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Jon shares some classic Tilman-isms from China to Chitral

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Jon dipping into the latest mountaineering title in our Tilman series, China to Chitral

I have long been a fan of Tilman and his writing. Perhaps enthused by the late Ken Wilson’s insistence that I read his work before commissioning anything new. I’ve just finished Tilman’s seven mountain travel books. They are littered with wit: always to do with the frustrations of getting to the mountain, getting on the mountain or simply finding the right mountain. His unending respect for indigenous mountain peoples is beyond doubt, but of course this does not stop him making fun where he can. His writing does have a certain lack of charm where he writes from the days of Empire, but this adds to the richness of his endeavours. I’ve plucked some random bits from the last few pages of the last Tilman book I read, to whet your appetite.

Of the Annapurna group … The Most Mountainous of a Singularly Mountainous Country

Of the Approach … Crossing India by train in the month of April is hot work and our party of four found it hotter than usual owing to their compartment going up in flames somewhere the wrong side of Lucknow.

In the foothills … Low houses were built of stone with smoke stained shingle roofs, the lopped top of a conifer tree tied to one gable end as a charm against leopards, ghosts, bears, Showmen or tax collectors.

Getting lost again … In a grass hollow at the height of about 17,000 lay two small lakes. Overlooking them stood a ruined cairn and close by, stuck upright in the grass several rusty iron tridents. The Langtang men at once assumed we had reached the Panch Pokhari (Five Lakes), a noted place of pilgrimage of which they had heard; for in their eagerness to believe we were on known ground they readily overlooked the absence of three lakes.

And of the trek to base camp … We were to move with twenty-four coolies on the 29th, but on the appointed morning, apart from the imposing array of loads laid out by the Sherpas, there was little sign of departure. Men, woman and children would stroll up, regard the waiting loads with some distaste, hoist one or two tentatively then stroll back to the village.

[sometime later]

I waited fussily until all the loads were safely away and then discovered that no one remained to carry the one I was sitting on. My personal kit.

For more classic lines from world's finest travel writer, pick up a copy of China to Chitral.

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