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Full text of "A hermit in the Himalayas"

A   HERMIT  IN   THE   HIMALAYAS

home. The steep wall of the gorge confronts us and the arduous
climb up two thousand five hundred feet becomes a breath-taking
exertion, which we endeavour to lighten by cracking occasional
jokes upon sundry unconnected subjects. We struggle upwards
somehow.

On our way we pass through the forest, and stop to admire the
scene, which is wild yet exquisite. I know that this forest is a favoured
haunt of bears and warn the Prince, for the hour is late* He laughs at
the danger.

"We have lots of bears in Nepal. Some districts are so infested
with them that the women peasants carry pitchforks and large
curved knives used for grass-cutting with which to defend themselves
against their attacks. With the fork in the left hand they endeavour
to keep the animal at bay, whilst they hack at it with the knife in
their right hand.

"Our hill people say that if you encounter a bear unexpectedly
and are unarmed, the wisest thing to do is to throw yourself prone
with your face to the ground and pretend to be dead. The bear will
then sniff around you and go away. I have not tried this myself,
but I hope it is true! Incidentally, have you ever heard a wounded
bear cry? We shot one some time ago, but failed to kill it. It wept
like a human being. Incredibly like one!

"There is even something human about the sound of a horse
whinnying with intense fright. Once my brother, I, and a servant
were proceeding along a trail in the Nepalese Himalayas which
was just like the one at the top of this gorge-a narrow, rugged
cutting in the rock face. My brother was a little tired of riding
and dismounted, leading his horse by the rein whilst he walked
on foot. In turning a corner with a hairpin bend the horse slipped
over the edge of the trail* Its hindquarters fell down the precipice,
but with its two forefeet it managed to cling to the edge. My brother
got hold of its head and we two other men ran to assist hum. Most
of the horse's weight was hanging over the gorge, and despite the
best efforts of the three of us we could not succeed in lifting it back
to safety. The poor creature realized its danger and began to whinny
piteously. We did our utmost to save it, but the weight was too
excessive, whilst our own foothold was too precarious. The horse's
howls increased as its strength gave out. Its cries of fear and anguish
became almost human. Finally it slipped from our grasp and fell
into the deep chasm below, moaning all the time until it reached
the bottom, where it was smashed to pulp.

"One of my servants has told me about a chance meeting with
an extraordinary tribe of animal-men who exist in a wild region
of the interior of Nepal. They hide themselves well and always
K                                              -                                       145