National Geographic : 1952 Aug
High Adventure in the Himalayas done in the monsoon. It was now mid-July. We could not afford to wait for the clear skies of September. Moules, too, was leaving, and a farewell party had been arranged in his honor; the sound of drums announced it. Standing on roof tops and crowding the narrow streets, the whole population turned out. In the center of it all were the musicians and two rather attractive singers. The band consisted of an instrument like a piano ac cordion and a sort of rectangular violin. They struck up as we arrived (page 229). With swaying bodies and sensuous move ments of the hands, the girls managed to get the maximum of sexual excitement into their simple song. Their concession to the dance was in little shuffling steps delivered with a tap of the shoe. Sword Dance Gets Dangerous Then the sword dancers took a hand. "Dancers" is a misnomer. The swords were merely brandished and whirled about, though one man tiptoed in neat steps. The other swordsman made fierce and comic faces. Sometimes the music stopped, and the come dian would deliver a pantomime, sending the crowd into roars of laughter at his funny faces. Almost literally sidesplitting was the climax; in his antics he sent his sword whirl ing through the crowd, cutting open a couple of heads. The appearance of Moules with his laden jhibus was the signal for the procession to move forward. A garland of flowers was hung round his neck; the girl dancers swayed around him, and musicians and drummers played more furiously as they advanced through the village to mount the col which marked the beginning of his journey. Vil lagers, old and young, streamed behind. The finale was a tremendous tattoo from the drums, rising to a crescendo and ending with the crack of gunfire. In the dramatic silence that followed, Moules took his de parture for the bleak northward passes. Our own departure came soon after. With Bhotias from this wealthy village helping to carry our kit, we started for Panch Chuli, our last great mountain objective. The ap proach we had chosen was the Ralam Pass, really a succession of three passes crossing the main Himalayan range at 18,470 feet. It was good to walk 10 miles down a glen similar to many in the Scottish Highlands on a misty day-swift running water, with glimpses of craggy ridges as the clouds boiled. The path was turfy and fairly flat, curling into fields of flowering millet where Himalayan greenfinches and goldfinches sported. Red billed choughs replaced the alpine choughs of Milam; rufous turtle doves inhabited the trees, and wagtails flirted by the streams. A climb of 5,000 feet took us over the first pass, then down to Ralam village, 3,000 feet below. Its inhabitants seemed to suffer from sore heads, sore tummies, sore eyes, and a host of other complaints. We dispensed medicine to the needy, but the malingerers were quickly identified and sent packing with a halibut liver oil capsule. Our visit was such an occasion in this re mote place that when it came time to leave at 7 a.m. a procession was formed in our honor. Heading it were the boys of the village. In farewell the kiddies plucked handfuls of flowers and danced with a bouquet in each hand. Finally each gave a solo in the center of a ring. One imitated a monkey scratching for fleas; another made funny faces; still others flung themselves about, whirling fiercely in true Highland-fling style (page 195). The second pass was harder than the first, over a glacier and up a rock saddle to drop to the Yanckchar Glacier. We camped on flat stones near a couple of snow beds. At more than 15,000 feet in this Arctic wilderness, it was a surprise to see a fox, fawn colored and with an enormous brush of lighter color. Moonlight flooding the tent awakened me. In the incredible silence, the peaks stood clear of cloud, silvery above vast shadows. I find it impossible to put into words the mood of these mighty peaks, all of them unclimbed. Porters Pull Wool Over Their Eyes The men were in great form next day, com peting with each other in cutting steps across a slippery icefall. We merely followed, mar veling how sure-footed they were in such an assortment of footgear-sandals made from rubber tires, sneakers, unnailed leather shoes. On the upper glacier we were worried for their eyes, for we could issue only a few pairs of goggles. They produced wool, teased it out, and pulled it over their eyes. On the other side of the pass, our men sat on their loads and sledged down, whooping at the rush of speed. At one point, boulders hurtled down toward our last three porters, but they ran hard and escaped with nothing more than a fright. Soon now we were descending steeply to a more verdant land of rosebushes and stunted birches, of blue-fronted redstarts, rufous hedge sparrows, rubythroats, and rosefinches. The valley floor of the Lassar Yankti seemed impossibly far down, but at length we were beside it. In a couple of miles we saw ahead the village of Sepu, a cluster of houses perched above neat terraces of pink and yellow grain amaranth (page 201).