cover image Where the Indus Is Young: Midwinter in Baltistan

Where the Indus Is Young: Midwinter in Baltistan

Dervla Murphy. John Murray Publishers, $15.95 (270pp) ISBN 978-0-7195-6515-1

In her 1963 classic Full Tilt, Irish writer Murphy recounted her seven-month bike trek from Dublin to Delhi. A decade later, the seasoned traveler returned to Asia with her six-year-old daughter, Rachel, this time determined to winter in Baltistan, an isolated northern province in Pakistan's disputed Kashmir territory. In this memoir of that three-month journey, originally published in the UK in 1974, Murphy shares her and her daughter's adventures along the disintegrating trails of the Indus Gorge in the Karakoram Mountains.""The grandeur, weirdness, variety and ferocity of this region cannot be exaggerated,"" she writes of the sub-zero temperatures, harsh winds, whipping sand and the constant threat of tumbling rocks that they faced picking their way through passes on pony and foot. Her colorful journal entries weave together impressions of the Karakoram's""craggy, glistening peaks,"" reflections on the people who inhabit them and the romantic joys of daily life: sipping tea, dining on chapittis (thin unleavened bread, translated in the glossary along with other local terms) and wandering through bazaars in search of goods and gossip. Despite a preface and prologue that situate her trip, any profound contextualization vis-a-vis recent tension in Kashmir or Pakistan's role in the war on terror is absent. Thus at times her experience feels surprisingly disconnected from the present, like when she bubbles with admiration for Pashtun culture or mentions her close friendship with Field Marshall Ayub Khan, a Pashtun and former military dictator of Pakistan. Her sumptuous descriptions of the mountain splendor and the obscure paths and cultures she explores, though, are appropriately timeless.