Ripples Following Ripples ~ UP THE FABLED SILK-ROAD

The next day, getting a visa for Pakistan was not as lengthy and complicated as I expected ~ and nothing like getting an Indian visa! At the window for foreigners at the High Commission, I was told I first needed to get a ‘letter of introduction’ from the nearby Aussie High Comm, for which I was charged A$30! With this, I went back to apply for the visa and was told to collect my passport the next day; easy. Then, I made a reservation on the next night’s train to Amritsar, and the following morning ~ April 1st ~ got a bus to the border. It doesn’t open until 10 a.m., however, and it’s the only crossing-point between India and Pakistan (or was, until one in Kashmir opened recently, as a trial, and only for Kashmiris) I had to wait, therefore, and then crossed without much hassle; it took 30 minutes, which was unusually fast, as there are various offices and desks to pass. Then I got a bus into Lahore, an hour inside Pakistan, and here, the usual search for a hotel began. I wanted to be near the railway-station, but most hotels in that area were asking Rs400 – Rs500 for a single room (US$1 = 60 Pakistan Rupees), and looked for quite a while until I got one for Rs200. While searching, I fell into conversation with a young guy who was appalled to learn that I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in cricket. “How can this be?” he said, bewildered. I replied, “Must I be like others? Am I not allowed a mind of my own?” Many Indians and Pakistanis are so devoted to cricket, that it is tantamount to being a religion; they’re fanatical about it!

The next day, I walked the 6 kms to Shalimar Bagh, the Mughal Gardens laid out in 1637 by Shah Jehan of Taj Mahal fame. Upon reaching there, however, I was disappointed to find them closed for renovations. I’d been there during my last visit to Paki-stan in 1998, which is why I wanted to see them again; they are the best-maintained of the Mughal Gardens, either in India or Pakistan. The Moghuls, who came from Central Asia, had a pas-sion for gardens with fountains and streams; the culture they de-veloped in India was distinctive and influential. The Brits adopted their architectural-style and used it in other parts of their empire.

That afternoon, after wandering around the 2nd-hand book-market near the museum, and while looking for a cyber-café, an elderly man asked if I needed some assistance. When I told him where I wanted to go, he offered to show me; my experience from my last visit of Pakistanis as hospitable and friendly was rapidly being confirmed. On the way, he told me he was a communist, and was happily surprised when I told him I am a Buddhist; he said he was, too. A communist Buddhist, in Pakistan? Most unusual! He invited me for tea, and as we sat drinking it others joined us; he seemed to be regarded as something of a sage. After some time, he invited me for lunch, and when I said I was vegetarian, he said so was he. So off we went, and had lunch of naan, dahl and vegetables ~ alright, but very oily. He took me to his place, and we sat talking for about two hours until I broke away and went for email. At first, the connection seemed okay, but soon became bad, so I ended up sending a “To Everyone” message, and got off with an hour. In the evening, because my new friend had urged me to come to meet other people there, I went to his place again, and got a clearer idea of his teachings, but didn’t agree with some of the things he said, although his story was remarkable. He was apparently already well-known as an advocate, but hit the news when he wrote and published a book explaining his ideas, which were so radical for his time and place that he was almost stoned by a mob on the street! Surrounded by people urged on by mullahs calling for his death, he calmly sat cross-legged, prepared to meet his end, but was ‘saved’ and arrested by the police who put him in jail. He was tried for heresy and apostasy ~ things that carry the death-sentence in fundamentalist Pakistan. He languished there, his life ticking away, until protests from around the world resulted in him being freed.

Many times, he requested me to stay at his place, saying I should treat it as my home, but I didn’t accept, as I need my own space. Finally, one of his supporters, a doctor, offered to drive me back. I didn’t see him again, although I will if I’m back that way again.

I spent a few days in history-rich Lahore, going out to Jehangir’s Tomb, only to find that the entrance-fees for such places had in-creased ten-fold since my last visit, just as in India. Nor did I feel as I’d felt there before, probably because I’d gone with expecta-tions, unlike the first time, when it was new and a surprise. It was so at other places I revisited, like the great mosque constructed by Aurangzeb, the fort that had been rebuilt and enlarged by Mughal emperors from Akbar on, and the museum, where the exhibit I mostly wanted to see again was that of the Fasting Siddhartha. But I was surprised; it was less than life-sized and not as I remembered it, and yet, it was the same. My perception playing tricks again!

Although there are very few Sikhs in Pakistan now (most of them fled to India when Punjab, their state, was cut in two by a line drawn on paper by the last Viceroy, resulting in massacres of hundreds-of-thousands of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and others who found themselves on the ‘wrong’ side), the main Sikh temple in Lahore is still operated by a few families who chose to remain, at great risk, and the traditional ‘free kitchen’ is maintained. I had lunch of dahl and chapatties there. Because of a thaw in relations between India and Pakistan in the last few years, people from both sides are able to get visas to visit; let’s hope this continues and improves further, and won’t regress to what it was.

At the Tourist Office, after getting some brochures and informa-tion, I had a Dharmic conversation with two people there; I gave the lady a stone, and the man ~ Saheed ~ a bookmark (“We look, but we do not see….”). I could see that I’d touched them, and af-ter a cup of tea, I left with a light step.

My next stop, after Lahore, was Jhelum, to the north. I wanted to see a fort near there, and had to take several rides to reach it. Many people were kind and helped me, including auto-rickshaw drivers who refused to charge me. The immense fort was built to control the route that invaders from the northwest had used, but alas, it was much too late; India had been over-run and subdued centuries earlier by the ancestors of those who built it.

The bus from Jhelum to Peshawar later that day was slow and took almost 5 hours, but fortunately, it was air-conditioned. When I got there, I found that the hotel I’d stayed in last time was no longer taking foreigners, so I had a long search for an alternative, and eventually found one ~ helped by a kind person who accom-panied me for an hour ~ not far away, for just Rs100. Of course, it was very basic, but good enough, except that the room had no power-point, so I was unable to cook or boil water. I lived mainly on naan, tomatoes, cucumbers, and beans ready-cooked from stalls on the streets, which were very tasty; I sufficed with cold coffee, such as I’d done on my treks in the mountains.

Peshawar is now very congested and polluted, but I enjoyed it anyway, wandering back and forth through the bazaars, visiting several friends from last time; everywhere, people were friendly, and called out greetings.

The internet-connections here were even worse than in Lahore ~ in fact, all over Pakistan, they were slow and unreliable. A tour-guide calling himself Prince tried to persuade me to take trips; he was so persistent, going as far as to take me in a car to his office for tea; I had some misgivings, and thoughts of being kidnapped ran through my mind. Finally, he sent me back by auto-rickshaw, but had ascertained where I was staying, and visited me there another day, intent on getting me to sign up to go up the Khyber Pass, but I was adamant, and he finally gave up hope.

I visited an old British cemetery, an overgrown place of not just dead people but dead trees, standing with jutting branches like fleshless arms. I went on to Islamia College, built at the beginning of the 20th century in Indo-Saracenic style, and one of Pakistan’s most prestigious; I walked around a bit but without meeting any-one. Checking my email, I was surprised to receive one from Jack; I didn’t think he’d have the audacity to write to me, and I’d not had his address, but now that I did, I wrote to him a few days later and clarified a few things.

Ascertaining from the Tourist Office that the pass into Chitral had just opened, I got a mini-bus to Timagarha, where, while waiting for another one to Dir, an old man tried to convert me; although his English was quite good, he was wasting his time. I spent that night in Dir, as it was too late to cross the pass by the time I got there. I found the people not as friendly as I’d become used to.

The next day was a long one. First, I got an early mini-bus bound for Chitral, but we’d not gone far when there was the smell of something electrical burning. We turned back to get it fixed, then started again, but soon there was the same smell, and I was ap-prehensive. We kept going, uphill; the road was unsealed and muddy, and two hours out, we pulled up suddenly and everyone hastily scrambled out; smoke was pouring from the hood; the brakes had failed. The driver got a ride back to get help, leaving us waiting for two hours; it was cold and windy, halfway up the pass. Eventually, the driver returned, just as an empty van came down the road. Our fares were returned, the baggage was trans-ferred, and we all got in, paying just 40/- for the ride back down. By this time, I’d given up my idea of going to Chitral, and decided to go to Mingora instead, back the way I had come. While waiting for the bus to leave Dir, a middle-aged guy with very long dread-locks, some of his hair red near the scalp, also got in. From Oz, of Lebanese stock, he was a friendly enough chap, and talked a lot once he started. Of course, everyone regarded him curiously, and attention was diverted from me. It was over three hours to Chakdara, where we waited quite a while for a van to Mingora. I met a young teacher there who accompanied us; he was nice to talk to, and I gave him one of my remaining stones; he was very pleased, and insisted on paying our fares. Coming into Mingora, we had to register in the police-book, and in the town, the van stopped and everyone got out, although it was at a gas-station, not the bus-station. A large police-van with several fully-armed cops was waiting there ~ for us, I was told. Concerned for the safety of tourists, they would take us wherever we wanted to go; I was very surprised, but it was as they said: they took us to my chosen hotel ~ the Rainbow ~ and left us there to check in. The bathroom of the room I got for Rs150 was dirty, but I was tired, and it was 7:30, so I didn’t make a fuss. I went out and ate keer ~ rice-pudding, the same as what Sakyamuni ate just before his enlightenment ~ and bought bread and beans, to bring back to eat. The water smelled unpleasant, and my coffee tasted awful.

In and around Mingora and its older twin-city, Saidu Sharif, there are the remains of numerous Buddhist sites, as this is the Swat Valley green, fertile, and said to be the most-beautiful valley in Pakistan ~ where the Tang dynasty pilgrim-monk, Hsuan Tsang, noted over 1,400 abandoned or destroyed monasteries in 630 AD. Buddhism in this area never recovered from the ravages of a people known as the White Huns, who originated from some-where near Mongolia, and like the later Mongols under Genghiz Khan, burst out of their steppelands in the 5th century, conquering everyone in their path. Raging through Central Asia, Persia and Afghanistan, they came down through the Khyber Pass, and pro-ceeded to lay everything to waste. Buddhism came in for especial persecution. Overthrowing the Kushan Empire of the North-West, they moved relentlessly onto the Gangetic plain, slaughtering all before them. The capital of the Gupta Empire, Pataliputra (mod-ern-day Patna), was reduced to rubble, its population decimated.

Although the destruction had been complete, there was still a lin-gering feeling of peace around the several stupa-sites I visited. The caretaker of one site, though not a Buddhist himself, had studied Buddhism in Peshawar University, and didn’t charge me the entrance-fee; he later made tea for me and we sat and talked.

Then to the museum, where I refused to pay the entrance-fee of Rs200 as too high. I spoke with the curator, who agreed with me, and offered to let me in for 100, but I didn’t accept, having been there before. Down the road, I told the man at the Tourist Office, who also agreed with me and advised me to write to the Ministry of Tourism, as other people had complained.

Alexander the Great had crossed the river not far from Mingora; near the end of his conquests eastward, and fought a desperate battle on the other bank. A watchman led me to a fort high above ~ strange place for a fort, so isolated and waterless! ~ where I sat for a while contemplating the vista. The watchman was pleased with what I gave him and didn’t ask for more; this was so different than in India, where no matter what you give is never enough.

In the bazaar at Mingora I met a man who quietly told me he was a Sikh. I wouldn’t have known otherwise, as he was not wearing the distinctive Sikh turban because it was advisable not to stand out there. So, too, I’d met a Christian in Lahore, who felt free enough to confide in me. It is often hard to belong to a minority. Fundamentalists feel threatened by anyone different ~ verily, signs of insecurity and uncertainty. Compare and contrast how Buddhism says there are 84,000 Dharma doors or paths. Confi-dent and unafraid to be challenged, it can afford to be tolerant.

Feeling very tired and unwell, I came down with fever that night. I’d wake up, look at my watch, drop off to sleep, and wake again, only to find that it was only one or two minutes on. I had to get up many times to the toilet, and felt unsteady, so decided to stay an-other day rather than moving on. Later, I didn’t feel like eating, and slept again, to wake several hours later with the towel on my pillow sweaty-wet; the fever had broken, and I felt better. I had some good periods of meditation.

While waiting for the bus to start on the next stage of my journey, I saw a man without hands, begging; amputations like this were punishment for theft, according to the Syariah law; people were sympathetic and responded to his pleas. The road to Besham over the 2350 mt Shangla Pass was bad, and we were delayed for two hours by road-works/landslides. At Besham, we joined the KKH ~ short for Karakoram Highway ~ an engineering marvel tracing the old silk road from Pakistan into China, and the highest paved international road in the world, opened in 1986. It connects China and Pakistan across the Karakoram mountain range. I got a minibus to Dasu, and was thrilled to ride high above the mighty silt-laden Indus river; the winding road was precipitous and scary. At Dasu, I looked for a hotel, but was deterred by the rates and also by some kids who followed me, tugging and pinching. Just then, a van came along going to Shatial, so I jumped in; it was 4:30, and by the time we got there, almost dark, only to find there was nothing going further. A policeman advised me to wait in a chai-khana ~ tea-house ~ until a bus came along; I had tea and bread, was inspired to write something and sat for a while; I was re-signed to sleeping on a charpoy there, but after some time was summoned for the bus. We joined a convoy headed by a police-car with flashing lights ~ there was danger on the roads, so they said, though I was unable to ascertain its nature. I was dropped outside the town of Chilas, where I managed to prevail upon some policemen to drive me to the hotel I’d read of in the guide-book ~ Diamond Peak. They stayed with me until I’d got a room ~ dirty, smelly, and nothing diamantine about it, but I couldn’t back out now ~ and negotiated the rate down from 150/- to 120/-, then left me. There was no running water in the bathroom, only a bucketful, but I made tea anyway, and wrote my notes and slept without the dirty covers at 12:30.

Since my fever, I didn’t sleep much, but wasn’t tired, and felt very well; my thoughts were also clear. Waking at 5, I got up to find no power as well as no water. I went to the toilet and then the light came on, so I boiled water for a shave and hot coffee.

Near Chilas, are petroglyphs ~ images of the Buddha and stupas pecked out on rocks near the river that I wished to see, so made my way down the road, but the people I met weren’t friendly, and hardly muttered a response to my greeting of salaam-a-laekum. Kids, like yesterday, were positively rude, and I felt lucky not to have stones thrown at me!

At the river, I was joined by a young guy who insisted on showing me some of the glyphs; I’m rather suspicious of people like that, having been conned before, but I think he was genuine. Because of my negative impressions of Chilas, I saw only a few glyphs and took few photos, then came back, catching a free ride up to the bazaar. Quickly, I got my stuff and caught a minibus to Gilgit, and after being stopped three times for road-clearing ~ landslides are very common ~ who should I see at the bus-station but Dread-locky, Ahmed Ali? He’d been moving fast, and was on his way down the highway, while I was going up. We spoke for some time, and I got a photo with him before getting a minibus into town, alighting near a hotel where I intended to stay, run by a Japanese woman who’d come here years before and had never left. I was soon to learn that Gilgit had a severe problem with electricity, with one day on and the next day off. And even with the power on, internet connections there were very slow and er-ratic; it was frustrating trying to write and send mail.

I explored the town during the two days I stayed there, but there wasn’t a great deal to see; it was a polyglot place, where people of various tribes had settled, but I understood nothing of their tongues. In an old British cemetery, I saw a grave inscribed with words from “The Light of Asia” on it: “Perfect service rendered, duties done in charity, soft speech and stainless days. These riches shall not fade away in life, nor any death dispraise”.

The next day being a power-on day, I had a hot shower before leaving Gilgit. My next stop ~ and the furthest I would go up the KKH ~ would be Karimabad. I had to wait for the minibus to fill up, and fell into conversation with my seat-companion, someone named Sherbaz, the principal of a college in Karimabad, cultured and educated; we talked all the way, so the time soon passed; the only drawback was that, although I was next to the window, I didn’t see much, and the views were really great ~ best so far. The weather was good, too, so the mountains were clear and sharp. By the time we got there, he had invited me for dinner the next night; I made sure he knew I was vegetarian.

Reaching Karimabad, I found the hotel that Dreadlocky had rec-ommended ~ Old Hunza Inn ~ where I took a room, pleasant, clean and cheap at Rs150. After washing some clothes and hanging them out, I made coffee and ate some biscuits, then sat outside until the sun went down. It was so beautiful there, and I knew I would stay for a few days.

Karimabad, at 2440 m, is the capital of Hunza, a remote region which may have inspired James Hilton to write "Lost Horizons." The Hunzakots were renowned for their longevity, but alas, the KKH was a mixed-blessing and transformed their lifestyle; their long-lives are now just a legend. Because of their fair-skins and blue-green eyes, they are considered to be descendants of some of Alexander's soldiers who remained instead of returning home to Greece. The beauty of Hunza is matchless; from the soft blos-soms of the apricot trees to the lovely ice-covered mountain of Rakaposhi (7788 m.)

Beginning my explorations the next day, I went up to the old fort overlooking the town, then decided to walk to Aliabad, 10 kms away, to get something for my cracked heels, which were quite sore. The friendly owner of the pharmacy I found recommended Vaseline, and served me tea. Outside, looking for somewhere to eat, I met some teachers who took me into a small restaurant where I got naan and curry, and sat talking with them for over an hour, during which others came in; it seemed to be their regular ‘watering-hole.’ We spoke of many things; one of them was very sympathetic towards Buddhism and had read “Siddhartha”. Back at the hotel, I met a German and his Chinese girlfriend who were waiting for the Kunjerab Pass to open; it’s an all-weather road, but foreigners are allowed to cross it into China only from May 1st.

When Sherbaz hadn’t come at the stated time, I walked up the road a way, thinking to meet him as he came down, but at 7, there was no sign of him, so I went back, to find him waiting for me; somehow, we’d missed each other. He led me to his home, where his family were awaiting us, and his wife, Nilam, was pre-paring dinner of several kinds of bread. They were Ismaili Muslims, who do not worship in mosques but meeting-houses, where men and women are not segregated. The head of their sect is the Aga Khan, an international figure who stresses the importance of education and the need to modernize. The food was tasty, with lassi and tea, and I enjoyed the evening. Nilam invited me to stay overnight there, but I declined, saying I’d not brought my comb; they all laughed, especially the third of their four sons, who rolled on the floor! I gave Sherbaz a stone, which they appreciated so much. Before I left, Nilam, gave me some walnuts and fried bread to take back, and the second son accompanied me, as the way was dark; Sherbaz also asked this son to take me to Eagle’s Nest ~ a rocky point high above the valley ~ the next day.

In the morning, I met the second son and a friend on their way for me, and we retraced our footsteps to the path that led to Eagle’s Nest, which we reached after a 2-hours’ climb on dusty tracks. There were great views from the summit, and I could see where I’d like to go over the following days. I took some photos and would like to have stayed longer, but had to consider their time, so after ½ an hour, we began our descent; it took just over an hour to the town, where we parted; I appreciated their assistance.

The following day, I walked down to and crossed the river ~ no longer the Indus, but a tributary ~ and up the highway some way to a place of more petroglyphs that included Buddhist-texts among the figures. Then I took a dusty track up a bluff and climbed for another hour until I’d had enough; there were great views from here, too, although I wasn’t as high as yesterday, but alas, I had forgotten to bring my camera!

Energised by my previous days’ walks, I set off with the aim of reaching a valley on the opposite side of the river that had in-trigued me since I arrived, but didn’t know how to get there. My ignorance cost me quite a bit of time, but I eventually found a path that led along the cliffs and brought me to a village at the bottom of the valley. It was a steep climb on a dusty and rocky track, and after an hour, I’d accomplished what I’d set out to do, so turned back and descended the way I’d come. There were no vehicles running from the village to the Highway ~ not unless I was prepared to pay Rs800 ~ so I walked the 8 kms, and was pretty tired by the time I reached the footbridge over the river. Climbing to the highway, I waited only five minutes for a ride to Aliabad, where I got another back to Karimabad. I must have walked at least 30 kms that day, but felt good, even though I was somewhat dehydrated from sweating so much.

My sojourn in this pleasant place had to come to an end sooner or later, and with fond memories, I left and got a minibus back to Gilgit. There, at 8:15, I caught a bus ~ and the buses of Pakistan are so much better than in India, air-conditioned and very com-fortable. I was making good time, and calculated that, at that rate, we would reach Besham by 6 pm, where I intended to spend the night. But alas, an hour out of Gilgit, we were halted, as Pres. Musharraf was visiting somewhere down the road, and nothing was allowed to run. While waiting, I got talking to another pas-senger, and the time passed. When it became too hot to sit in the bus waiting, I got out and stood in the shade of a barber’s shop, until they invited me to sit inside; this became the source of some jokes. 3:30, and still no sign that we would be allowed to go. A man approached me and asked, point-blank, “What is the level of your education?” A bit surprised by his abruptness, I thought for a moment, then said, “I can read and write ~ A to Z ~ and can count from one to ten.” He then told me he was a teacher of mathematics, and I said, “That’s good; maybe you can teach me to count from ten to twenty”. His next question was, “What is your religion?” a question that should never be asked, as religion is a most personal and private matter. I would usually answer this cryptically, in order to lead the questioner to see the error of ask-ing, but decided, for the sake of simplicity, to say, “Buddhism”. At this, he said, “Well, I’m sorry to tell you, sir, but it’s wrong.”

“That is your opinion,” I said, “and you are entitled to it; but I am a guest in your country, and it is rather rude of you to say this. Tell me, though, what do you know about Buddhism?” What he told me ~ though I forget what it was ~ revealed his ignorance, and I told him so.

“But I am an educated man,” he said, somewhat indignantly.

I replied, “You are educated in a particular area, but in others, you are quite ignorant”.

“So are you”, he retorted.

“Yes, I know”, I said, “but then, I didn’t claim to be an educated man, did I?”, and went on to say that if he’d been born in Japan or Thailand instead of in Pakistan, he would probably call himself ‘Buddhist’, or ‘Christian’ if he’d been born in the U.S. “It will never happen that everyone in the world would embrace your religion and become Muslims, any more than everyone would become Buddhists or Hindus or Christians, so we must learn to accept the existence of other religions, and live with them”.

By this time, a small crowd had gathered around us, and he said something I didn’t understand, so I decided it would be unwise to reason with him further, and walked away. Not long after this, we were allowed to proceed, nine hours after we’d been halted.

Two hours down the road, we halted at Chilas, and my new friend, Mohd Sharif Butt, invited me for dinner of naan and curry. I gratefully accepted, then told him that I would spend the night there rather than go on and get to Besham at 2 or 3 am, so took my bags from the bus, but it was only with some difficulty that I got a refund on my fare; the conductor had taken my money without giving me a ticket. Two policemen escorted me to a grotty hotel where they tried to charge me Rs200 and only came down to Rs150 when I was walking out. In the room, however ~ noisy, as it was above the highway ~ I discovered there was a water-problem ~ just as in Diamond Peak ~ only a trickle. I went down to complain, and a boy came and filled the bucket. Just then, the power went off, and I resigned myself to spending a powerless night, but after a while, it came on again, so I was able to use the fan ~ it was quite warm ~ and boil water.

As soon as I could, the next morning, I got a van to Shatrial, and from there, another going through to Besham, reaching there at 2 pm. Again, I enjoyed the ride down the KKH, reaching Besham around 2 am, and getting a connecting bus to Abbotabad. My seat-companion was a friendly young man who had memorized the whole Koran, and who pressed me to stay at his home. I de-clined his invitation, however, as I need my own space. I found a hotel in Abbotabad, and slept well, tired after the long journey.

When I awoke, there was no power, but I managed to pack my stuff and leave, and got a bus to Peshawar, three hours away. It was much hotter since I was last there. I checked into the same hotel, then went out to eat keer and check my email. The sky turned a funny colour; something was imminent, but I wasn’t sure what; I even thought it might presage an earthquake! That night, there was a dust-storm which lasted over two hours, with dust in-filtrating everywhere. On top of this, there was a power-cut, so it was a hot, long and uncomfortable night, with many mozzies. I didn’t sleep much, waiting for the dawn.

Because I needed a new visa for India, I had to go to Islamabad, so caught a bus to Rawalpindi, the old city which is the transport-hub for the capital; I then made my way to Islamabad and found a hotel not too far from the diplomatic enclave, ready for an early start on Monday, the next day. Islamabad is a new city, and was officially declared the capital in 1967. It is well laid-out, with broad boulevards and open spaces.

Expecting to find long lines of people outside the Indian High Commission, as in Kathmandu, I left the hotel while it was still dark to walk there, but upon reaching the diplomatic enclave, dis-covered that I could not just go inside, but had to go to a nearby shuttle-bus station to get in line for a ride in. There were already many people ahead of me, and we had to wait over an hour for the ticket-counters to open. Finally, we boarded buses, to be dropped at various embassies inside the compound. At the Indian place, there was another wait, as it doesn’t open until 10, and was tardy about that, too. But I was surprised to find a special window for foreigners like myself, and I was first in line, with a Frenchmen who I met outside. I filled in the application-form and paid the fee of RS3,300, and was told to come back the next Monday ~ a whole week later! What to do with this time? I didn’t want to stay in new and historically-sterile Islamabad, so decided to return to Lahore.

Consequently, I got a bus early the next day, and found myself sitting beside a young guy for the 5 hours’ ride. Before long, he struck up a conversation with me and said he was a professor in a university. It soon became clear, however, that he was hopeful of converting me, but he had no more success in this than the old man of some weeks earlier. I told him what Islam had done in preserving the science, astronomy, medicine and philosophy of the Greeks and Romans during the Dark Ages when Christianity had discarded them, and later made them available to others; we must give credit where credit is due. But I resent efforts to convert me. I do not try to convert others to Buddhism, not wanting that; I want to help others discover what it means to be human, not change one name-and-form for another. Efforts to convert others to one’s point-of-view require contempt or even hatred for their ways, often with no knowledge or understanding of them. It is ex-tremely arrogant!

It was overcast as we came into Lahore, and it tried to rain, but gave up. I got a room in the same hotel I’d stayed in before, but it had no window, and was very warm; the fan only succeeded in stirring up the hot air! I had to find somewhere else, and made that my priority the next day. Eventually, I got a room nearby ~ much bigger and better, and only Rs50 more expensive.

By then, the temperature had soared, and reached 49º during the time I was there. It was hard to take, and the fans in my room ~ one stand-fan and the other on the ceiling ~ were practically use-less. I also came down with amoebic-dysentery, such as I’d had in Kathmandu in ’74. Fortunately, I’ve always had pretty good control over my stomach, so didn’t suffer any mishaps while I was out ~ and I needed to go out for things like medicine and to check my mail. I lost my appetite, and even the thought of food put me off. I started to lose weight, and although I’m always happy when that happens, I don’t like to fall sick to do it. I carried on anyway, because what else could I do? There was no-one to take care of me and do what needed to be done.

I felt better in the morning, chanting my new mantra, “Owa-Tana-Siam”, and returned to Rawalpindi by train; the ride was smooth and uneventful, in a/c carriage. I got my passport, and together with the French guy I’d met the week before, caught another train back to Lahore that evening. The a/c carriages were already full, so we had to go economy-class, but this was fine, as the train was so modern and good, I could hardly believe it. It left on time, and later, we were served refreshments! Halfway, we were hit by a dust-storm, which was unpleasant, as the dust poured in. We reached Lahore just after 10, and the wind was still quite strong; there was thick dust everywhere, including my room.

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