I was recently reminded of the travel writer Dervla Murphy. Her book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle lingered on the shelves of my childhood home. It is a journal entry account of a solo bicycle trip across Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, (West) Pakistan and India. The journey starts in the winter of 1963. Her travel log is far from a dull diary style as her entries are picturesque and informative.
The landscape, as throughout Swat, was very green and we passed through many pinewoods where the aroma of resin mingled in the hot air with the scents of a multitude of flowering wild shrubs and herbs. Weeping willows lined some stretches of the road, granting a brief escape from the sun, ‘Irish’ bramble hedges and ditches induced homesickness, and on the slopes of the grey, round-topped mountains little green bushes like juniper grew thickly.
There were few travel resources when we ventured across Pakistan some five years later. Mostly plans were made based on firsthand accounts from other embassy personnel. Car travel was easy. The roads were uncongested in the countryside, and although city driving was haphazard, it was a slow-as-you-go type of driving. I can’t imagine depending entirely on a bicycle. Although there is the benefit of the pace allowing for lingering views of your surroundings, such as this approach to Murree.
The hour from 6.30 to 7.30 p.m. was unforgettable, with sun set colours tinting the snowy ridges of the Himalayan foothills, and long shadows stretching across the valley’s steep slopes, which were terraced and irrigated in orderly patterns and dotted by tiny mud houses. Then the cool radiance of moon light succeeded the brief dusk as I dragged myself up the last and steepest two miles to the P.W.D. rest-house where I’m now half asleep as I write.
This hill station lies to the northeast of Rawalpindi. The photo below of the head post office is at its town center.
I left Murree at 7.30, having called on the Irish Presentation nuns at the somewhat startling hour of 6.45 a.m. and got a terrific reception. They’re always so pathetically pleased to see someone fresh from Ireland that it’s worth the effort of answering all the usual questions for the umpteenth time. On the way out of Murree a carload of tourists stopped to ask was I the Irish woman? When I said ‘yes’ they asked if I was going to Madras, and I said ‘perhaps’, whereupon they gave me their address and told me I must stop with them.
Every time I’ve read one of Dervla’s accounts I’ve been taken back by her bravery. She shows a steadfast trust in the general good nature of human beings. And although she had a few run-ins over her travels, her adventures confirm that there are more people who are hospitable than not.