Four beautiful women, an Israeli hunk, and Bad Mike share a hotel on the wild fringes of Kashmir. They thought their problems ended at lust and love. Then the rivers rose and mountains crumbled. Part one of this series sets the stage for the disaster that was to come.
Vagitus Uterinus is not a fungal inconvenience suffered by cartoon coyotes on the prowl for road runner snacks. It is the cry uttered by a fetus afloat in the womb.
It is an apt metaphor, I think, for the twelve days in September when I was stranded within spitting distance of Pakistan in the high Himalaya. Food and morale went bad. Very, very bad.
This is my epitaph. My obituary, the big See Ya! on the other side.
Sadly, no one has ever died of unhappiness. Many have perished in landslides and rock falls. Some may even have perished from eating rancid cabbage. Extinction, has, in recent year, been unjustly maligned. Extinction is not so bad.
This morning I awake, a mucid parasite peering out with dull, witless eyes from under the cocoon of my blanket, to the dismal prospect of another gray and soggy day snared within a gray and soggy room ensconced in the dark, dank bowels of a gray and soggy guesthouse in Turtuk, a few scantily-clad miles from the irritable Pakistan border. A dribble of water worms a cold path through the roof of my room, dribbling onto my soggy bed, marrying and consummating its icy thread, an austere, fundamentalist onanism, a Taliban wet dream, wetting my spent and soggy spirit—that timid, flickering beacon faintly illuminating the nightmare emptiness of unbeing.
For twelve days I have been stranded in this stygian slough of dirt and fallen rock. For almost every hour of each of those twelve days a cracking sound, like the sound granite testicles make when broken upon the rack of Satan’s daughters, Desire, Fulfilment, and Regret, issued high up in the monstrous peaks of the Himalaya signals another murderous landslide. Sometimes far away, sometimes less than a mile, occasionally a parcel of Turtuk is extinguished.
This morning there will be no omelettes for breakfast, or flapjacks, or beavertails to ease entry into this leaden day. For both my meals, breakfast and dinner, there will only be the scrapings of hard clumps of rice that cling to the inner walls of a large cooking pot. These dour remnants of merrier repasts will be topped with vile plops of boiled cabbage that has long ago turned black and now oozes a viscous, toxic sludge within the circumference of my dirty plate. I choose instead to starve. Starvation reduces the need for social calls to the grim box that is our shared toilet.
Toilet is a charitable term. Our toilet is a mephitic pit over which the damned hover unsteadily upon two disrespectful planks. A thin cloth covering the entrance feigns at offering a small accommodation of privacy, but it is readily flapped and pinned open by a malevolent wind eager to expose and humiliate its squatting charges. There are no secrets amongst the stranded in a narrow mountain valley.
Be careful of what you wish for is a mantra spouted by spiteful spinsters hosting far too many cats in basement suites. My wish was for a three week permit to explore Ladakh’s northern Nubra Valley, the valley of flowers—I also wished for an exceptionally nubile maiden who would eagerly indulge my debauched whims. Such wishes are never granted to the likes of me. I was given a seven day permit. The maximum allotted to foreigners.
A seven day permit begs to be altered and counterfeited. I criminally granted myself an exceedingly generous allowance of four weeks.
Never having acquired the looping eloquence of fine penmanship, my handwriting writhes and twists and spurts upon the virginal page, like the seminal stains that attest to Sunday morning orgies of garden snakes. My cryptic ciphers have served me well in my occasional pursuit of crime and derring-do against opaque bureaucracies that exist only to stamp out proclivities toward the exercise of free will and to foil whatever whiffs of herbal joy that might traipse my way.
Armed with my sheaf of altered permits I steal into the post-moonset night, a bleary eyed Ulysses embarking upon a panty raid, or is that pantry raid? Who can tell at this dismal hour when smirking demons bid their adieus and slink off to pornographic slumber and dogs retire from their moonlit yowling sonatas to curl snugly into gutter dreams of solitary canine disappointment.
Rumor—mine—has it that the first of the local jeeps, dubious, rusting tin cartons apprenticing as coffins, to the Nubra Valley putter forth into the high passes just before 05:00, well before the chapped fingers of icy dawn tremblingly grasp for a cup of tepid coffee.
Unsurprisingly, my rumor is misinformed. The early bird never gets the worm. That is a vengeful spinster’s tale. The early bird is often savaged; its delicate virtue sullied by rampaging ogres and PayDay Loan clerks. That is the way of charcoal night.
The gateway to the Nubra Valley is the Khardung La pass, which shamelessly bills itself as the world’s highest motorable roadway at an elevation of 18,380 feet. The true, measured elevation is a mere 17,582 feet, but why quibble about a lousy 582 feet when bragging rights are at stake? The Khardung La is a cold place with a forbidding cafe.
The descent into the Nubra Valley is a merry, twisting toss about. There are few flowers to be seen in this valley of flowers. Perhaps I have arrived too late to the prom. This naked valley had already been stripped of its knickers and deflowered.
Diskit is the capital of the Nubra Valley. Its charms boast the disorder of a burgled laundry room. Diskit’s satellite ‘burg, Hundar, has two humped Bactrian camels for rent. They shift about a ratty, tattered field much akin to a Vegas union meeting of sour tempered, double humped ladies of much lauded ill repute. There are few buyers of furry gallivanting here.
The approach to Turtuk is increasingly militarized as we lumber north. Pakistan considers this land to be their’s. It is occupied by India. It is an occupation that rankles Pakistan. Occasionally, after excitedly stirring its pot of innumerable grievances, they unleash an artillery barrage. The Indian invariably respond in kind. It is a lethal version of the innumerable dog poop wars fought in many American suburbs until the day arrives that Fido relieves his last onto Martha’s bed of blue ribbon petunias and is dispatched heavenward with a well aimed bullet.
The Nubra Valley narrows until it is cradled by towering gray, labial cliffs. The jeep deposits me into the excited and eager arms of Alee, who regales me with the many wonders of his guesthouse. And at a very reasonable price. As a coquettish trollop, slumped against a lamp post and nursing her throbbing bunions—it isn’t easy swirling lascivious hips and blowing steamy kisses at startled pedestrians while hobbled by a busted stiletto on your favorite pair of ruby red pumps—would I immediately accept Alee’s importuning offer.
Being Alee’s only guest I command a small kingdom of spartan rooms and select a very suitable abode with a view of ice capped Himalaya peaks, peaks where yeti surely frolic in nude abandon.
Feeling smugger than a buggered bug at having acquired a very fine accommodation, complete with a meal plan (an acquisition I would come to rue) I leap onto my double bed with glee and swat a bastard mosquito that has the temerity to trespass into my bargain kingdom.
A welcome cup of tea is royally served by ever-obliging Alee, and no sooner do I sip at its enervating heat than a troupe of four lusty women clatter into the hallway outside my wondrous perch. A harem! A multi-national task force to attend my now quivering excitement. Two Israelis, like ripe Jezebels, a sultry Spaniard with tongue wetted, pillow puffed lips, and a Nordic princess whose unwashed golden tresses repose with languor upon salacious shoulders.
A vivid, throbbing, fevered hour later, in from out of the darkness, a tall, strapping Israeli youth, all muscles and gonorrhoea, trespasses into my cupidinous realm enquiring if a room is available. With glee and a barely suppressed chortle I overhear Alee tell this unwelcome interloper that there are no more rooms. No vacancy at this inn. Begone with ye! … cheesedick.
See how I dance and boogie woogie to visions of anticipated boom boom and bang bang merriment? I whistle Dixie. I hum what might be a Tin Pan Alley tune. No blues issue from my pursed lips. Hark! Do I hear angels singing?
I tune my lustful ear toward my awaiting concubines’ room eager to hear what undoubtedly will be a most requitable melody.
‘He can stay with us. There’s plenty of room on the bed.’
The Hebrew accent is unmistakable. My Jezebels!
His name: Nir. A recently discharged Israeli intelligence officer. A master of deceit. He knows what he wants. And how to get it. He has gotten my Jezebels—a bird in a hand and a bird in the bush. Visions of braided Zionist limbs and caterwauling exhalations of hot, spittle laden breath torment me.
With no offer forthcoming to share the Spaniard’s and Valkyrian princess’ bed of candied, libidinous delights, I settle upon a succubus — my maypole of loneliness and despair.
Ahava is Hebrew for love. A tall, Sephardic Jewess, Ahava would have been a Sultan’s cherished love bunny in an earlier, Ottoman, time.
Rine is joy: Fair skinned, like hot, velvety vanilla pudding, and cerebrally cool, stand offish with perky breasts bristling with curiosity and pellucid green eyes that shine with popsicle disdain. Rine holds most men in contempt. Except Nir. Nir the interloper. Nir the hormone. Nir the tumescent swain.
Nir means plowed field. How appropriate. How ironic.
For three days the ménage-a-yum-yum skip gaily upon Himalaya mountain peaks singing silly love songs to frightened goats and yaks.
For three nights I wonder at what circus acts of incredible, astounding, darling-please-do must surely be wrought upon their promiscuous and sweat soaked bed.
On the fourth day, Nir, the priapic cur, begs for my audience. He pleads with teary eyes if he could move into my room. I have an extra bed. I wonder why. Perchance his rod is chafed and his seed fully spent, he is seeking a small reprieve from the insatiable animal demands of his ripe, tomato juicy Jezebels.
‘No. Not all,’ Nir protests. ‘It’s nothing like you think. They’re bossy. I can’t do anything right.’
O joy! My black heart leaps like an electro-shocked frog snapping at flies. Hark! I hear angels singing!
Later that wondrous day of golden rays, with cherubim and cupids fluttering about with restrung bows and little stiffies prodding fluffy clouds, Ahava, my darling, my sultry concubine-to-be, enquires if Nir has talked to me.
‘You know,’ Ahava informs me, ‘all Nir does is talk about you. It’s Mike this. Mike that. He has a big time crush on you.’
Bad Mike has arisen! Just kidding about that epitaph thing. I’m still here trodding upon this soiled and maligned spaceship Earth. Hey, did you know that ‘to trod’ also means to copulate. If you’re a bird, that is. So there you have it, another juicy piece of trivia to pick out of your teeth.
Stay tuned. Part 2 of Vagitus Utinerus is coming soon!