this book...
Everyone else - please do not hesitate to reach for it when you have a chance, especially if you appreciate travel writing of the very best sort.