Kimball O'Hara is the orphaned son of a white Irish soldier in the British Indian Army. Raised as a low-caste street urchin on the streets of Lahore, Kim happily takes on the guise of native or white sahib, earning him the nickname ‘Friend of all the World’.
Kim encounters a Tibetan lama who has journeyed to the plains in his search for the River of the Arrow, a river with the power to cleanse all sin. The two embark together on an epic journey through the subcontinent; the lama’s quest for spiritual enlightenment is mirrored by Kim’s search for his own identity.
As they journey across India in search of the holy river, Kim takes on the role of street-wise guide, shielding the unworldly lama from the threat-riddled chaos of their life on the road. From Lahore they traverse the plains as far south as Benares, travelling by ‘that new invention, the te-rain’ and by foot along the festive, crowded Grand Trunk Road. Along the way, Kim is drawn into the world of the sahibs and the Great Game, enlisted by British Intelligence in their efforts to undermine the Russians.
In the novel’s closing chapters, Kim and the lama are reunited for a spectacular excursion into the Himalayas, where their separate quests reach a shared, exhilarating climax at the very edge of India.