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Full text of "A hermit in the Himalayas"

A   HERMIT  IN   THE   HIMALAYAS

I let his herd go ahead of me because I espy a small hamlet only
a hundred yards or so away, and I want to watch it being driven into
shelter for the oncoming evening. Within a few minutes I reach the
collection of half a dozen houses and a few barns built upon a narrow
clearing. One house is perched somewhat precariously upon the
very cliff-side itself. The bleating goats are packed off out of sight,
while all the inhabitants of the hamlet come out to greet me. I rein
in and buy a large cupful of curds from one of them. These mountain
folk are extremely fond of this appetizing drink. They ask me whither
I am bound, and when I tell them Pratapnagar they advise me to
hurry as there is a tremendous dip and an equally tremendous climb
before me yet/

The advice is timely. The sunbeams are becoming feebler. I spur
the horse on to a quicker pace. A ride of a mile and a half along the
top of the ridge brings me to the deep valley of which I have been
warned. The path twists down through emerald-green grass-
covered slopes to the very bottom—a matter of several thousand
feet. There I behold a shining milky-grey riband stretched right
along the whole valley as far as the eye can see. It is a river, which I
identify from my map as the Bhagirathi The stream flows down
from a I3,ooo-feet glacier beyond Gangotri, close to the Tibetan
border, and is really the headstream of the Ganges, for it joins another
river before it finally issues from the Himalayas and the combined
waters are then named the Ganges. I shall have to cross it in order to
make the other side; the long narrow bridge which spans it from
bank to bank is just faintly visible as a thin black line.

"The Ganges falls from the foot of Vishnu like the slender thread
of a lotus flower/* says an ancient poet.

Beyond the water rises a precipitous ridge, studded with forests,
which rise many thousands of feet into the air. Somewhere on the
very top of the ridge there is a white gleam in the slanting sun-
rays which I decide must be Pratapnagar Palace, near which is the
house that shall be my next home.

This final lap of my journey will be the hardest, whilst the long
toilsome climb beyond the river will be impossible for my exhausted
horse. Fortunately, a change of mounts awaits me at the bridge, I
know.

We make the descent in record time for the path is fairly smooth
although it twists often. Two or three times I have to get on my feet
and tiot beside the horse at very dangerous gradients, but generally I
take risks now that I have not taken before. Such is the lure of home-
coming!

We reach the valley bottom without mishap and at the bridge-
head a waiting groom comes forward to greet me. He takes over my