Monday, October 6, 2014

In the Letting Go {Part 1}

{This post is the first in a new story I'm sharing in my 31 Days of Surprise Endings.  Stay tuned for more! :-)}

If there were three people I didn't see enough of growing up, it was my cousins Ryan, Kristin, and Eric.  They were the kids of my mom's identical twin sister Janelle and her husband Steve.  Ryan was two months younger than me (rumor has it there was a race to conceive, and my parents won), then Kristin just 18 months younger, and then Eric was a few months younger than my little sister Jackie.  It was hard to connect with them, as we were pretty far-flung across the world.  We lived in Bangladesh, and they lived in Alaska.  Then they moved to California, then England, then Egypt.

Somehow we always managed to squeeze in time together, though, often in surprising locations.  The summer I turned ten, our two families made an epic plan to travel around India together for a whole month.  My family traveled to India at least once a year, usually twice.  We had been all over it, often to the same places, so this was our stomping ground. But we had never gone to the famously beautiful mountain region of Kashmir, our first stop with my cousins.  We were excited for many reasons, but there was one thing motivating us like nothing else: the prospect of seeing and playing in snow.  

We flew from Delhi to Chandagar, then the ten of us piled into two hired taxis, and we drove all day.  Stopping for the night, we all crammed happily into one hotel room -- parents on the beds, kids on the floor like sardines in a can -- before heading on the next day.  As the sun climbed higher and higher, we continued along twisty roads with breath-taking vistas of lush green valleys and rocky hillsides, and beautiful streams, all the while praying that Kristin wouldn't get car sick since she had been known to throw up even on five-minute drives.  Finally, we made it to our first destination: Pahalgam. 

Pahalgam lies in a long green valley with tall hills on either side.  A river courses through the valley, gently tumbling over rocks and boulders here and there, but overall gentle and clear.  There were lots of restaurants and hotels and shops downtown that catered to tourists, but we ended up at a place that was a good half-mile off the main road, in the country.  To get there, we had to cross the river on a footbridge, then follow a meandering path that curved along the water's edge a short distance and started up the hill before arriving at our destination, the hotel of Dad and Uncle Steve’s choice: Yaqoob's Lodge.

Putting it mildly, Yaqoob's Lodge was basic.  It was run, as the name implied, by a man named Yaqoob, who wore kurtas over baggy pants and had a long, scraggly beard.  He appeared to be no older than thirty, and he was married to a slender, blonde New Zealander.  There were only three or four other guests there during our stay, and they all appeared to be of the hippy, ganja-smoking, questing-for-life variety.  One of them stayed in a tent in the garden.  He wore a pink t-shirt with a huge yin-yang on it the entire time we were there.

The main building was two levels, and the outside made of long planks of wood nailed together half-heartedly.  Upstairs rooms were connected by a rickety breezeway that had low railing running alongside it.  We cousins shared one of these.  It was a long room with a bare window at the end through which the morning sunlight shone uninhibited.  There were only two beds, each covered by a thick comforter, but there was plenty of floor space and mats and more comforters.  Jenny, Jackie, Ryan, and Eric slept on the mats, while Kristin and I happily claimed the beds.  Aunt Janelle and Uncle Steve stayed next door.

My parents' room was downstairs at the far end of the building, and they had the luxury of an attached bathroom.  But there was also a small outhouse with two toilets separated by a thin wall.  Bathing took place by dipping cold water out of buckets and pouring it onto our bodies, so quickly decided that wasn't necessary.

What Yaqoob's Lodge lacked in luxury, it made up for in its tranquil, hippy-trippy ambience.  Breakfasts, included in the modest price for accommodations, were communal in one of the warm, sunny rooms downstairs.  Every morning there, we sat on floor pillows around low tables and ate cherries by the bowlful.  

And there was something – actually, some things – that Yaqoob's Lodge had that set it apart from every other hotel or lodge in the Pahalgam valley: puppies.  The resident dog, whose breed was a blend of Very Large and Generally Unfriendly, had given birth to a litter of six wriggling, completely adorable puppies.  Six children… six puppies.  It was like it was meant to be.

At least that's how we saw it.
{To be continued...}

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