ENTRY 34 — As Lightning From The East
Excerpt of the Rev. H. Nigel Fox Jr. Travel Journal – Circa 1945
ENTRY 34 — As Lightning From The East
The train ride to Rawalpindi took us through some rather dry countryside. Red dust rose in swirling clouds as we clattered past simple mud-brick houses. I thought of Hans who used to say that it is only from the East, that true Christianity can emerge.
Enoch continued to pontificate upon his favourite topic. “The Mahatma is the most Christ-like figure in history: We Christians say ‘love your enemy’ – he does; Christians say ‘turn the other cheek’ – he does; Christians say ‘give to everyone who asks’ – he does; Christians say ‘give up material wealth’ – he does.”
At this point I was becoming fairly weary of the subject, and not a little provoked. Indeed Enoch could be very trying. I glanced at him in a baleful fashion and asked him why he did not become a Hindu if he felt so strongly about the man and his ideas.
“Bapu says that there would be no Hindus in India if Christians had only behaved as Christ did ,” he explained patiently.
“I read that he hated Christ .”
“Never! He does not approve of Christianity because Christianity is no longer faithful to the teachings of Jesus. I ask you humbly, Padre Sahib, if Jesus were a missionary here in India, would he live in a big house in great wealth, drive a Chevrolet motor car, eat expensive food and ice cubes?”
“No, but – “
“Would he reside at Cathedral Close . . . or with the outcastes?”
“It is not practicable to live with untouchables, my dear friend. Jesus’ teachings were fine nineteen-hundred years ago, but are not meant to be followed too literally today.” My words hung in the air in the silence that followed. I pursued the matter no further.
From ‘Pindi we managed to book two seats on a small, chartered aeroplane which was flying north. The view of the mountains was glorious, as if we were skimming over the backbone of an enormous dinosaur.
At Gilgit, the difficult travel began. It was necessary to acquire horses for the trip. This was the first of many vexations and I was more than a little miffed at not having been apprised of the fact that there would be no motorized conveyance.
At our inn we were advised that we would need a guide, some mules, and extra supplies for the arduous journey. When querying the large amount of supplies, I was told that our trip would last a least a week. Nor was it not unusual for parties to go off course and become stranded from time to time.
The horses were short, squat and sure-footed, with shaggy coats. When loaded down with all our luggage and provisions, they, and the mules, were an impressive sight. Suspicious that most of our extra food would end up in the stomach of the guide, I shared my fears with Enoch. I was admonished sternly.
“Do you begrudge the man and his family a little food as compensation for guiding us on such a difficult journey, Padre Sahib? You are far from being penniless. These people are very poor. You must learn to loosen your purse strings.”
Chastised, my conscience pricked me for behaviour not becoming my cloth. Fortunately Enoch did not dwell on such blunders, probably because he was so used to them from other foreigners visiting in his country. I made a solemn vow to be more reserved of tongue in future. As soon as we were on our way, the air cleared between us.
The Hunza Valley
The road started out level and wide – enough so that I began to wonder why we could not use a jeep – but directly it dwindled into a rocky trail, barely three feet wide. The necessity of small horses had become apparent.
As it was difficult to converse on the narrow, winding path, I merely concentrated on staying alert and keeping my wits about me.
After quite some little time, I became painfully aware of my nether regions, unused as they were to being in a saddle. Enoch assured me that we could sojourn for a short while in the Hunza valley. On the third day, when I knew I could go no further, we began our descent into Hunza.
The descent itself took several hours; we set up camp near the river. One of the locals, suspecting my discomfort, invited me into his home. I was given the latch-key as sign that I was a trusted guest.
As my body refused to go any further, my host suggested we tarry for a week, giving my nether regions a chance to recuperate. Somehow, without my mentioning it, the lady of the house knew of my dilemma and soon arrived at my room with a soothing salve – obviously I was not the first adventurer that they had rescued from the ordeals of primitive travel.
Finally the time did come when we were able to ride out of the Hunza valley toward our ultimate destination: the the Ashram of Charity. Since neither of these places was familiar to me, I had made a careful study of Colin’s rough map before we left Lahore.
Here, I must state that I entertained serious misgivings about our guide. He was a man of small stature, had a drooping lower lip and his eyes were too close together. To be blunt, he looked somewhat dull or dim-witted. He appeared to be light of brain; indeed not so much brain as earwax. I tried to keep my opinions to myself.
However on the third week out, I began to have a most serious presentiment: the sun was not beating down on us from the correct position. Enquiring of the guide if he was certain that this was indeed the way to the Valley, he answered in the affirmative.
I was slightly mollified until catching sight of Enoch’s concerned face. My friend was clearly not in his usual spirits. He spoke distinctly but silently: “Of course he will say ‘yes’ Padre Sahib – you do not expect him to say ‘no’ do you? We are lost and our plight is becoming quite desperate.”
By now I was fed up with this situation. It was time to deal with this ignoramus and I do use the term advisedly. The guide nervously admitted that somehow “he was afraid” we had taken a wrong trail. As he made all sorts of excuses, it became quite obvious that he knew his way between Gilgit and Hunza, but no further.
Working hard to swallow our exasperation and anger, Enoch and I conferred. We soon decided that there was no alternative but to retrace our steps (if possible). Fortunately, all three of us recalled a mountain stream about two days ride in the direction we had come. We only hoped we could find it again without getting further lost.
Enoch began to pray fervently, but on my part I maintained a frosty silence. There was no communication between my Heavenly Father and myself, not even a “Why us?” The ‘guide’ piteously apologised every hour or so, making matters worse.
We finally came upon the mountain stream. There is no need to detail our privations, suffice it to say we were in a sorry situation indeed. Our predicament was made worse by seven hours of heavy rain. We agreed to camp on a level place. I began to despair of the fact that our expedition had not been better provisioned. Our supplies now consisted of a few sodden biscuits.
Our deplorable halfwit of a guide set out to hunt for some small game, but failed to return. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I always say.
After famishing for ten days – ten long days of depression mixed with anxiety attacks – a miracle took place. From seemingly out of nowhere, a man on horseback appeared and rode into our camp. I lay perishing in one of the tents, when suddenly, Enoch’s upraised voice startled me out of my funereal thoughts.
“Rescue! Rescue!” he cried. “Padre Sahib! I hope I am not only seeing a vision!”
I scrambled out of the tent and my eyes beheld the same wonderful sight. A large, good-looking Bhutan, dressed simply in white kurta-qamiz, looked down at Enoch with a Cheshire-cat smile.
By this time the Catechist was hopping around the campsite shouting, “Praise God! Praise God!” in a less than dignified manner.
I laid my hand on Enoch’s bouncing shoulder to calm him, asking him to try to communicate with the mysterious lynx-eyed visitor. Before I finished, the man cut me off, speaking in perfect English: “I am indeed here to rescue you and your party, Reverend Sir.”
“But . . . but . . . ” I sputtered, “how did you know we were lost, and who sent you? Did our guide tell you where to find us?”
“No, and yet it is not the marvel your friend seems to think,” he smiled, “but merely the common sense of Memsahib.”
“Memsahib?” Enoch and I questioned in unison.
“Sister Hephzibah Wilkes always knows of every travelling party coming from Hunza to the Valley – she gets the news on her short-wave wireless.”
“At this point she seems like a guardian angel to me! How long before we can meet her?”
“If we leave early in the morning, we can be there by mid-afternoon.”
We spent an enjoyable evening slowly reintroducing ourselves to solid food and questioning our rescuer on how he had found us so easily. He explained that there were only a certain number of trails splitting off from the main route to the valley, and he had been eliminating them one by one. Sadly, he had not seen any signs of our guide.
The last three hours of our journey were spent going down hill. The the Valley was one of the most extraordinarily splendid places in the world; I do believe it had all the human heart could ask or desire. Our new guide told us that it rarely rained and never snowed, yet plentiful streams kept the valley lush and green. Every type of weather was experienced on its various levels. Rising from the tropical valley floor to snow line, the land had had five distinct benches. Beyond the fifth bench was the ‘up country region’ which has a rugged beauty unlike any thing I had ever witnessed!
We had definitely been transported into another world. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in full technicolour!