The view from up here was unique or maybe it was the time of the day that made it so. Slowly the sun set across the valley and the lights of Karimabad started their nightly campaign against the stars of the all mighty night sky. Ah! But tonight the fireflies of the steep terraces had a strong ally; someone was getting married and the groom’s house became a blinking neon-lit oasis in the middle of the all-enveloping darkness.
He waited for the Schapshroe to arrive and although he had had one before but he was ready to try it from this place because it claimed to be the only joint in the valley to offer authentic cuisine with all the frills. He wished he had someone to share what he was about to experience. He thought about calling up his girlfriend but what would he say to her? Would he be able to say his mind? Would she be able to grasp anything at all? What would she say if she simply didn’t get him?
He was immersed in these thoughts when he noticed someone taking a peek at him from the half open kitchen door. It was a boy … no a young man … and he seemed to have some sort of deformity. The restaurant owner moved through the door and left it ajar. He could now see the young man, whose back was towards him, peeling potatoes, perched on a wooden stool. The young man’s neck was cocked onto his right shoulder and he held a peeler with the thumb and the palm of his right hand. His fingers slightly curved but did not grip the knife. The young man took another peak over his left shoulder and when he saw the stranger looking at him he twitched his drooling lower lip and looked guiltily away as if he had been caught looking through a keyhole.
Oh! Great! They’ve got retards helping them in the kitchen, he thought to himself.
The young man in the kitchen seemed to be feeling the stranger’s gaze on his back as he cocked his head to the right and then to the left and then back to the right shoulder. He somehow mustered enough courage to look over his left shoulder again. The stranger gave him a wry smile and the young man instantly broke out into a sweat. Does he know? … Oh! My God! Does he somehow know?
The restaurant owner emerged from his little souvenir-cum-dry fruit shop and assured his only customer for the evening that it would take only a few more minutes before his meal arrived.
“Would you like to try our local apricot sherbet with your order?” he asked. “Or perhaps you would like to try the Daowdo?”
“Na! I’ve had the Daowdo before and the Shamus would be too heavy on an empty stomach. I think I’ll have a Coca Cola and a plate of potato chips with my Schapshroe”.
“Good choice!” said the restaurateur.
“Ah! And do you have ketchup? I can’t imagine eating a meat pie without ketchup”.
“I’m sure we do” assured the restaurant owner. “Would you like to look around the gift shop?” he added noticing the customer’s frequent glances in the direction of the colorful display of the glass windowed shop.
“I would very much like that.”
“Come … come” he motioned towards the door of the shop and stood in the doorway as the tan skinned customer went in and started looking around. This guy is from Punjab and that too probably from Lahore he thought. These Lahorias seem to be an adventure-loving lot; they’ll be biking up to Khunjerab if they are not already dancing in their undies in the middle of the damn Karakorum Highway.
“Those over there are dried apple snippets, this on the lower shelf is dry cherry and those over there are dried mulberries. I’ve also got peeled almonds from apricot seeds and various varieties of walnut. I’m planning to make a Musli in the coming season with all these ingredients”.
“Hmmmmm …… that’s a great idea”, said the Punjabi with mild enthusiasm.
He saw the Punjabi sniffing at an aluminum foiled item and said, “Ah! That my friend is the Hunza Chocolate: Ultankoak; a pure delicacy. ‘Ultan’ meaning ‘grind’ and ‘Koak’ is for ‘mixture’. It’s a rich mixture of ground nuts and dry apricots. You must try some!”
“Hmmmmm …… interesting, I think I’ll buy some before I leave”.
“I better go check on the Schapshroe. The fries will only take a few minutes. And please feel free to taste anything you like”.
The heavy set restaurateur entered the kitchen, which was bathed in a feeble shade of orange light coming from a single, bare, bulb hanging from the roof. The young man was still peeling potatoes and the restaurant owner touched him on the shoulder so that he could have his attention. But the boy got very badly startled and cut his left hand with the peeler.
“Argh! … Ayeeeeeeeeee!” he squealed in pain.
“Yaeeka! What the frack! … What is wrong with you? Can’t you even handle a knife?” stormed the restaurateur. “Now look what you’ve done to yourself.”
The young man yelped, shivered, drooled, his eyes rolled back and he cocked his head from side to side as if going into a seizure. The owner grabbed him around the shoulders and pulled him to the floor and slapped him across the face. “Keep it down!” He growled, “Do you want to scare away the only customer I have?”
He then helped the young man with some water but it took a good five minutes before the boy regained a sliver of consciousness.
“That was a close one”, murmured the owner. He cleaned the cut with a damp cloth and tied it around the boy’s hand. He helped the boy slump onto a stool near the wall.
“Ah! Finally the food is here”, said the Punjabi as the owner came out of the kitchen with a wooden tray. He set it down on the wooden table and sat down across his customer.
The Schapshroe looked good and it was larger than what the Punjabi had expected. He dipped the knife into the crust and the aroma of freshly baked meat entered his nostrils. “ummmmm … ummm!’ He took a bite and savored it. “Sorry! I forgot to ask your name.” said the Punjabi in a genial tone.
This one ain’t that bad after all thought the restaurateur. “I am Ali Karim, son of Eesa Karim – the legendary maestro of traditional Gojali cuisine” he said proudly. “My family has been in this business for more than 50 years and I have been doing this since I was a young boy. My grandfather planted these apple and apricot trees with his own hands. And this orchard and the restaurant is all I got”.
“Wah! Ali bhai that is great” said the Punjabi. “Now I don’t suppose you’ll mind getting me that bottle of ketchup that you got hiding somewhere in your kitchen” he added with a wink.
He may be genial but he’s got no appreciation for authentic cuisine. He’s gonna ruin it all with that murky red stuff that only God knows what they put in it, he thought to himself. “Right away sir!” he said and got up and went into the kitchen.
Having not to cook his own meal after having spent fifteen days in the wilderness felt like a luxury to the Punjabi and he dipped bite after bite of the traditional meat pie in ketchup and seemed to be enjoying it thoroughly. “Ali bhai I’ve been to this valley quite often in the past few years but this whole Ataabad lake thing is a real pain in the ass. It took me a full extra day just getting to Shimhsal.”
“Shimshal! What were you doing in Shimshal? If I may ask?”
“O! I was there on an expedition. I come every year, I’ve been to Nager, Hooper, Misger and even to the Deosai Planes”, said the Punjabi nonchalantly.
“I see … well yes it is rather a nuisance if you need to get across the godforsaken lake. It’s been more than seven months now and the government has done nothing about it. There is a shortage of everything from food to diesel. And where do you think we get our relief goods from? … China! Yes, they’ve been sending rations for every house in the whole district. I ask you, what have the successors of the Bhutto done for us? Bibi gave us the right to vote but what has Zardari done to ease our sufferings. At least Musharraf was a man of his word”.
Oh Boy! Talk about having a political opinion and I thought these people were fresh out of Stone Age. “Yes, I was in Aliabad the day Musharraf stepped down. I saw genuine concern in the eyes of the local people. I don’t understand why do you people revere him so much?”
Oh he’s the typical Nawaz Sharif fan, the fool! “Well he was a man of action. This country needs a man who has authority and army support. If he were still in power we would have blasted this dam to hell long ago”.
“Yup, coming to that, the KKH has been engineered along the mighty Indus River; don’t you think the engineers foresaw such a collapse? There are at least ten other places from here to Khunjerab that have similar, if not the exact same, geological profile”…
The young man in the kitchen had been leaning against the wall and although his eyes were shut but his ears were focused on the conversation going on between his father and the Punjabi sitting in the open air dining area. He had often thought of the day when he took the village goats to the small meadow behind the boulders near the Ulter Glacier. A shiver went through his spine. He was sweating profusely and his heart raced with every word the Punjabi said. Why can’t that bastard talk about something else? I’m sure he knows what I’ve done, he worried.
… Ali Kareem’s voice went down to almost a whisper, “Well I’m not educated enough to know about the geo-what-did-you-just-say? … But I’m damn sure that this was no natural disaster.”
“And how do you figure that?”
Still at almost a whisper’s decibel Ali said, “Well you see China had a deal with our government and we’d given Gawader port to them. The Chinese were working on the expansion of the KKH so that they could get their goods to the Arabian Sea by land. And if the road expansion went on as planned, China would have knocked out all major international competition in the Arabian Peninsula. And Dubai – the international hub – would have been within China’s grasp. So the way I see it it’s the Americans who have used their weather control technology to cause this disaster.”
“Oh so you know about HAARP?”
“Haarp? What is that?”
“I’m not sure myself but from what I’ve heard it has something to do with scientific experiments with some sort of high frequency waves being conducted by the Americans, which are primarily used for oil exploration but have known to cause earthquakes in areas which are prone to them. So I wouldn’t rule out your theory outright.”
“Yes! Yes! … See that is exactly what I’m talking about. The Chinese influence in this region is in direct conflict with American interests and I’m sure that they would go to any extent to be able to stop it; even if it means killing half a village in a manmade earthquake.”
“Well you maybe right to an extent and your theory is quite plausible but for all I know some goat herder may have leaned against the wrong rock and brought the whole mountainside down.”
Just then the kitchen door slammed open and the Ali’s mentally challenged son came out blabbering something loudly in Broshuski. He looked square at the Punjabi with menacingly narrow eyes and shouted some more as if spewing insults at him. Ali got up from the table in a rage but before he could say or do anything the boy shrieked and ran out of the compound.
Ali was visibly shaken but he managed to say, “I apologize for his behavior. He’s been acting weird all evening. Perhaps I could offer you some Thomoro Tea … don’t worry it’s on the house”.
Official facebook page https://www.facebook.com/DesiMountaineer