A HERMIT IN THE HIMALAYAS
and closer, moving with the cat-like tread of a thief. Wondering
whether a panther or leopard is about to spring, provoked into
probing this mystery, I switch round suddenly and see—a mountain
It is a cream-coloured hungry creature which has wandered
away from its herd and has been attracted through my open door by
the savoury odour of the food.
At nightfall, when I sit occasionally at the forest's verge, under
the perfect sphere of a full moon set in an indigo-blue sky, strange
cries come to me out of the depths. The savage population is astir.
The night invites wild animals to begin their roaming. Above it all
the nightjar, that noisy bird, screeches overhead in the darkness.
Fireflies flicker between the trees, weaving weird patterns of phos-
phorescent light in the blackness.
I sit down to meals in the same old clothes with which I potter
around the peak-top. I do not trouble to change into a starched
uncomfortable shirt for dinner. It may be that I have lost my sense
of dignity and decency in this wild place, I do not know. Anyway, I
feel so utterly free, so deliciously abandoned to Nature, so remote
from the formal restrictions which men and women place on one
another in society, that I cannot bother myself with all the manners
requisite to civilized life. Such is the treason which Nature has
subtly instilled into me.
It is true that I continue the daily scrape. I must shave. A beard,
however, would be quite fitting to a hermit, but I fear to go as far as
There was an Englishman, a Forest Range Officer, whom I
knew not so long ago. His service for three years was in a sparsely
populated part of the Punjab, where a meeting with another
European or with an educated Indian was a rare event of his lonely
existence. Nevertheless he did not hesitate to put on his black
dirmer-jacket suit and white stiff collar every evening without
exception, when sitting down to dinner, as though he were at a
formal party. Only his servant was present to witness this sartorial
preparation for the nocturnal meal. He told me that he could not
enjoy his food if he had failed to change his dress; I believed him and
Yet it is a moot question whether a man should grow careless
about his personal appearance because he is living amid no other
society than sombre trees and silent peaks, occasional illiterate
tribesmen and twittering birds. I presume a coat, collar and tie are