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Full text of "A hermit in the Himalayas"

A   HERMIT   IN   THE   HIMALAYAS

feeder of the Ganges and which flows deep below my house at the
foot of the ridge. For many centuries flasks have been filled at
Gangotri with the sacred Gangetic water, sealed up by the officiating
Brahmin priests, and carried by brave traders throughout the plains
of India, where they fetch good prices as uncommon treasures.

Still travelling along the white line, my eyes recognize Kedar-
nath, another sacred mountain group, whilst my ears detect the
muffled boom of an avalanche, which has broken and fallen away at
some point in the line. The steep scarp cliffs of Kedarnath soar
upward to nearly 23,000 feet, although on the other side they dip
but gently towards Tibet. Kedarnath protects with its gigantic body
cf jointed granite the hoary old shrine in the valley below. This
shrine marks a place where the story of India's earliest religious epic,
the Mahabharata, culminates. It is the favoured resort of the yellow-
robed holy men, who come up during the tolerable summer months
from all parts of the Indian plain. Here too, they say, came their
famous prototype and teacher, Shankara Acharya, two thousand
years ago, and falling into a spiritual trance died in perfect peace.
His present-day imitators, alas, are less worthy, and one wonders
whether they can fall into any trance, spiritual or otherwise, or
whether they will die in even an imperfect peace. Be that as it may,
those who have the hardiness and courage to come to Kedarnath are
the better sort and receive, or believe they receive, for the trouble of
their pilgrimage, the blessing of those ancient souls who have made
the place historically famous. Their formal ceremony of acceptance is
peculiar, and as far as I know unique throughout the whole of India.
They enter the temple, which lies less than a mile from the foot of
the great glacier which streams dawn KedarnathJs side, and amid
the blaze of butter-lamps and the clang of temple bells bend forward
and press their hearts against a carved .image of Shiva, the deity
of ascetics and Yogis, whose spirit is said to hover over Central
Himalaya.

Most resplendent of all the snowy summits which confront my
window is Badrinath, which rests to the right nearly twenty miles
farther along the line yet seems but a stone's throw, so colossal is its
outline. It is really a broad square mass of appalling battlemented
peaks, looking like a huge silver casde guarding with chilling
grandeur the entry into Tibet against invaders. Here, too, there is a
traditional shrine nestling under its protection in the low valley at
its base and made famous in Hindu sacred history. Strangest of all,
hot springs gush forth into a pool close by, and in a region where ice
and snows overlook the valley pilgrims who are willing to be par-
boiled may bathe at a temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit 1

Finally I come to the extreme east of the snows where Duuagiri

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