This is the last one, and it took the longest. I'm so incredibly lazy that at times it manages to surprise me still. Anyway, here is what I remember.
The last couple of days in Pakland were spent shopping in Rawalpindi and going to see the old temples at Chakwal and Malhot. The latter was again, a half somnolent experience, as in, we slept all the way from Islamabad to Chakwal and all the way back. Its such an experience, I must say, sleeping peacefully as the car takes you through beautiful countryside and you wake up intermittently, look out of the window, smile and go back to sleep, as the driver plays his favourite soppy Bollywood numbers.
So, we got as far as Chakwal before our local police escorts showed up, which actually turned out to be a good thing, because they were the only ones to know the way to Malhot. Chakwal in itself was quite desolate, the temples in ruins from neglect.Apparently there used to be annual pilgrimages by Hindus from India in the past, but this was discontinued after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. I've been told that attempts are being made to revive the practice. Its funny how all-pervasive hate campaigns can be. As I was saying, it was quite hard for me to imagine this as a religious and intellectual hub, with a famous university where the legendary Alberuni is said to have stayed for a while. There was also a pool known as Shiva's Teardrop, which was murky with algae and dirt, but was a deep, clear blue at the source. We ourselves became something of a curiosity, and a small crowd of villagers gathered to watch us. I think they were hoping for a bit of drama, but the only dramatic thing which happened was that nature started issuing its summons to me yet again, to my utter despair.
We left Chakwal with two police jeeps in front, and stopped at a petrol pump on the way, so I could continue my humiliating tryst with the public restrooms in Pakistan, and the spooks could write about it in their report. A made great use of the opportunity, however, and took pictures of a very ornately painted Pakistani truck, with the regulation Elvis puff, which literally looked like the essence of colour had exploded on it. We then finally got on the road to Malhot, which may rightfully claim its place among the scary bloodcurdling rides that weirdos pay to ride at amusement parks. I screamed a little bit, mostly in my head.
Once we got to Malhot, we had to trek over an area covered with smooth, white stones for about ten minutes. It isn't very easy to walk, swaddled in thermals and wearing salwar kameezes, let alone trek, but I'm proud to say that we managed. And once we reached, we realized that it was completely worth the effort, and more. More than the temples, it was the astounding view that took my breath away. One could see the entire span of the Jhelum plains, with the Islamabad highway on the horizon. It was very high, and very cold. We walked all around the cliff, which petrified R completely. She doesn't seem to like heights very much, or the idea of other people liking heights. We sat there for a while, drinking in the solitude, the peace and the incredible dry beauty of the place. One of the spooks had gotten his kids with him, and they seemed to be having a good time too. Then it was time to get back, and we promptly nodded off again.
The last trip we made was to Rawalpindi, to do a final bit of shopping. The shopping itself was quite nice, we made some good buys. The only jarring thing was a conversation R and I had with a shopkeeper who turned out to be the Pakistani version of the sticky, fawning lech. This is how it went: -
Sticky, Fawning Lech (SFL): - Madam, what is your name?
Me: - So-and-so.
SFL: - oh, how beautiful, just like you....
Me: - Eh? Hehehe...erm..ehehehe.
SFL: - Here's my card, and my number. Please call when you get back.
Me and R: - Of course...*simper*
SFL (with an inspired gleam in his eyes): - Or maybe I can have your numbers, so I can call you, and if you want anything from here, I'll send it, of course.....
Me and R: - We don't have phones, you see, we live in a hostel.
SFL (crestfallen): - Oh....But please, do call me.
Me: - Of course, as soon as we get back.
My thought bubble: - Yeah right, moron. Like there aren't enough creeps in India.
Anyway, we made our hasty exits, and I bought just one little piece of cloth from him. Then there were tons of shoes and dry fruit to be bought, a final taxi ride back to Islamabad with way too many people in for comfort, and some more emporium shopping in Islamabad itself. We're incurable, I tell you.
The next morning we left early, after I snapped rudely at poor T who tried to wake me up using the disastrous tactic of shaking me by my shoulder. I hate that. It was a long trip, from Islamabad to Pindi, and then to Lahore, and back to Wagah. We slept through it all, and at Wagah, R tried to pay the coolie the money intended for the taxi driver, while we wondered. The coolie stared at R, R stared back, we stared at R and the taxi driver stared at all of us in turn. Then the customs officials when through our mounds of shopping, and R's tactic of putting her fake antiques in her sleeping bag did manage to half convince one of them that we were more than met the eye. At the border, the same guard welcomed us back, asked if we'd eaten well. T, who's the shortest one among us, then dropped her passport at the feet of the 7 foot plus, and very amused, guard.
The feeling that I got on crossing the border was indescribable. No more dupatta bondage, I could burn it if I wanted. We watched the border closing ceremony, whooped and cheered loudly, even though we aren't fervent nationalists. Its the ambience, sucks you right in. We gave our friend from the dhaba the bangles he'd requested for his sister, and took a cab to Amritsar, where we had to wait for hours in a dirty, smelly waiting room for our train. Welcome home. In the train, at midnight, R and T gave me a bar of chocolate to cut instead of cake, to ring in my twenty-third birthday. I love you guys.
So, it was one heck of a trip. I left a big chunk of my heart in Pakistan, and it'll always hold a special place in my life as the first stamp on my passport. I hope to go back someday, and see the western part of the country. And now I can stop feeling stupid about not having completed the series.
P.S.: - My grandmother has asked me to make a list of the things I want her to cook for me when I go home next week. I love grandmas, and I'll be getting fat soon. Yay!