Satis Shroff

The Lure Of The Himalayas (Satis Shroff, Freiburg) - Poem by Satis Shroff

500 years ago near the town of Kashgar,
I, a stranger in local clothes was captured
By the sturdy riders of Vali Khan.
What was a stranger
With fair skin and blue eyes,
Looking for in Vali Khan’s terrain?
I, the stranger spoke a strange tongue.
‘He’s a spy sent by China.
Behead him, ’ barked the Khan’s officer.
I pleaded and tried to explain
My mission in their country.
It was all in vain.

On August 26,1857
I, Adolph Schlagintweit,
a German traveller, an adventurer,
Was beheaded as a spy,
Without a trial.

I was a German who set out on the footsteps
Of the illustrious Alexander von Humboldt,
With my two brothers Hermann and Robert,
From Southhampton on September 20,1854
To see India, the Himalayas and Higher Asia.
The mission of the 29000km journey
Was to make an exact cartography
Of the little known countries,
Sans invitation, I must admit.

In Kamet we reached a 6785m peak,
An elevation record in those days.
We measured the altitudes,
Gathered magnetic, meteorological,
And anthropological data.
We even collected extensive
Botanical, zoological and ethnographic gems.

Hermann and I made 751 sketches,
Drawings, water-colour and oil paintings.
The motifs were Himalayan panoramas,
Single summits, glacier formations,
Himalayan rivers and houses of the natives.
Padam valley, near the old moraine
Of the main glacier at Zanskar in pencil and pen.
A view from Gunshankar peak 6023 metres,
From the Trans-Sutlej chain in aquarelle.
A European female in oriental dress in Calcutta 1855.
Brahmin, Rajput and Sudra women draped in saris.
Kristo Prasad, a 35 year old Rajput
Photographed in Benaras.
An old Hindu fakir with knee-long rasta braids,

Bhot women from Ladakh, snapped in Simla.
Kahars, Palki-porters from Bihar,
Hindus of the Sudra caste.
A Lepcha armed with bow and arrows,
In traditional dress up to his calves
And a hat with plume.
Kistositta, a 25 year old Brahmin from Bengal,
Combing the hair of Mungia,
A 43 year old Vaisa woman.
A wandering Muslim minstrel Manglu at Agra,
With his sarangi.
A 31 year old Ram Singh, a Sudra from Benaras,
Playing his Kolebassen flute.
The monsoon,
And thatched Khasi houses at Cherrapunji

The precious documents of our long journey
Can be seen at the Alpine Museum Munich.
Even a letter,
Sent by Robert to our sister Matilde,
Written on November 2,1866 from Srinagar:
‘We travelled a 200 English mile route,
Without seeing a human being,
Who didn’t belong to our caravan.
Besides our horses, we had camels,
The right ones with two humps,
Which you don’t find in India.
We crossed high glacier passes at 5500m
And crossed treacherous mountain streams.’

My fascination for the Himalayas
Got the better of me.
I had breathed the rare Himalayan air,
And felt like Icarus.
I wanted to fly higher and higher,
Forgetting where I was.
My brothers Hermann and Robert left India
By ship and reached Berlin in June,1857.

I wanted to traverse the continent
Disregarding the dangers,
For von Humboldt was my hero.
Instead of honour and fame,
My body was dragged by wild riders in the dust,
Although I had long left the world.

A Persian traveller, a Muslim with a heart
Found my headless body.
He brought my remains all the way to India,
Where he handed it to a British colonial officer.

It was a fatal fascination,
But had I the chance,
I’d do it again.

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Poem Edited: Thursday, February 10, 2011

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