It was Woodstock School's ten day summer holiday. It would be Betty Ann's last summer in India. Philip was growing up. He could boast that he was now the President of his class. Barbara was changing, too. When she sat at the piano she amazed us at the progress she had made. Ruth had been with the children six weeks. I had been with them only a few days after driving a motion picture team all over north India while they took movies. That meant that I had my big Chevrolet car up at the school for the trip.
"Finish the sandwiches," Ruth told the girls. "Philip, see if you can help your father finish packing." Just then Ada White stuck her head in the doorway and said, "We're ready." Right behind her were her children. Lucy was Betty Ann's age, Troy was Philip's, and with them was Little Brother. They were going with us. Then we closed the house and started the long walk to Kin Craig. Kin Craig was as far as the road came up the mountain. You would have laughed to see us strung out along the path. Everyone was carrying something. We had sent our heavy suitcases and bedding ahead with coolies. We had to provide our own bedding all during the trip. We had stuffed the bedding into canvas bags.
On the way to the car we walked past open shops that lined the street in Mussorie bazaar. From there the path was narrower and dropped down sharply. Philip and the boys tore on ahead. They were as sure footed as mountain goats. The car was parked just where I had left it. After we put the luggage in the trailer and paid the coolies I said, "Get in, let's be on our way."
The boys scrambled in as fast as they could. They wanted window seats. The girls, Ruth and Ada had been busy talking but they got in. At last I climed in and starterd the motor. The road down to Dehra Dun, as I said, was narrow and traffic moved only in one direction at a time. The road was cut into the side of the mountain and it had many curves. Looking out the side window it seemed as if there was hardly any road at all, for you could look right down to the valley far below. In those 26 miles we dropped down more than 5000 feet in altitude. Up on the mountain it had been nice and cool. By the time we reached Dehra Dun we were in Indian summer heat.
I thought that my tires were good but we had gone only a couple of hours when we had a flat. While I changed the tire the children went a short distance ahead. There they saw a group of monkeys swinging from the trees or scampering across the field. A mother monkey held her baby close and tried to keep up with the rest. Then I called. "Come on, let's be on our way." We drove on another hour to a guest house to spend the night.
Guest houses or Dak Bungalows can be reserved. They are run by the government. We could have only one room with two beds in it. There were nine of us, so most of us had to spread our bedding on the floor or outside on the veranda. It was a hot night. Those in the room had fans that went lickety split. All of us got some sleep.
Early the next morning we loaded the car and continued toward Kashmir. We stopped long enough in Amritsar to see the Golden Temple. That is the most sacred temple of the Sikhs. Sikhs belong to another religion. Most of them are large, strong people, much larger than many of the other Indian people. The temple was crowded with worshippers and sightseers.
From there we began to climb into the mountains. Near the top we were stopped by road guards who examined our luggage. They were looking for guns and explosives. They let us past and after a short distance we drove through a long tunnel. It was dug so we wouldn't have to go to the very top of the mountain. We came out of the tunnel and right there before us was the beautiful Valley of Kashmir. Yes, there was lots to see as we went down the mountain. One or another of the children kept saying, "Just look at that."
When the road levelled off we drove along a beautiful road lined with tall stately poplar trees. Soon we arrived in Srinagar, but we didn't stop until we had reched Dal lake. There, tied up to the shore, was the houseboat we had reserved. l told you about houseboats in my story, "Kashmir, the Fairy Land." The boys jumped out and began unloading the trailer. Some of the boat people came to help. Suitcases and bedding were put in the bedrooms. Though all of us were tired we were not too tired to eat the meal the cook had prepared for us. Then we stretched out for a good night's sleep.
Early the next morning I heard someone up on the roof. Troy and Philip had gone up there to look around. I said, "Philip, why are you up so early?" He replied, "I don't like to get up on school days but this is different. Why sleep when there is so much to see?" Barbara was up too. She was more interested in the shikara, the little boat. The boat people brought the boat alongside. She and Philip began paddling it away from the houseboat. In the days ahead they spent many hours in that little boat. They had fun.
Our houseboat was tied up to the shore so we could go to a number of interesting places in Kashmir. Our first trip was to Gulmurg, a famous tourist attraction. There were golf links and horse-back riding there. We thought Barbara would be afraid to ride but soon she urged her pony up over the rocky field to a snow drift. The boys were not far behind. They made snowballs and threw them at each other. Lucy, Betty Ann, Ruth and Ada went their own way to a shop where they picked out post cards to send back to their friends. Then we had a sumptuous Indian lunch before we returned to the houseboat.
The next morning Ada White said, "Why don't we go to Shalimar Gardens today?" The rest of us thought it was a good idea. The Shalimar Gardens were made years ago by a famous king. When we arrived Troy said, "I'll be the first to the top where the little lake is." They started off as fast as they could go but they soon slowed down. High in the mountains the air is thinner. It takes more energy and it is not easy to breathe.
The gardens were made right on the side of the mountain. There were beautiful flower gardens reaching up as far as we could see. Right in the middle of each flower bed was a series of fountains that drew water from the little lake above. Water shot into the air from all those little fountains. What a lovely sight. Before long the children came back, out of breath and ready to sit down. We had brought some lunch and after we had eaten we returned to the houseboat. In the afternoon we went into Srinagar and looked into many shops filled with lovely things the Kashmiri people had made.
Betty Ann and Lucy thought it was their turn to choose a place to go. In school they had heard about a famous ruins. Long before the time of Christ, Alexander the Great had invaded India. The ruins of one of the temples his invaders had built was not far away. Betty Ann spoke up, "We want to go to that temple today." Philip wasn't so sure. "Why should we look at a broken-down building?" he asked and looked at the other boys for support. But Lucy had a ready answer for him and at last the boys agreed to go along.
We had to dive over some very rough roads before we got there. "There is your old temple," Philip said, so we stopped and everyone got out. The boys ran around the temple and climbed up on the broken-down walls. Then Betty Ann and Lucy did a bit of clowning. They had found two low platforms at the front of the building. One stood on one platform and the other went to the other platform. "This may look like the statue of the Greek goddesses," Lucy said, and she tried to balance herself on one foot. The other foot stuck out behind. Betty Ann did the same. Then both of them lifted one arm above their heads and they held the other arm out gracefully in front of them. Ruth called for the camera. We still have the picture of them standing there. The girls were really excited and kept talking about the temple all the way back to the houseboat.
So our days went by all too quickly. "We start back to school tomorrow," I reported before they went to bed. There were groans all around, but they did not want to be late for school.
The trip back was not very comfortable. We spent the first night in a crowded guest house in Jammu. It must have been there Philip and Barbara ate some food that caused them to be very sick a few days later. Both of them had to go to the hospital and were there a week after we got home. The next day, after Jammu the temperature was over 100 degrees. We soon ran out of drinking water. In a large city we were able to find some cocoa cola. A little later we bought a large watermelon. We tried to make it last as long as we could. We were really thirsty.
We were riding merrily along when we came to almost the same spot we had the flat tire on the way to Kashmir. Again our tire went flat. Our spare tire did not have enough air in it and my pump was not much good. I pumped until I thought I would have a heart attack. I knew traffic on the road above Dehra Dun was one way and that the gate closed at 8 p. m. I drove as fast as I dared. We were just five minutes late at the gate. The gate keeper said, "You're just too late." Then I begged him to let me go through. "I have some sick children in the car. Please let me go." At last he opened the gate. I went only a short distance and then tried to put a little more air in the spare tire. At last we arrived at Kin Craig.
The weary and tired children and the rest of us began the five mile climb to the school. Though all of them were ready to drop they walked on and on, even kidding each other and finding things to laugh about. When we reached home we had to wait for the coolies. Right away we unpacked our bedding and made our beds. Soon the children were asleep. "My, what a wonderful time we had in Kashmir," Ruth said before she said "Goodnight." [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]
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