The longer the young ex-patriates worked in the remote Oil Fields the more they came to consider their local leave a serious matter that needed careful thought, firstly, the decision as to what place and then the timing and whether alone or with a companion. Once all these had been decided there followed the preparations. Life at the Fields was slow and tranquil, built around the work, the climate and their socialising. B ,. in his bungalow at Balkassor was an outpost management representative responsible for putting up visitors whether Company employees or others from outside the region As such he had formed friendships with the new British geologist Bob Pringle and his Pakistani understudy, Haider Jaffri. Both young men around his own age. He and Bob agreed to spend their local leave on a journey into the Himalaya range of Mountains. They selected the Kargan Valley because that was the furthermost possible place since the 1947 Partition of India and the subsequent War between the newly formed countries of India and Pakistan, paused temporarily by an uneasy truce With the Pakistani army to the West of Kashmir, the Indian army occupying its Capital, Srinager to the East and United Nations Peace Keepers between while Muslim Guerrillas from the tribal lands prowling around on the periphery for loot and plunder.

The history of the place goes back to the 6th Century BC when it became under the control of the great Persian Emperor, Cyrus. Alexander the Great had conquered it in BC 326 when his army came over the Northern mountains to subjugate the greater part of the Indian plains. After Alexander and the first Arab invasions which began in the 8th Century AD Buddhism had flourished here in the 2nd Century BC as the rich silk trade route developed between the Empires of China and Rome. The Moguls came through here in the 16th Century AD pouring over the mountain range like so many invaders before them en-route to the rich, fertile plains lying to the South. They were an offshoot of the Empire of Kublai Khan whose domains had stretched from the China Sea to the Baltic Sea. Tamberlaine, who had preceded them was from the same Central Asian Steppes but it was the Moguls who had left a permanent culture inheritance over so much of the Indian sub-Continent before the arrival of the British.

But so disparate and unruly were the tribes of this remote North-Western corner of British India that it had never been incorporated into any main provincial Division but was ruled through Agencies and regional chiefdoms. Known collectively as Pathans and their language Pushtu but although customs, dialects and tribal affiliations varied some times from Valley to Valley the people were united in their Muslim Religion and their resistance to any Central Authority.

It was to this hot-spot that Bob and B. set off to in the early summer of 1951. Before 1949 there had been only a mule track existed on the hillsides of the Kargan valley leading to the Barbusar Pass at 12,000 feet. A route for jeeps was being blasted in what was now a restricted area where acess was only allowed with a permit from the Pakistani Military. For B the start of the holiday lay in familiar territory; his two previous local holidays had been spent in the foothills of this range once on his own in Murree and also with Charlie near Abbottabad. Now the cease fire line ran through what had been the Gilgit Agency and they intended to enter enter the heart of this towering range. Bob, as a geologist was accustomed to live off the land so that it was a simple matter for him to obtain the necessary tents ground sheets, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, lamps camp beds and even folding canvas chairs. All things part of a geologists stock in trade. He also proposed taking with them his cook/bearer sevant, Hasan Akbar in the Company pick-up vehicle. Hasan had been trained to look after geologists and relished his role in all aspects. He had served as an apprentice to his father who had travelled with previous Chief geologist including the legendary Penfold on field trips. Now Hasan was the expert and was prepared to serve the young Bob Pringle as his family had Bob’s predecessors in the Company.

With the pick-up loaded under Hasan’s directions he, Bob and B set off from Bob’s compound at Khaur in the direction of Abbottabad. Bob drove with B in the passenger seat and Hasan with a second driver in the back with the gear. After 30 miles, beyond Haripur the gradient became steeper and the air cooler and lighter as they drove through settlements with their familiar cooking smells. Another 30 miles and they were on the hardcore surface to Baffa. At Mansehra the pick-up was unloaded at a place in the village which operated as the Jeep Service Depot. The man in charge was located in the a tea shop and said that three of the five jeeps were broken down and awaiting repairs, the other two were awaited eventually. The four settled down by the village road but attracted so much attention from the locals that B and Bob went for a walk leaving Hasan and the driver to guard the gear. Several hours later and returning they saw a jeep. It was the fifth one and had been delayed by a rock fall and the driver could only take them to a Dak bungalow at Balacot from where they might get clearance the following day. Three of them with the baggage and the Jeep driver was a tight squeeze. The Company driver left in the empty pick-up for the return journey they were now in the hands of what was obviously a precariously run jeep service to get them into the hills. Holdups were frequent as the locals driving their herds of sheep and goats to pastures sometimes thousands of feet below the roads blasted out of mountain sides. Some tribes people on the move with their guns riding donkeys and leading camels moved quicker but it was several hours before they came to the bungalow which was a revelation; in a delightful setting, surrounded by beautifully tended grounds and an immaculate lawn alongside a clear crystal stream of water a jewel in the rugged mountainous surrounds. A giant hillsman met them and was obviously skilled and trained to tend to their, or any visitor’s, wants. At least to Bob’s and up to a point B’s and Hasan’s. B was to find out that if these hillsmen liked someone on sight they were obliging and helpful; if not you could expect little help. But this man in charge certainly had abilities in the running of his Dak bungalow and the quality of his cooking. As there was no way of communicating they could only assume that he was a successful result of previous training by the now departed British Raj.

A Jeep with the same driver appeared next morning with the welcome news that road gangs had cleared the mountain track and he would be able to take them further up the valley to another Dak bungalow at Kaghan. As they left , Bob under the benevolent eye of the man in charge and an indifferent manner to the others it cheered them to learn that their driver, another hillsman had taken a liking to both of them, The bungalow at Kaghan was a pleasant place but of a simpler order. The warden had a smattering of English and showed them a boulder sitting in the grounds as if a monument with an inscription – THE MARYAN STONE. It was in memory of Maryan, a maiden of Amazonian proportions who had lived nearby and came to fill her pots with water at the nearby stream. To keep herself in practice she would lift and carry this stone and one day a young girl fell into the stream so Maryan threw away the rock and saved the girl from drowning. The warden thought that it was an Englishman from the Gilgit Agency who had arranged for the inscribed boulder. Not one of them could lift it and B. took a photo of Bob attempting to do so.

The journey was taking them longer than they had anticipated. From Balacot they had followed the course of the Kundar River; the same river in which Maryan had perished. Its source was in the Hunza Agency, deep in the great Karakhorum Range which lay even further North than the Naga Parbat mountain whose peak, the warden told them, they would see the following day, if the clouds permitted, and if the Jeep came if, always the biggest ‘if’ to a Muslim, it was God’s will. He asked them their destination which was to the Babusar Pass. But the driver of the Jeep had said this would not be possible because the area there was under Military control but they would find some good places to camp along the river by Battakundi.. The following day went without a hitch ; the Jeep arrived early with the seemingly permanent driver now a friendly face, Above Kaghan at a height of 3,500 metres they were able to see the peak of Nanga Parbat straight ahead and this was 8,000 metres. beyond Battakundi where they saw no visible sign of human habitation and when they came to a rock strewn plain the size of about a couple of football pitches, beside the river containing springy grass they decided to make camp. The equipment was unloaded and two tents erected with the jeep driver helping and sharing in the meal that Hasan quickly prepared. When the driver left them it seemed even more lonely and isolated as they prepared for the night.

The Geological stores had been raided for fishing rods and a gun. The River \\undar was known to be stocked with trout; back in the days of the British Raj hatcheries had been set up and the trout that were released had spawned and returned to the river ever since. B had done some coarse fishing with Walter when camping near the River Medway with the Richard Twins in 1939. but fishing for trout is different; there were shiny metal spinners to be used and lines to be cast on the fast-flowing waters. It took a long time to get the knack. The water was icy-cold and keeping one’s feet difficult so they fished from the river bank. The gun was never used as neither of them had any inclination for hunting. When they were not fishing they explored the surrounding area, climbing further and further into the mountains. They tired easily at that height often panting for breath and dripping with sweat. after excessive exertions and with the temperate changes from morning to evening had to change their clothes frequently and eat at different times until Hasan had worked out a cooking routine. Exercise, peace and tranquility in the open all day as they roamed around, Bob, always on the look-out to take a rock sample and pop it into the bag he always carried at his side. It amazed B how such a small area they were confined in could contain such a variety of places to photograph. There was the first Col he had ever seen; indeed he had to ask Bob what it was. There was an assortment of glaciers and even a young hill boy crouched and observant who impassively watched as he was photographed. B was not pleased after a week of this carefree life when he awake in the sub-zero temperature as usual expecting to see Hasan cooking breakfast as he peeped out of the tent to see someone squatting with Hasan and an additional two tents pitched thirty or so metres distance from the fire. The stranger with Hasan noticed B at the opening and saying something moved swiftly to the larger of the two tents. A neatly attired man of about fifty with well brushed, silvery white hair emerged. he advanced towards their tent with a courtier’s assured smile and a brisk step. ‘Good-morning; we saw your tents last night as we came along in the Jeep and hoped you wouldn’t mind us sharing this spot with you. My name is Guy and I’m travelling with Roger who is still sleeping after our long journey yesterday.’

A re-evaluation of their small world was now necessary which, after the easy, relaxed stage they had reached needed effort, adjustment and attention. Changes that B at first resented. He wondered if other people felt as he did about such changes Guy’s dress was impeccable; a freshly laundered, striped shirt and white shorts; neat, white, ankle socks with expensive-looking leather sandals. He wore a gold wrist-watch with a chunky , gold strap. He exuded diplomatic authority and charm in fairly equal proportions. As Bob and B introduced themselves, Roger came out of the larger, new tent, barefoot, no shirt and wearing only crumpled shorts. All trace of the morning chill had disappeared with the sun. he came towards them like in a more deliberate but no less affective approach; stocky, muscular, tough, with a typically English air about him; boyish yet serious about his responsibilities. They agreed to pool servants and to have breakfast together and this was an opportunity to trade information about themselves, Guy was a diplomat seconded by the British to the United Nation’s peacekeeping force engaged in trying to contain the border dispute between Pakistan and India that had erupted into war. There was scarcely any other profession he could have been in with his smooth, fluent, public school way of speaking, his wry, witty, and somehow aloof but engaging attitude; his prompting, probing, subtle way of leading a conversation and his complete command and mastery of any subject on which he chose to expound. He referred to his servant as ‘my butler.’ In the English Class system Gentleman’s Gentleman was probably a profession most contiguous to that of Diplomat. He was obviously finicky and liked everything done properly. They soon discovered that he spoke fluent Urdu and some of the local dialects. His travelling companion was made of different stuff; he had been a Major in the recent war and, because he liked the life had signed on as a Regular. He had been posted to Hong Kong and was driving overland to this new posting, ‘information-gathering’ along the route. Whether for the Army or the Foreign and Colonial Services, he didn’t enlarge on. While visiting the British High Commissioner in Karachi he and Guy had met and proceeded to the region. They had permits to travel in regions that Bob and B did not. and proposed to stay in the area for a few days before moving to Gilgit.

There was a tacit understanding that the four Englishmen only met in the mornings over breakfast and, in the evenings for more conversations over a meal around the fire.

Meanwhile they proposed staying in this pasture for three or four days before continuing to Gilgit. Both the new arrivals knew a lot more about the region than Bob and B and related many interesting facts especially about the visible great mountain of Nanga Parbat thrusting nearly five miles into the heavens ‘naked mountain’ in Sanskrit, it was the ninth highest in the World. Guy said that there had been five attempts to scale it between 1932 and 1950, The first failed attempt had been in 1895, none of the subsequent attempts had succeeded while nineteen lives had been lost. These tales spurred the young men to seek to get closer during their daily treks; they managed to scale a glacier by hacking toe holds with one of Bob’s tools to find at the top a rock ringed immense semi frozen lake that Bob said was called a Col.

Tribesmen visitors started toappear at the camp with the arrival of Guy and Roger as though on courtesy calls when as some form of Valley communication system began operating and within a short time a mixed group would sit around the fire after supper had been eaten. There were no villages at all around because by the end of October everywhere would be under several feet of snow and the Valley would eventually be deserted. With the comings and goings and exchange of salaams only Guy and to an extent, Roger could talk with the visiting hillsmen but B found the nights timeless listening to the hum of talk mingled with the murmuring noise of the nearby flowing water as they sat beneath a sky, over-brimming with stars; so that bright flames of the fire brought a drowsy contentment that suffused his whole being.

On the day that Guy and Roger were to move they had all stayed within the vicinity of the camp and were lounging in the warm clear light of day when they observed a slight figure in khaki bush jacket and trousers approaching from the North. As this figure drew closer they were surprised to see it was a woman, and not only that, a European woman. They rose as she came near to see she was quite tiny and seemingly old with a crinkled, parchment-like skin, but she walked like an athlete with a spring in her step. ‘May I have a drink? she asked the watching group, after giving salaams all around. ‘ I heard you were here and hoped you wouldn’t mind if I rested awhile?’ She didn’t look tired but when Guy placed a a camp chair for her she declined before introducing herself as ‘ Miss Henderson and squatting Indian fashion explaining that she could rest best this way for the time. It was Guy, of course, who quickly got things on a social and conversational basis. When the tea made by Hasan came, she sipped it thoughtfully as her story developed. It was a story B found difficult to encompass. Miss Henderson was a nurse in a religious order and had been wandering about these hills for more than twenty years treating the villages below and the migrant herdsmen and nomad hills-people. ‘Aren’t you ever afraid?’ asked Roger who was evidently as bemused as B and the others. ‘Afraid of what?’. ‘These people know that I am here to help them. They tell me everything; news of what happens in the hills travels quickly and my where-abouts are known so that when help is required I can always be called; I would be more afraid in London.’ Occasionally she went to some centre in the Plains, but didn’t much like doing so. She declined the offer of a meal and pointed to a bag hung across her shoulder. ‘I eat very little and have my rations for the day. as well as my first-aid kit. She had included the servants in her talk in their language and said she had to be getting on. Before leaving B asked her to join them all in a group photo after which she briskly prepared to continue on her journey. ‘ Thank you, no help required, ‘ as she took her leave. I would like to visit you at Khaur next time I am down that way she addressed Bob and B and with salaams the small, slight, indominable figure set off to a destination she said was, ‘some miles from here.’ Within five minutes she was lost to their sight,

The campfire session ended early that night as the jeep was calling first light to collect Guy, Roger and the Butler. parting salaams were exchanged with the visitors and when they had left the three prepared for bed. ‘We’ll probably see you tomorrow to wave you off’ said B. But they didn’t. When the two emerged for breakfast the area where their tents had been was vacant and only Hasan crouched over the stove. ‘Sahibs gone’ he told them. Once again they were back to the original three with all the solitude they could wish for but, perversely, it left a gap in their days that they missed. The campfire group ended. Only one hillsman returned who had attached himself to the two but communications were fraught and only a photo served to record this visitor.

The food began running low and they needed to rely on fish caught eating with chapattis. The day came when it was time to strike camp from where they had become comfortable and settled. The day was radiant as the others had been once the sun cleared the mountains when they left behind the riverside pasture as they had found it. As they loaded the Jeep B took in the scene. An eagle soared in the clear blue sky , the sound of the river, the circling crags, the clear air and now the departure from all this