Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Thirty-seven 


 

In which Srinagar is reached and how the houseboat is exactly the same

it was a hundred years ago

Kashmir Valley, Jammu & Kashmir Province

It was about 7:30 in the morning when they reached the tunnel with a sign that read:

HEAVEN IN PARADISE

Heavily guarded, uniformed guards held machine guns pointed directly at the oncoming vehicles. Passengers were asked to step out of the vehicle so the guards could bomb-sweep the bus and cargo, but this time the foreigners were supposed to sign in with their passports. With the sun out and after finishing a reasonable amount of mixed whiskey from his water bottle, Nathan was excited about finally reaching the valley.

"Look," he said, pointing at a door at the wooden shack:

Foreigners Register Here 

There were more foreigners than just the three of them. There was a guy Hellmantle and D'Aqs had started to call Pepper from Sweden and his husky Korean wife who was fluent in Swedish, and a guy from Afghanistan. They all had to show their passports and fill out a form. Nathan, being Israeli, and being in a place where over 85 percent of the population was Muslim, was questioned by the guards. A few minutes later he emerged from the sandbagged station and climbed aboard the bus, now quite sullen.

Rich in beauty was the valley that spread before them at the end of the tunnel. It was where the magic of Kashmir began. Breathless in size and scale, the posture of rock was so robust it made their mouths drop open. Trees and sectioned fields exposed rich soil spread outwards to a horizon that stood 5000 feet above sea level. The Himalayas had arrived.

"Wealthy in volume" mumbled Hellmantle, unusually understated. The sheer audacity of the mountains shocked him. As the natural charms of Kashmir lured Hellmantle into an instant love for the country, so did another thing occur. He looked closer at the people passing by. What he saw stuck him deep down to his sense of who he was. He kept looking into an Indian face that had a facial architecture that was similar or the same as his. Looking straight into their faces, he recognized his own relation to the root. Hellmantle felt a deep sense of identity with India as if it truly was the land of his ancestors. He had not foreseen how similar in bone structure the Indian peoples were to the Norman Anglo-Saxon architecture. It was a homecoming; a return to an ancient homeland after millennia that once flourished before the United Kingdom and America were even ideas. He said to D'Aqs:

"This is the face of the people of the Indus River Valley, a people that stretched north into the mountains north of Srinagar and remnants of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel."

"I see what you're getting at I think. They have the same face."

"Being mistaken is the essence of the traveler's tale, as a writer once wrote." There was a grin on Hellmantle's face.

Passing through the towns along the main road were summerhouses built in the unique Indian architecture tradition. Everything looked old: merchant houses, balconied hotels and two-story shops with wooden shutters still in tact. The trees dominated the ride along the wide valley floor where yellow leaves still clung in the February chill. Hellmantle knew they had reached Srinagar when he saw the massive 16th-century fortress on top the big hill in the middle of the valley floor. It was a steep hill with a tabletop surface surrounded by huge stonewalls and cornered turrets. The stone fortress overlooked the Srinagar skyline.

"What-"

"Moghul. Roughly 16th century."

        The bus let them off some miles from the fort but there was a man there holding a white envelope with the following name written on it:

HELL MANTLE

Recalling Pradeep explicitly insisted Hellmantle to ask the man for the four-digit reservation number because he said: "only me and you and him know the number."

"Do you know my reservation number?" Hellmantle asked the Indian man with the envelope in his hand.

        "Yes sir. You are 5422." Sure enough he knew the four-digit number. Hellmantle and D'Aqs both gave him a smile and introduced themselves.

        "I am Ramazon," said the lean-faced Indian man.

So Hellmantle got into the man's motorcycle sidecar and D'Aqs doubled on the back of the seat, the three of them sped down the road. Quick and zealous was his horn-beeping hand - every pass was honored with a short beep from the steering wheel and greeted with a kindly wave of the hand from the driver. To Hellmantle, who was forever interested in road etiquette among motorcyclists around the world, noted that the driver being passed also let his foot off the accelerator. This constant action was done throughout the road trip. Much worthy of note to Hellmantle was that he didn't witness even one incident of rudeness or bad etiquette on the country roads between vehicles. Kashmir was a place of friendliness and brotherhood, where people's riding technique was in harmony with Nature.

Entering the town of Srinagar, they drove around the great fortress that stood atop the huge ridge surrounded by ancient buildings at its feet that made up Srinagar. Hellmantle took note that there were many people on bicycles.

At six o'clock prayers to Allah filled the valley with divine song amid the eagles soaring to their nesting peaks in the tall trees that looked like dwarfs against the sheer rock of the mountains all around them. The orange hue of the setting sun turned to yellowed gray just beyond the western rim. Muslims broadcast their prayers over loudspeakers from the minarets in the mosque across the water. The audio was old and the sounds crackled as an early fog settled over the great Mogul fort on the top of the hill.

"Who built that fort up there?" Hellmantle asked Ramazon as they reached their houseboat. "Moghuls?"

"Yes, sir. The same people who built the Taj Mohal."

"Can we see it?"

"It's closed to public because the Indian army uses it."

The boathouse was fashioned in the British colonial style with carved wood fascia, rugs and an open deck in the stern. The fully functional houseboat was no doubt host to some of its own British subjects during the reign of the East India Tea Company. In fact for Hellmantle, with its long narrow corridor with its spacious bedroom, dining room and smoking room with adjourning riverside sun deck, it was much more comfortable than a hotel room. The deck was there for the old stick-propelled wooden boats that still traveled the river. The lush valley where steep mountains lined the horizon created an overpowering sense of openness under an untrammeled sun. Neither smog nor clouds marred the heavens 6000 feet above sea level. The sounds of automobiles and industry were replaced with thousands of birds, screams of happy children at play and the distant knock of a carpenter. It was here where first St. Thomas and then Jesus the Nazarene lived and finished out their lives. They knew this river and this lake.

The houseboat - or boathouse as Hellmantle liked to call it - is just like a first-class car on a train. There is a long corridor that joins a master bedroom and then a second room (which was vacant) and the kitchen and the main entrance, and the dining room with the old carved wood chairs and ceiling facia and rich colored rugs, and finally the smoking room - or drawing room as Ramazon had introduced it - with a desk and couches in the corners with flowing drapes over the lavish windows. This final room opened onto the deck where one could sit out under a canopy from the rain but also perfectly facing the west unobstructed by anything. In fact he hadn't seen a high-rise building since he left Delhi. Underneath the dozens of rugs that lined the boat were the moaning squeals underfoot from water-warped wood. But it did nothing to take away from its splendor. It was a step back to the 1920s with the view and surrounding absolutely unaltered since not only the 1920s but from the time of Jesus and Thomas journeyed here from the Holy Land. The other side of the river was just as it had been back then.

After over 26 hours on the road, he was happy to have his own place on the water with no neighbors and all in the luxury of a time period that, for all intents and purposes still existed in Kashmir. He promptly unpacked and then put his feet up on the sun deck and had a smoke and a pot of Kashmiri tea. His senses felt as if they were coming out after a long period of being in a bent or oppressed position, so there was a warm relaxing feeling that flooded out of him. Muscles twitched and joints fought off aches as he wondered if it was here, 6000 feet above ground zero where Jesus and Thomas lived their last days.

When the sun went down Hellmantle quickly felt five kilometers from the ocean's shores and proceeded to put on a wool poncho that Ramazon had brought in for him. He had told him he wanted to wear what Kashmiris wear when they trek in the mountains. It fit perfectly and brought him the warm inner hearth that one sought in cold climes.

  

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                             
          The Family of the Bible
FIRST PART
1.       Concerning the famous Hellmantle's position, character and way of life
2.       Concerning the ingenious man's visit with his uncle Jack Grosseteste
3.       Which relates to how Hellmantle is given his first adventure
4.       About what happened to our adventurer when he goes to the Philippines
5.       In which the story of our crusader's journey begins in earnest
6.       About Hellmantle's time in the city of sin on Christmas Eve
7.       About the brave Hellmantle's success on his adventure to Baguio City worthy of happy memory
 
SECOND PART
8.       In which the courageous Hellmantle of Normandy journeys north into the Cordillera Mountain Range
9.       About what happened to Hellmantle in the mission in the mountains and the crucifixion of Jesus
10.     Concerning Hellmantle of Normandy in the land of the headhunters
11.     About the required riding techniques to reach the destination of Sagada and the church organist
12.     In which the German artist is tracked to the Shamrock Café and dangers of the northeast of Luzon Island
13.     In which Catharine is tracked to the Shamrock Café and an eery coincidence of a reoccurring dream
14.     About Hellmantle reaching the rice terraces and finding a way to the northwest
15.     About what happened to our intrepid philosopher in the middle of the Sierra Madre Mountains
16.     In which a record is given about the brave Hellmantle through uncharted territory on his trusted dirt bike
17.     Which relates to Hellmantle of Normandy reaching the northern coast and the rubble of Aparri
18.     About the final day of the motorcycle journey and discussing the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel in Vigan
19.     About the sermon in Agoo Basilica and what they find at the church with the rouge bell tower
20.     Concerning the Dutch Padre and what he knows about the hidden map
21.     About the return to Manila and the coup that causes the Great Man from Normandy grief
 
THIRD PART
22.     Which brings Hellmantle of Normandy back to Hong Kong to re-evaluate the next step in his quest for truth
23.     In which their journey is related to Jack Grosseteste and a new task is set before the Man from Normandy
24.     Concerning the journey to northern Vietnam to track down the map hidden at a French prison
25.     About how Hellmantle and D'Aqs compare notes on their task at hand in Hanoi
26.     In which an account is given of the beginning of the journey of Hellmantle in Vietnam
27.     About how Hellmantle and his brave squire ride north to the place where the four rivers meet
28.     Concerning the French prison and what Hellmantle finds there
29.     Concerning the discovery of the bottle and what lies inside of it
30.     Concerning the journey to Dien Bien Phu in honor of their grandfather the Great Dane Hellmantle
31.     About what the motorcyclists see on the fields in Dien Bien Phu
32.     Concerning the motorcycling required to reach Hanoi via the other side of the Da River Valley
33.     Which tells of the final stage back to Hanoi and the discussion after their most beautiful ride
 
FOURTH PART
34.     Concerning the visit with the knowledgeable Jack Grosseteste and the sally to India
35.     Concerning the arrival and journey to Kashmir Valley
36.     In which the journey begins in earnest through the checkpoints to the foot of the Moghul Fort
37.     In which Srinagar is reached and how the houseboat was as it was hundred years ago
38.     In which Hellmantle reach their houseboat on the lake below the fort and beside the mosque
39.     In which Hellmantle sets out for the Tomb of Thome and his brother Joshua beside him
40.     Which relates to the agreeable history of the journey north to the monastery on horseback
41.     In which Hellmantle returns to Srinagar and finds the first translations of the black stones
42.     Which concerns the deciphering of the discovery at the monastery and the need to go to the Ganges River
43.     About Hellmantle of Normandy's meeting with the holy man after taking a dip in the Ganges River
44.     About Hellmantle's meeting at Jack Grossetests's place with D'Aqs and Catharine the artist from Sagada
 
o       Chronology of Historical Events
         
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