Free Press Journal

Where the Indus is Young: A Winter in Baltistan by Dervla Murphy-Review


Title: Where the Indus Is Young: A Winter in Baltistan

Author: Dervla Murphy

Publisher: Speaking Tiger

Pages: 272 ; Price: Rs 450


Where the Indus Is Young: A Winter in Baltistan, comes along as a refreshing travel book with load of possibilities and tales that nudges one to look beyond the borders that divide this world, and get a fresh perspective about the people living in lands, far and beyond.

The author, Dervla Murphy is a travel legend and is worth making a movie on. In 1963, Murphy cycled from Ireland to India and I would highly recommend everyone to read her book, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle. This book is not only a travel diary but also an interesting book to read if you are curious to know of Baltistan in the 70s. While staying true to every wanderlust as an inspiring read, it also brings forth much rare observation of the region that provides insight to the political and social aspect of the people of Baltistan, back then. Murphy’s feisty nature is clearly reflected in the book. She has taken her equally brave six-year-old daughter, Rachel along with her through the beautiful yet dangerous Karakoram Mountains—mostly dangerous for its disputed border with Kashmir. Perhaps, in the present world scenario, this trip might not have been possible. The book documents every little incident that the duo along with their four-footed Hallam faced on this quest in this remote region.

Her sense of humour stands out from the first page itself. She mentions in the Preface, “To me, it seems that the five-to-seven-year-old stage is ideal for travelling rough with small children. Under-fives are not physically mature enough for exposure to the unavoidable health hazards, while over-sevens tend to be much less philosophical in their reactions to the inconveniences and strange customs of far-flungery. By the age of eight, children have developed their own views about how they wish life to be, and are no longer happy automatically to follow the parental leader.” The book is full of interesting anecdotes, for instance, “… The large notice over the reception desk in Rawalpindi’s fashionable Flashman’s Hotel was exactly as I had remembered it from 1963: ‘Visitors are requested to leave their weapons at the desk before entering the restaurant’.”

Besides the humorous and informative anecdotes that the book provides, occasionally, it also gives insightful views on a rather sensitive issue of Pakistanis and their hostile attitude towards Indians. And, her observation as an outsider, perhaps, gives a far more balanced viewpoint than it might have been provided by a traveller from either side of the border. The author says, “I met many members of this first-born generation of Pakistanis—doctors, farmers, lawyers, merchants, teachers, bank clerks, journalists, civil servants—and the majority seemed to feel for India only a contemptuous, uncomprehending hostility. Unlike their parents, they have no memories of growing up with Hindu neighbours, taking part in Hindu festivals, seeing pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses in the bazaar… They were enormously disconcerted when told that we had spent the previous winter in India and met there with nothing but kindness. They did not really want to know that beyond the border were other ordinary men and women, as generous and helpful as themselves.”

Overall, a highly inspiring book for every travel-enthusiasts and travel-writers that would like to break out of the comfort zone and challenge themselves, both physically and mentally. Simply brilliant!