Friday, October 3, 2014

Shangri-La {Part 2}

{This is Part 2 of this story.  If you haven't yet, please read Part 1 here. All these posts are in my 31 Days of Surprise Endings}

Mom spent half of the ride with her eyes wide and trained on the driver, mentally willing him to caution, and the other half with her eyes were squeezed tightly shut, and I knew from the subtle movements of her lips that she was praying.  

Dad, though, was the complete opposite, a portrait of elation.  Every twist of the infinitely twisty road offered him another opportunity to exclaim profusely at the beautiful scenery.  There were rugged cliffs looming high above us on one side of the road and plummeting on the other side towards a rocky river.  The further we went, the more we could see of the mountains, breathtaking in their height and capped in snow. 

Mom’s prayer and telepathy combination worked because finally, after an impossibly long day, we reached our destination.  She stood on shaky legs in the late afternoon sunlight and closed her eyes again, filling her lungs with the cold mountain air.  As she exhaled, she said, "Praise the Lord." 

Dad looked supremely happy as he took in the view.  The village hugged the craggy side of a mountain; below us was the river valley.  Some of the tallest mountains in the world pushed up towards the sky around us, many of them reaching elevations of more than twenty thousand feet. 

"Kids!" Dad said, the excitement in his voice barely controlled.  "Look! This is – or could be anyway –“ he almost choked with emotion before he whispered dramatically, "Shangri-La."

"Shangri-La?"  Jenny repeated, in that dubious tone eight-year-olds are so good at.  "What's that?" 

"Yeah, you know, this glorious place, this…" his voice broke as he was overcome with emotion and he nodded, thrusting his arms forward to indicate the scenery.  "It's Paradise."

I had my doubts.  Serious doubts.  For one thing, it seemed like Paradise would have a nicer place to stay. 

Our “hotel” was in a single-story bungalow with a low roof of corrugated tin painted kelly green, and the whitewashed walls of our room were completely unadorned.  While maybe not quite ugly, it was sparse, unattractive and most definitely uncomfortable.  It was the kind of room found in monasteries for those who believe their horrible sins must be atoned through discomfort.  A single bare bulb hanging from the ceiling cast feeble light around the room at night, and during the day, a little bit of sunlight came through a tiny window.  This place was slightly better than some of Dad's typical accommodations in that the bathroom was attached, and it had running water, but the water that came from the faucets had just melted off the nearby glaciers and was therefore barely warmer than freezing and heavily flecked with silt.  All the beds were the size of narrow army cots, with mattresses made from straw that poked through the rough, thin sheets and made me itch all night.

One semi-pleasantry was that every meal was served on the porch, with its fantastic views of the valley and towering mountains.  Lunchtime, when the sun was at its zenith, was tolerably warm, but in the chilly mornings and evenings, this al fresco dining became less appealing.  And even though I didn't eat much during the five days we spent in Hunza, I still managed to come down with some kind of intestinal problem.  

We spent our days there traveling around the valley – hiking for miles along steep, rocky trails to where we could view the Batura glacier, visiting the old forts, walking through the quaint village with its orchards of apricot trees.  Every day, we heard artillery practice from the Pakistani army, and sometimes, there were loud explosions that shook the ground and made me jump.  I fearfully asked Dad what was happening, and he explained that we were near an army base, and that it was all just part of their daily routine of training. 

Finally, it was time for us to leave for Rawalpindi.  

{To be continued tomorrow...}

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