Sunday, October 5, 2014

Shangri-La {Part 3}

{This is Part 3 of a story in my 31 Days challenge.  Please read Part 1 and Part 2 first.}

Finally, it was time for us to leave for Rawalpindi.  We waited for the bus near the apricot orchards while Dad settled our bill.  He had just joined us when another American strolled up.  Dad could talk to anyone who would listen, and since we hadn't really seen many other foreigners in Hunza this man was of particular interest.  It turned out he was a United Nations worker assigned to the area.

"Don't mind my asking," he said to Dad, then lowered his voice, "but what the hell are you doing here?"

"I wanted to see Hunza!" Dad replied in a tone that indicated it should be obvious since Hunza was on everyone's dream destination list, just after Paris.  "It's supposed to be Shangri-La!"   The man stared at him, puzzled, trying to decide if Dad was joking or if he was just completely out of his mind.  "You know, the novel Lost Horizon…?” Dad’s voice was losing some of its gusto. “Shangri-La?  Paradise on earth?" 
After a long moment of disbelief, the man looked at Dad sharply with one hand on his hip and the other jabbing towards the ground with every other syllable, said, “India and Pakistan are on the brink of war right now, and if that happens, this is going to be in the middle a war zone!  I guess if you call that paradise…”

Dad pondered the man's information, scratching his beard with his hand.  The bus bound for Gilgit came rumbling, shaking, squeaking, and at last, sighing to a stop in front of us just at that moment, and he sprang to action, grabbing our luggage.  “Well.  Good thing we're leaving then!”

Rawalpindi was dramatically different from the landscape we had just left.  While Hunza was mostly dry, brown, and very rocky, Rawalpindi was flat and lush, with tree-lined streets that provided cool shade as we walked.  I was tired and weak after several days of being undernourished and sick to my stomach. 

We found our hotel.  As Dad let us into the room, I gasped.  It was not actually one room, but three – a luxurious suite!  There was air conditioning!  Carpet on the floor!  Beautiful furniture including a plush sofa with an intricately carved frame that had (did I dare believe it?) a television in front of it!  Even our home didn’t have a television! 

“Does this work?” I asked in a quiet, awe-filled voice as I ran my fingers over the smooth screen.

“It’s supposed to,” Dad replied, appropriately hedging his words since, after all, we were still in a Third World country.

I moved from one room to the next like someone in a trance, making attempts at words yet not being able to articulate a single one.  The bathroom was so clean, with shiny white tiles, and a large, electric water heater and a bathtub!  A bathtub!  If I got into it just then, as I so badly wanted to, it would be days before my parents could get me back out.  But my dad was calling me from the living room.  He had turned on the television and was saying, “The Olympics are starting today.”

And suddenly, right in front of us, Los Angeles appeared!  There were crowds of people cheering, waving, and somebody running, carrying a torch.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – any of it – and I certainly could not have been happier.  Air conditioning, television with the Olympics, no less, and a clean bathtub with a water heater?  This was Paradise, this was my Shangri-La. 

There were just three words for such a perfect moment as this, so I closed my eyes, like my mother always did, and after I’d breathed out the happiest sigh, I said them: “Praise the Lord!”

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