The year was 1978, month July, destination Kyal Rest House, on the route Karakorum Highway.
I fell in love with the place at first glance. It was a grey stone building built in steps on the banks of the River Indus. At the back of the building were Karakorum Mountains and in front the mighty Indus. The building was at a lower level and the river fell down like a noisy waterfall at some distance from the building; one could take a shower in the constant spray of water that arose when the river fell. I had never before seen a sight that was pretty and scary at the same time. The bank of the river which was much lower than the rest -house and its court yard, was made safe for stray walkers by huge blocks and rocks that lined the route of the river.
The rest house was already inhabited by a small family of a Colonel. We were to share the place with them. They warmly welcomed us. It didn’t take time to open up and become friendly; their children were too eager to show the place to our children, and a fresh cup of tea and hot pakoras lifted our spirits further.
The surprises were yet to come … there was no electricity, gas lanterns were used at night for light. Running hot water was only for the officers, not even their good wives… a large canister was placed at a high place on a boulder, a pipe was fitted at its upper end, the other end of which was immersed in the river. The water flowed into the canister. A pipe from the canister carried the water to the bathrooms. At night a burning oil stove was placed under the canister. Whole night the stove burnt and we had hot water in our bathrooms in the morning. The water would be just enough for the officers to take bath and get ready for their duty. The womenfolk and children were provided hot water in huge pots, it was difficult in the beginning but we got used to it. The only problem was to keep constant watch on children, as a hot smoldering pot in the bath room was quite dangerous.
For refrigeration and keeping our vegetables, fruits and meat etc. fresh, a large net made of bamboo grass was tied to the branch of a tree and lowered onto the surface of river. It dangled about one or two feet above the surface of water. The cold temperature at that level was enough to keep the meat fresh as if in a deep freezer. Fresh vegetables, meat, bread and eggs were supplied from the market in ‘Bisham’, the nearest local market. The supplies were regular until there was a land slide and we were cut off from the market and had to live on rice, and cereals etc. I had taken a supply of Rafhan jelly packets for my children. I would dissolve the jelly in an air-tight box, and immerse the box among the pebbles in a place where cold river water kept falling in showers. In about an hour or so the jelly would be set and ready for eating.
Sometimes light was provided to us for a couple of hours through a generator. The arrival of the generator would be a sight. The children would shout with joy and we would all feel as if it was time for celebration. The rooms would light up; the path from where the generator stood to our courtyard would be lined with lighted bulbs. We would iron bulks of clothes, have wonderful tea, pakoras, and sandwiches (pakoras were the usual refreshment offered and enjoyed in almost all the households of army officers.) The children and the officers would play cricket. Even the ‘jawans’ were told to join in as fielders. Sometimes they would choose to play football or basketball. It would be a time to be merry. The colonel’s wife was good at cooking, she would prepare Chinese dishes. Egg-fried rice, chicken Chow-Mein and chicken corn soup would be like having ‘mun-o-salwa’ in that remote place.
We lived there for about three months and then moved to Gilgit, where we lived in a rented house. During the period we lived in Kyal rest house and Gilgit, we scaled the Karakorum highway. We went upto khunjerab, the highest place in Pakistan and border of Pakistan and China. Many years after when I talk of Kyal rest house and how we lived and enjoyed without light, TV, fridge, geyser and so many other luxuries of life, people are in awe. “How did you people survive?” they ask.
Survive? I smile and say ‘it was a dream land that vanished when I opened my eyes’, and I would love to re-live this dream.