Which relates to the
agreeable history of the journey north
to the monastery on
150km north of Srinagar, Line
of Control, Great Himalayan Range
Himalayan Range tickled the roof of the mouth of earth in a jagged maze of
rock, peaks unforgiving, white and gray and tanned brown, treeless and sharp,
angry and peaceful, untouchable and respected. Life atop the farthest reaches
of land, pretty to look at but tough to conquer, Kashmir Valley on a horse was
a world unto itself. Like iced teeth of rock, it stood in defiance of gravity
in a never-ending grab at the empyream. Close by was K2 that was marginally
higher than the vast sea of white pinnacles surrounding it in scale of size
that dwarfed reality.
there was another checkpoint where the lieutenants and higher ups were hanging
around and checking to see if the checkers checked well enough to pass as
checking. Hellmantle and D'Aqs assumed the gait of a worn out trekker coming
back after a religious pilgrimage. When dealing with soldiers at checkpoints,
the cousins presented a neutral posture until spoken to, indicating in the
subtlest of ways that they were not a threat and that the Indian civil servant
had the upper hand. It was conveyed only in the minutest of fashion, whether it
was the movement of an upper lip or a gesture such as removing sunglasses when
not asked to, or bowing the head slightly in a submissive posture. But
Hellmantle only assumed that posture for a moment, because then the soldier had
an open door to abuse his power and apply arbitrary fining on the spot.
Hellmantle, seeing it for what it was, thought: the act of conveying respect
and backbone puts morality on the table.
To some they were a sight
that brought a sincere smile to guards' faces, not only because they were both
wearing wool ponchos, which, with their long beards, reminded the soldiers why
they were fighting: to make the mountains safe for their families and for the
trekkers around the world to get tourism back on track. But they were also
potential threats, military Special Forces in diguise spying and gathering data
on the skirmish stalemate between the two countries. Or possibly religious
scholars on mission to find and remove a relic said to be buried somewhere in
the vastness of the Himalayan range.
Hellmantle and D'Aqs rode ten kilometers on horses to a tabletop along a ridge
in the mountains roughly 14000 vertical feet, according to Abid's calculations.
"What the history textbooks
or even maps fail to explicate," said Hellmantle "is how the terrain causes
gravity to act stronger here. Each given mile is a fuller distance than across
flatlands. Sure the loose rocks and steep climbs are understood to be part of
what is involved in crossing mountain ranges, but the heavy gravity - due to
the sheer vertical posture of the Himalayas and the thinness of the air
- create a uneven playing field when measuring on a map." Moments of struggle
to fill lungs with enough air became more acute the farther they ascended. It
slowed down the engine of the mind and caused sloppy navigation, and with
sloppy navigation came injury. For Hellmantle, the horseback was slow but
compared to walking it was welcomed.
know what I didn't expect?"
"No, what's that Mister
"To feel tipsy so high up.
Thin air aside, I'm relieved to be up here at the top, fully aware of the
precipice on either side. I have forgotten to tell you of my fear of heights. I
thought I could contain my fear by ignoring it while I balanced on top of a
thin windy ridge where any horizontal movement caused me to flirt with a fatal
tumble." Hellmantle paused, looking at the steep grades all around him.
"Ironically, the view is so stunning and powerful that it's enough to cause me
to lose my balance."
"I am out of breath too."
He looked at D'Aqs.
"Thought your lungs would be
pink as a a raw steak."
"We're not talking about a
hundred or two hundred feet here," taking more breaths. "We're talking about
being at 14,000 feet above sea level."
the twins Joshua and Jude must have had pink lungs too so if you're panting
over there then it's likely they were laboring aussi."
"Right. You smoke too much.
Or it's time to move back to Canada and take advantage of the fresh air and
fresh water. China's polluted. And Hong Kong is getting worse. All the
industrial clouds and crappy water from the factories in Schenzhen are ending
up there. It's a bad situation that will only become worse."
"Yes, you're right. I may
want to relocate before my lungs become sullied. I mean through the
environment. Abuse is rampant because of the lack of environmental laws." This
succeeded in taking his mind away from his fear of heights. Once clear of the
mountaintop, the mighty sun took over the eastern sky drenching the western
slope where they sat. It was all light. Everywhere was the richness of warming
sunlight, at once blinding and soothing.
would they have a monastery so remote?"
from harassment. And this light must have had something to do with it. With the
iced peaks the stronger sun reflects more. So close to God!"
must have really loved his twin Jude. Must be a twin thing."
let the horses do all the work."
"They had horses and we have
have horses and iron horses."
here was smart because no one would make this much effort to find them after he
faked His death. Oh wait! There's something I want to read you that I think is
rather pungent with meaning. Can you throw me your Bible?" D'Aqs wondered why
the man didn't have his own Book. "Don't be shy. Throw it." Not used to
riding a horse and misjudging the distance, he threw the Book too short, which
caused the Man from Normandy to lean far reaching with extended arm, hand open
ready to clasp, sadle slipping from the shift in weight. He knew he was going
to miss It so he kicked out his right leg and hugged the horse as he slid down
on its side and gained another two feet of reach to make a fingertip catch.
back postured and balanced Hellmantle spoke thus:
must always respect Scriptures in all manners! If that Good Book had fallen to
the rocky ground I would have seen it as an act of disrepect for God. That
was an act of faith. Dangling by a thread, the horse my rock. How many peoples
would that effort to prevent the Word of God from smashing and splaying pages
and tearing the fabric of the vehicle."
mouth agape, found his rhythm on the horse, swaying his hips and holding the
reigns like his cousin, considered Hellmantle's words, taking note that when he
had first traveled with him he would not have considered such hyperbole. He
knew without a doubt no man could have physically stretched more than what he
had just witnessed. Even Ramazon behind them made a guffaw. If he had fallen on
the sharp rock, injury and the act of disrespect to God, and it would have been
his sin, not Hellmantle's.
catch of the Scriptures was like Abraham proving his faith to God by killing
Isaac; both were extreme acts showing faith; both proved complete belief in
God." Ramazon nodded.
you," Hellmantle said after a while.
"Well done Mantlepiece."
Then finding the page he was
after Hellmantle spoke thus:
"According to the Gospel of
Matthew, Jesus was struck on the head with a stick by one of the Roman soldiers
in the governor's palace, when he was wearing a purple robe. They said to Him:
‘You were going to tear down the Temple and build it back up in three days!
Save yourself if you are God's Son. Come on down from the cross!'"
Hellmantle raised the reigns
in his hand.
"Then Jesus says: ‘These are
the very things I told you about while I was still with you: everything written
about me in the Law of Moses, the writings of the prophets, and the Psalms had
to come true. That is what is written: the Messiah must suffer and must rise
from death three days later, and in his name the message about repentance and
the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations, beginning in
Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And I myself will send upon you
what my Father has promised. But you must wait in the city until the power from
above comes down upon you.'"
the sound on hooves in the silence.
"On the Sunday when Jesus
sees his disciples in Galilee, it says: ‘One of the twelve disciples, Thomas
(called the Twin), was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples
told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.' Thomas said to them, ‘Unless I see the scars
of the nails in his hands and put my finger on those scars and my hand in his
side, I will not believe.' A week later the disciples were together again
indoors, and Thomas was with them. The doors were locked, but Jesus came and stood
among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.' Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your
finger here, and look at my hands; then reach out your hand and put it in my
side. Stop your doubting, and believe!'"
that's exactly what He did," said D'Aqs pensively. "He drank the bitter potion
and was taken down from the cross the next morning at sunrise."
"Spirits don't have bloody
holes in their hands."
knew his reading of the New Testament would always be different now. A passage
like that he could only read and understand in a wider light.
He says it to Doubting Thomas. I wonder if he knew what Simon the Magi and
Jesus were up to?"
the magic potion piece."
He had, then Thomas would be acting that scene out for a purpose. But if he
hadn't been told, he probably would've reacted the same way."
an identical twin," he said, tone lower, "I think Jesus would have told
Thomas of his ploy with Simon, but I don't know if he really thought He could
pull it off. Think of all the things that could have happened or gone
wrong. I always wondered why Jesus didn't say a thing during His trial with
Pontius and the Pharisees. He just stood there and let Himself get burned.
There was a moment when He could have left the trial but He stands there saying
nothing so the Pharisees yell out: We want Barrabas! So Pontius gives them a
choice and they choose the habitual criminal over a blasphemous rebel inciting
revolution and treason to the Old Testament. So to me it was as if He welcomed
the crucifixion. But! But if He was going to pull it off He would have had to
do it all the day before the Sabbath."
would have needed Simon right there fully cocked to hand him the Valium."
He would have had to have faith that the Roman soldiers didn't break His legs."
disciples could have made a ruckus when they came by, saying He's dead!
Leave Him be!"
a major risk. His followers knew they could get Him down at sunrise the next
day, so they would have needed a place for Him to go."
are the chances of his brother Joseph of Arimathea having a freshly made tomb
made at his house?"
And to revive Him the record says it took a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloe to
cleanse Him out and revive Him."
is Nature's cleaner."
"And then, after riding in
on an ass and making a big scene at the synagogue pushing over tables of the
moneylenders and merchants, and after preaching with twelve disciples and
crowds hanging around with rebellion against the Romans in the air, and
after He has the Last Supper knowing Judas Iscariot could be bribed with silver
sheckels and has a public trial that causes a stir, He hangs on a cross
for less than a day and then leaves Jerusalem to come here."
"This is about as remote as
there is in the world."
He has a well-deserved reitrement up here with his twin brother, smokes the
local balm and relaxes for the next forty years."
He does is write the Gospel of Thomas to make sure the record is right."
say it was discovered in 1945, but isn't it conceivable that the Gospel of
Thomas is known but is in the Vatican Library in the top secret section?"
included in the canon due to all the references to being His twin."
because it emphasizes His untainted message. Nothing about the Trinity or being
the Son of God or a virgin birth. You know even in the Quran God says He
made us using his semen? Actual word He uses. I think He says it in reaction to
this very thing: He's ticked off Isa the prophet was said to the Son of
God but that Jesus never said it Himself."
Abid walked in front and
they both followed his lead. At 14000 vertical feet, what the history books
failed to explicate is the terrain. Loose rocks and steepness, the sheer
posture of the Himalayas made him feel small, and with the thinness of the air
Hellmantle struggled to fill his lungs, becoming more acute the farther they
"There's no question His
message changed," said D'Aqs, with authority in his voice. "First with Paul and
Nicea and the creation of a composite religion with Sol Invicticus, and
then with the Synod of Whitby, when the Celtic Church switched to Roman dogma.
When was that?"
"And then, within about
fifty years the Quran is written."
"And in the Quran it says
plainly it is the untouched Message from God and that Mohammed is the
last prophet, and the Quran is His last Message. Last Chance."
"It makes you wonder."
what?" D'Aqs enjoyed the pause before answering.
makes you wonder if God is here with us and when He witnessed this tremendous
fudging by Rome He chose a Prophet and delivered His Message."
this time he gives it to Abraham's other son."
"Not in the West this time
but in the East."
unite the East and the West."
To unite the world!"
joined Abid in front of the horses, the heat ripping at D'Aqs' face. Hellmantle
kept checking the map he kept under his dark gray poncho, looking for features
that matched Dane Hellmantle's map.
"It is not time that heals all
wounds; it's the sun," mumbled Hellmantle under his breath. Abid looked
back at him and smiled.
It was up on the ridge that
Hellmantle recognized the valley in front of them, a row of four peaks on both
sides straddling a tabletop of smooth rock. A three-foot stonewall
half-crumbled was beside a fallen building.
"D'Aqs!" he yelled. He came
over with his water bottle in his hand.
"Here it is! There are the
four peaks on each side of this gulch with the flatland! And the wall!
It must be it!"
"I see!" Hellmantle took out
the map but neither of them needed to look at it.
"It's as plain as connecting
the dots!" There was even a large, flat rock floor that was beside the fallen
stone buildings, shown on the map with sharp lines.
don't believe it!"
"That," said Hellmantle, "is
the one feature that makes me think this monastery is beside a pond."
"That could have been a pond
there." D'Aqs pointed.
"Or it's always been like
that and they marked the rock flat like that. But it doesn't matter. I think
we've found it!"
Hellmantle pulled out his
compass and took a reading.
"Just as it should be. The
valley runs East-West."
"We are looking at it from
"Even the river runs exactly
as they have marked it, see with the sharp dip here." Hellmantle first
pinpointed the spot on the map and then waved his hand to where there was a
waterfall. "Even the treeline is in scale."
Abid walked over to them.
"Moses was here. The grave
of Moses is close to here. Eighty miles that way." Abid pointed northeast.
D'Aqs looked at his cousin.
is buried up here?"
would have ever known?"
"But why up here?"
this valley is sacred from the old times?" The suggestion distracted
Hellmantle, who looked D'Aqs as if seeing a new man.
the trail to the graveyard is closed due to fighting," Abid said, out of
breath, his large stomach hanging over his belt.
"Can't get there?" D'Aqs was
stupefied at how many famous religious men were in such a remote vicinity.
"No, there's fighting." Abid
was firm. "It's closed."
"Next thing you're going to
say is that Noah's Ark is just over that ridge."
"D'Aqs showing some comedic
wit," said Hellmantle. "Noah's Ark was discovered in 1939 by a Russian
pilot flying over Mount Ararat." Casual like he was commenting on the latest
hockey game. They both looked at him.
I'm not going to ask you if you're serious."
pilot returned to base and reported that he saw a giant boat lodged in the
mountainside half-buried in snow. Both the Russians and the British flew planes
over the location but couldn't find it. Said it must've been buried by
snowfall." D'Aqs stared at a stray dandelion on the slope sharing its plot with
a Gorteel spider.
"And how did they know it
was the Ark?"
they said what else could it be?" But Hellmantle was looking at the map and the
"That is the
monastery," said Hellmantle, pointing at the open rock floor.
"Yes. No one is there for a
long time," said Abid.
"Now that we've found the
‘X,' let's see if we can find the actual piece shall we?" D'Aqs was breathless
at the prospect of finding a relic made by the hand of the prophet Joshua.
a hill beside a large stream, the freshly melted snow slithered over the rocks
from a hundred feet up the slope. Beside the odd piece of ice, the water was
turquoise, closer to green than blue. The green hue of the pine needles and the
rich green grass reflected its hue as if falling forth but frozen, hunched over
the river. The monastery looked close but everything around was so big that it
proved to be farther away than expected. Hellmantle led the way on his horse to
the compound between the bowls of rock.
When they arrived,
Hellmantle found a stone hut.
"Where natives live during
the summer months," said Abid. He tied the horses. Here they walked on foot.
The monastery had no
buildings left standing except for two main walls of the main stone building
that had no roof, but there was vegetation - bark, branches and soil - on top
of a slanted roof with wood beams.
"Put there by mountain
shepherds probably, who lived here during the warm season."
Before he was too close,
Hellmantle and D'Aqs stopped and read the map again. The "X" on the map
identified the east corner of the stone monastery, close to where the mountain
"But there is nothing here."
D'Aqs was almost frantic. Only the corner of the wall remained, dismembered
stones fallen around it. Some were big and some were small but all were the
same old mountain rock. Hellmantle looked back at Abid who was pitching a tent
and starting a fire at the huts down the stream.
"It's right here," said
Hellmantle. "It must be. I refuse to accept that it is not."
"But it's just crumbled
rock." The let down in D'Aqs voice was enough to discourage the unbeliever.
"Nah, it must be here. What
we're looking for is here. I don't think God would give us all this and lead us
here only to be let down. Let's look!" He knelt down and began picking
up stones and examining them. Once done he threw into in a pile.
"These stones are all so
worn from the elements that any inscription that might have been left is long
gone," said D'Aqs upon closer inspection of the pile. Then as Hellmantle picked
up another stone and underneath it was a bigger stone and it was darker. In
fact it was black.
"Look!" Hellmantle walked to
the stone flats where he sat down under the afternoon sun. "It's different.
It's smooth, almost like worn marble." One side was angled almost like a wedge,
as if it had been secured in the corner of the wall purposely. Hellmantle wiped
it with his poncho. There in front of his eyes were words.
"It looks like Hebrew! This
is it!" On the other end of the angled side was a circular indentation
as if someone had carved out the center of the stone.
"You're right. This is
it!" D'Aqs knelt in front of the stone.
"It's been sitting here for
2000 years. Opening it here with my Swiss Army knife would be irresponsible.
So let's take it back with us and carefully examine it at the houseboat."
"Is that it though?" D'Aqs
took the stone from him and examined it. "It's over a foot in length. It's long
enough to contain a scroll," giving the treasure back to Hellmantle, who put it
into his pocket.
"There may be other stones
we should be looking for." D'Aqs didn't answer because he was busy looking for
another black stone.
After hours of looking
around the east corner and along the wall, there were no other black stones to
be found. After dark, they couldn't carry out their search so they returned to
the horses where Abid had built a fire and had pitched the tent. The remnants
of the old monastery were hidden by the night.
Hellmantle sat across from
D'Aqs at the fire giddy with thoughts of what the stones had inscribed on them.
But soon the invisible cold became visible as the night air evaporated into a
mist lined by the rays of light coming from the dying sun. God's candle
descended the other side of the Himalayan Range and the fire fught to burn the
wood on the windy steppe. The icy breezes smashed into the fire producing
energy and spirit.
made some doughnuts," said Abid, holding out a small tray of chocolate doughnuts,
or at least something that looked like doughnuts.
"What kind of doughnuts are
"Chocolate," he said.
"I'm so hungry I could eat
one of those horses!" Hellmantle grabbed one and ate half of it in one bite.
D'Aqs tentative. Took one and ate it in two bites. They both grabbed another.
"Happy you like them," said
Abid. They both ate them quickly due to their hunger, the plate now nearly
gone. "Very old recipe. Eggs, flour, oil, a little baking soda and Kashmiri
Abid, would you like some of your brownies?" D'Aqs held up the near-empty
no. I made them for you. Finish them." And that's what they did. They eat the
Soon Hellmantle couldn't
help pull out the stone from his pocket and study it in the firelight.
"Hebrew I think," said
"Maybe it says ‘Moses was
"Or maybe this stone came
from Egypt with Moses?"
"It maybe it was Moses'
you know that Moses was the only prophet was that spoken to by God?"
others were given Signs or spoken to by Gabriel. Like the Quran."
"But how could Jesus get a
scroll in a stone?"
"I've been thinking about
that and I think he sealed the rolled up papyrus with some sort of waterproof
wax." D'Aqs pointed at the opening to the hollowed out center. "That's what this
is." There was something that looked like a small layer of wax covering a
circular hole in the rock. D'Aqs began to laugh with sheer excitement.
"But wouldn't the scroll
still be at risk? Usually scrolls are found in jars in caves - as per the Dead
Sea Scrolls." Hellmantle started to laugh only because D'Aqs was becoming
hysterical. "What?" Even Abid was laughing over near the horses.
"It could be wrapped in an
animal bladder or some sort of membrane to keep it dry." Again D'Aqs was
overcome with laughter.
we are holding something Jesus wrote that could contain words that could change
the way two billion people look at Christianity. I mean that's not your usual
campfire kind of thing isn't it?"
say it's pretty unique."
to think you found it man!" Shaking his head the laugher gushed out like a
geiser. "And you were so intent on finding it when no one believed you!
And here it is in your hands!" Hellmantle couldn't understand what was funny.
"I mean here we are one-and-a-half kilometers in the sky sitting where Jesus
and his twin brother lived for the rest of their lives and we were the ones who
followed the clues and found this thing that had been whispered about for twenty
centuries! And there you are holding it in your hand as if it were a baseball
or something. I mean look at you!" Hair disheveled and unwashed, beard thick
and bleached from the sun, skin bronzed by the wind and light, motorcycle
jacket soft and worked in, motorcycle gloves ripped and barely threaded
together and motorcycle boots that were scuffed and creased.
to see you in such good humor man."
God is watching right now and so am I. Nice one Hellmantle! You really did it against
total odds. I mean what were the chances? Even less than a needle in a
to know you had such confidence in me."
but that's the thing." Laughter dying down. "I did have confidence in you. Not
at first in the Philippines, but when you found the map. That was when things
turned for me. You know a large part of me didn't want you to find it."
do you mean why? Don't you know?" Shrugged shoulders. "Because it has assaulted
my belief system. Everyting I considered firm like bedrock has been ground into
pebbles. I mean what am I going to do now? Think about it? Do you honestly
think I can go back and preach knowing what I know now?"
if it's a dud?"
like it doesn't say anything meaningful." D'Aqs stroked his chin and thought
don't think it will matter. Put it this way, if it's signed by Jesus then
there's going to be some damage to me and my career."
okay, I can see that. But hey man, it's better to know the truth than to live
under an illusion."
don't know about that. I'll get back to you after thinking about it for a bit."
both stared into the fire, the ancient flame penetrating deeply into corners of
their souls they had never visited before. The profundity of their find hung in
the ethers between the corridors of cold rock nudging their imaginations to new
heights, their lives forever changed by this event.