Hiking and Camping In The Himalayas
By James E. McEldowney
Snakes and More Snakes Stories - Table of Contents The Prodigal Returns

There are many ways to have family fun. All the children in Woodstock school in India look forward to the ten day summer holiday. So our family began to make big plans. "Let's go to Deosari this year," Philip suggested. "Ask the Emersons to go, too," Barbara insisted. "Then I want the Ebrights along so Pinky and I can have some fun," Betty Ann added. "I want Jimmy Rugh to come, too," Philip spoke up. Ruth said, "Those families may have made other plans but I'll ask all of them. What fun it would be for all of us to go there together."

And that was what happened. When you go on a vacation in America you go by airplane or by car, don't you? But you can't use either of them to get to Deosari. Deosari is only a simple Guest House high up the side of the highest mountains in the world. There are no roads for cars, only mountain paths for people and pack animals. Have you ever hiked in the mountains? It really is fun. Betty Ann, Philip and Barbara were very excited when it was planned that all of our families would hike out there together.

"Put on your good hiking shoes," Ruth reminded us, "and take a sweater," because nights up in the mountains can be cold. "Do you have your canteen of drinking water?" I asked. Very soon all the families came together and what shouting and calling back and forth we heard. Someone shouted, "Come on, let's go." "Not so fast," I said, "The food we ordered from the bazaar has not come yet." There would be no McDonalds where we would be going. We would be doing our own cooking. "You can get started," I offered, "I'll wait and bring the food on the pack horse and catch up with you." And with that and lots of calling back and forth they began their climb up to Teri Road where the hike would really begin.

A half hour later the food arrived and I loaded it on the horse and started after them. They must have gone as fast as they could because for a long time I couldn't even see them. I hurried the horse along up and down hill and at last I caught up with them. I had come so fast I almost fainted and had to lie down on the ground for a few minutes bfore I could go on. They soon reached [++Page 78] the river. The river was the low point of our hike and was way down in the valey. From there it woudl be all uphill.

We had to cross the river. It was not deep but it was wide and the water flowed fast. It made a great noise as it rushed down the mountain. There were boulders and slippery rocks in the river bed. Don Ebright reminded us, "You remember the time a missionary tried to cross this river when it was in flood?" That caught the attention of the children. "A coolie was carrying their baby in a basket. Half way across the river he slipped and the basket tipped over and the baby fell out. The river was flowing so fast the baby was swept away and they never found it." Nothing more needed to be said. The youngest children took their parent's hands, and everyone waded very carefully to the other side.

Already it was almost noon. "Isn't it time to eat?" Charles Emerson asked. We looked up toward Deosari and wondered whether we had enough energy to climb way up there. "It's very hot here along the river," Don Rugh pointed out, "but I agree, Charles, I want something to pep me up." Of course the mothers had some good things all ready to eat so we sat in what little shade there was to eat. "Boy, that tastes good," Barbara said, as she finished her cup cake and was ready to begin the climb.

It isn't easy to walk six hours in the mountains but we finally made it. Deosari was not a luxury hotel. It was just an empty building and only two rooms at that. Each of the four families had sent coolies ahead with bedding. Emersons wanted to camp in their little tent. Ebrights and Rughs took the two rooms and our family had the wide veranda. "But what if a tiger would come at night?" Betty Ann asked. Tigers didn't usually climb that high in the mountains, but one had been killed at about that height only a few weeks before. "You can sleep up next to the wall and Ruth and I will sleep on the outside." I said, hoping that would satisfy the children. "But now go find some wood out there among the trees so we can get a fire going and cook our evening meal." They were almost too tired but one by one they headed for the trees up above us.

There weren't any movies to watch out there on the mountainside, but the Ebrights had brought their battery radio so we tuned in the British Broadcasting Company and got the news and then some music. How still it was out there in the open, how brilliant the stars in the sky. Then the silence was broken as one after another told a family story. Eleanor Ebright told the best one and it went like this.

"My parents were missionaries here in India and I was born out here. My father liked to joke and told this yarn whenever a visitor came to India. We lived in a house at the edge of a village and the fields came right up to the house. The bathroom had a drain in one corner so the water could run out. One night [++Page 79] when he went into the bathroom there was a cobra snake coiled up inside the door. He quickly went back into the room to get his walking stick. Then he opened the bathroom door carefully and took aim and struck at the cobra. But the cobra was quick and got out of his way and struck at my father trying to bite him. This went on for some time and then the cobra put its tail in the opening where the water went out and slithered back out of the room. Just before it disappeared it winked at my father."

"Oh that can't be true," Susan Ebright said, "Snakes don't have eyelids so they can't wink." That might be but it was a good yarn.

Someone started an old favorite song and soon all of us joined. We always ended up with "Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake, from the hills, from the sky, all is well, safely rest, God is nigh." Then one family after another slipped away from the circle to make their way to their beds.

Up above us and across a little valley was a little village. Early in the morning we heard people calling to each other as they herded their buffaloes out to the mountainside to graze. Already the children had begun to explore the hillside. "Just look at those tiny little fields of rice. It looks as if the farmers must have leveled off those little fields everywhere they could. They are all the way up as far as I can see," Betty Ann observed. "See how the water is flowing from one field to another from that little stream," Frank Emerson was quick to see. "The stream flows right through that little house," Philip pointed out. "Why does it do that?" Henry Emerson had come over to the stream and explained, "That little house is the mill for the village. The water turns the mill and the mill grinds their wheat and barley and hulls the rice." "Those people had to be pretty smart to make a thing like that," I said. "Just see, the water not only turns the mill but when it leaves the mill house it waters the fields down below.

Later in the morning we climbed higher up the mountain to a great forest of trees. Emerson said, "Just look how big these trees are. Can any one of you reach around one of them?" Several of the children tried but they couldn't. Then two of them joined hands and only then did they reach around the biggest one. Emerson continued, "Do you see those banks of dirt around the edges of what looks like little fields? How long do you think people have lived here and farmed this mountainside? Long before Columbus discovered America. Probably when our forefathers were still barbarians in Europe. These trees are hundreds of years old. India is a very old civilization. The people must have been very smart to have cultivated grain way back then." That was a surprise to all of us.

We had not gone far when Don Rugh called the children over to where he had wandered. "See those signs on the ground? he asked, [++Page 80] "that means that probably last night there were wild deer right here in this forest." Barbara looked as if she might see one close by. And then the girls decided to pick some wild flowers and bring them back to camp. There were flowers of every color. There were also many different kinds of birds and all kinds of insects. "There is one of the biggest beetles I have ever seen," Philip said. He and some other boys in school were collecting beetles for their class. During the next couple of days there was time to roam, to just sit and look at the far mountains, and to snooze. And so the days went until it was time to return home.

"I'll never forget what a lovely place Deosari is," Betty Ann said as we started back down the mountain to the river. Going down was easy and sometimes the boys would race each other. But once we crossed the river and started the long climb back up to Woodstock and home, they slowed down. "Now getting out and roughing it is something we never do when we are in America," Ruth said. "The best of all is that our families get to know each other so much better, and we learn to appreciate each other." The others agreed. "We really begin to see the wonders of God's world," Joy Rugh added. "We can't really thank you enough for including our family on this trip to Deosari." And the others echoed her thoughts. Altogether it had been one of the best 10 days any of us had ever enjoyed. But how good it was to get back to our homes. Our feet were sore. Our legs were tired, and we were ready for a good night's sleep in our comfortable beds. [by James E. McEldowney, August 1997]

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