Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shangri-La Where I read Joseph Campbell's Four Books of The Masks of God

Shangri-La Resort where I stayed in the late '80s for THREE Wonderful Weeks

The IRT Truck Show has intrigued me on the History Channel and reminds me of my three-week sojourn at the resort pictured, near Skardu, long before the beautiful buildings were built. I stayed in a small cabin by myself when my Pakistani host was called away from Islamabad on business while I was in country and he suggested I take a couple of weeks off at the resort near Skardu, run by a Pakistani retired general who had been in Hami Humayun's "batch" at Sandhurst decades before. The delightful Hami set up the trip and I found myself in a two-engine prop plane flying around Nanga Parbat, one of the deadliest mountains in the world, as more climbers, I was told, are killed on the mountain and more of the farmers on the lower reaches die of rockslides and avalanches than anywhere else. The plane flew only halfway up the mountain in altitude and the sight of the awesome peak stays with me to this day---partly because it took a good TWO HOURS to fly around it up the only pass leading to Azad Kashmir, the Pakistani part of Kashmir.

I had Campbell's four books called The Masks of God, this was the late eighties and before he'd become a household name, and the weather once I'd reached the simple resort was overcast and my energy depleted by the low oxygen, as we were 12-14,000 feet in altitude. So I tucked into the amazing pageant of the history of man and God [or Gods] from the worldwide worldly view of Campbell for almost a week before it stopped raining all day. By then I was hooked and couldn't put the awesome tomes down. Then the weather cleared a bit and I took a trip up the Indus River Valley to Gilgit, a place I was eager to visit after reading The Gilgit Game about the great rivalry between Britain and Russia in the nineteenth century over Himalayan India, which the British narrowly won after some exceedingly close calls.

On the trip in back of a Russian deuce-and-a-half that was immensely sturdy, our truck's rear suddenly hove into space with the wheels barely on the side of the road and myself in the very back of the truck looking out and down at the Indus, crashing in full spate about 1500 feet below, with surges of torrent reaching more than 100 feet above the mean river level. The narrow valley was only about 400 yards across, it seemed, and way over 1000 feet down from the Swedish-engineered and Chinese-built road in the late sixties. Another unforgettable moment---everything is exaggerated at that altitude and the Paki soldiers laughed at my sudden lack of sang-froid.

By the way, when I was there, there was no restaurant nor easy access to the Shangri-La Resort. It had only been built three-four years before and all there was there was the crashed plane---actually not too badly damaged and it seemed to have made a landing then crunched to a stop and jammed its nose in a crevasse with its tail jutting skyward. The office of the resort was attached to the plane and none of the fancy buildings in the picture had then existed---there was no restaurant in the proper sense of the word and I subsisted on lamb and lentil soup, a very delicious fare at that height.

Someday, health and energy-level permitting, I'd love to take Marilyn and Niki to this little piece of heaven on earth, whose memories I will always cherish.

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