The real Shangri-la (a short story)
By Dr. Sandeep Kuulshrestha
Amel Milosavljević got down at the Leh airport with a sigh. It was his first trip abroad and he had decided to visit Ladakh after studying other options, which included Nepal and Tibet. He preferred India as he was fascinated by the cultural richness and the glorious history. Basically, he just wanted to be out of his hometown, city of Banja Luka in Bosnia & Herzegovina and see the world. It has been a really long journey for him, firstly from Banja Luka to Sarajevo, from Sarajevo to Frankfurt and then, finally from Frankfurt to New Delhi. He stayed in Delhi for a day, went to Gandhi’s samadhi, as he wanted to be at peace with himself and left for Leh finally.
As he came out of the airport, he saw a shabbily clad taxi driver, holding a placard, mentioning his name in which only “Amel” was written correctly. He smiled at him and sat in the cab, wondering what really he was doing in this part of the world. He wanted peace of mind and was looking forward to search for the inner consciousness. The past was still a nightmare to him. He would wake up in the odd hours of the night and hear his fiancée’s cry for help. In front of him, she was raped and butchered by the Moslem mob, during the bloody conflict after Yugoslavia broke up. He was so helpless then and he had to let her go to some distant land wistfully, painfully and without the proper goodbye. He was so engrossed in his thoughts that and his reverie was broken by a voice.
“Sir, we have reached the Hotel”, told the cab driver in his broken english.
He nodded to himself and looked outside the cab. He saw the Hotel board, which said, “Hotel Lingzi”
The room was spacious and comfortable. There was a painting of a Buddhist monk in a congregation full of beautiful women. He looked at that picture intently and saw a young woman, with a halo around her face looking strikingly beautiful. He kept on looking at her and then decided to freshen up. He took a quick shower and read the brochures, which were given to him by his travel agent. He looked forward to see all of it and more. One of his friends in Sarajevo once told him about a distant land called Shangri-la and he was fascinated to hear that. He found some stuff on the Internet, which said a lot about Shangri-la in few words. The distant and secluded hideaway, of great beauty and peacefulness. An imaginary remote paradise on earth. These were some of the things he heard about it. Somehow, he was in Ladakh to either know or experience the real Shangri-la, as he believed it could be found in Ladakh, Tibet or any surrounding areas. He dressed himself and saw himself in the dusty mirror. His six-feet athletic body was not fully visible in the frame, but he somehow managed to see whether he was looking all right.
He came out of the Hotel, saw all around. It was two in the afternoon and sun was shining on bright. He decided to go to a bookshop and ask for the local map. He went inside the Hotel again and asked for the directions to the local market.
As he was idly roaming around, he had her first glimpse. She was a young woman, wearing a long black skirt and a maroon shirt along with a brown shawl, which was just covering her shoulders. She was buying apples from a local street side vendor and presumably negotiating for the price. Amel stopped for a second and went ahead and as he passed through her, he could smell a slight fragrance. Was she wearing a perfume smelling of lilies, Amel wondered? He also thought that he had seen her somewhere before and then he realized that she resembled the girl in the picture he saw in his Hotel room. He thought that he was going crazy and laughed at himself before moving on towards the market.
He reached a bookshop finally and asked for a Guide Map. The shop attendant showed him some guide maps and few guidebooks and he started having a look inside the shop to decide what all to take.
While he was having a look, someone spoke from his back, “Why do you need this guidebook?” It was a female voice.
He said, without looking around, “Excuse me”
She came in Front. It was the same girl whom he saw in the market.
“To know my state, you just need two eyes” She spoke, smiling mysteriously
Amel knew English well as he studied it in the University of Belgrade when he was studying for under graduation. He smiled and replied, “I have two normally working eyes but I also have two legs who need direction so that I am not lost”
She laughed and asked, “Where are your from”
He said, “I am Amel from Banja Luka”
“You are what, from where?” she looked confused.
“I am Amel. A M E L” He specified
“And I am from a city called Banja Luka which is situated in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Okay, to simplify it, I am from a part of what used to be called Yugoslavia”
“Okay” she looked surprised and then added, “I guess I never heard someone coming from your part of the world into my country”
He smiled gracefully, as he always did when he didn’t know how to respond.
“I am Sonam and I am the book shop owner” she extended her hand to him
“Nice to meet you, Sonam” He shook her hand
She asked him, again, “What brings you to Ladakh”
“I am searching for peace of mind and something else”
“Something else? What’s that something else,”?
She laughed and said “Nice to hear that but who told you that Shangri-la is in Leh?”
“Then where is it?” he enquired
“You will be surprised to know where it is”
“Tell me please”
“You might find it yourself before you leave from here. Till then, explore and experience Ladakh and Leh”
“How much do I pay you for this map”, he enquired
“A cup of Tea”
“Pardon me?” He asked
She said, “Just have a cup of tea with me and pay for that. I want to know more about your country”
Amel never really interacted with a foreigner in a foreign land and he was always reluctant to talk about his past and his bitter memories but this girl looked different.
He nodded and said, “Please guide me to a good restaurant”
They reached a small open-air local café, which had a magnificent view of the mountains and ordered cup of tea and some local snacks
“So, what do you want to know?” asked Amel
“Anything and everything which you don’t mind sharing with me”
“Well I belong to a really beautiful city called Banja Luka which is situated on the both banks of the river vrbas. It’s a historical city, ruled by the Turkey and Austria at one point of time. It has lush greenery and beautiful boulevards and the river flows all over. The women are pretty and it’s a real serene place where you can just feel the nature in abundance. In some way it’s a strange place now. There are different communities like Croats, Serbs and Moslems and we have tremendous suspicion towards each other. People have lost so much and gained too little after the bloody civil war” His voice choked and then he added, “I will send you some postcards once I go back”
They were silent for a while and then she asked, “Whom did you lose in that war”
“How do you know that I lost someone”
“It shows from your face. Can you tell?”
“Hmmm, it was my girlfriend and we were planning to get married. I loved her like anything and she was raped and murdered by the mob while I stood helpless. I don’t know yet why was I spared and not butchered” His voice was much calmer now.
“Can you tell me about Ladakh” He asked her
“Yeah sure. I will tell you some little things about Ladakh. We are a part of Jammu & Kashmir state, which is a strange combination of different faiths, quite similar to your city. We do have problems in Kashmir but this area is completely different. I am a doctor and used to work in Srinagar while my father was looking after the bookshop. He visited me last year and that was the turning point in my life”
“What happened that time?”
“Well, he was killed in the crossfire between militants and the army while getting down from the Bus. Hence I decided to come back, to take care of my mother and the shop. I also work part time as a doctor in the government hospital”
“Ok. I understand”
“So, it must have been painful for you after you lost your girlfriend”, asked Sonam
“Yes it was indeed. But I am out of that pain now. I only feel bad that she didn’t die a natural death and I can’t blame anybody. She has gone back to where we all belong. When hatred succeeds, man becomes an animal. Just imagine a country broken up into so many parts. If you break something, you will get some pain someday”
“Amel, India was also divided into two and we faced almost the same pain way back in 1947 and we still feel that way”
Amel smiled and said, “You have good knowledge of history”
“Remember I own a book shop so I keep reading” She smiled back
“So what all should I see in Ladakh” he asked
“There is lot of things to see. The Leh palace, the shey palace, spituk monastery and many other wonderful places to explore. Don’t worry, I will make your itinerary “
“And what about Shangri-La”, He asked
“Hmm quite possible you might find it here”
There conversation ended after some time and she left for her bookshop, while Amel just walked around and finally reached back his hotel and slept.
Sonam could not sleep that night. She kept thinking of Amel and their conversation. There was some innocence and honesty in him, she thought. She was really in awe of his handsome face and a pure smile.
Next morning Amel was awakened by a telephone call.
He picked up sleepily and said, “Hello”
“Hi! This is Sonam. Are you still sleeping”?
“No, now you woke me up. So, what’s up”?
“What are your plans for today?” she asked
“Well I will just roam around and visit few monasteries”
“Well it would be really great if you join me”
“Done. I will come down to your Hotel. Get dressed. I give you two hours and your time starts now” She giggled and disconnected.
She came to meet him, in his Hotel room and this time she was wearing a sleeveless white shirt and a long skirt. Her shirt had a faded Buddha face, along with some chants printed over it.
“What’s this written on your shirt”, He asked
“Well this is a Zen prayer”
“What does it mean? Do you chant it?”
“I don’t know what it means but it gives me lot of peace of mind. Whatever I ask for I usually get after chanting this prayer”
“I guess I would love to know this prayer. Can you tell me how do you chant”?
“I will give you a Zen prayer book. Meanwhile I will show you how to chant. Just watch me”
She sat on her knees on the bed and closed her eyes, folding her hands. Amel was watching her intently. She looked beautiful and full of divinity. She started chanting;
KAN JI ZAI BO SA GYO JIN HAN NYA HA RA MI TA JI SHO KEN
GO ON KAI KU DO IS SAI KU YAKU SHA RI SHI SHIKI FU I KU
KU FU I SHIKI SHIKI SOKU ZE KU KU SOKU ZE SHIKI JU SO GYO
SHIKI YAKU BU NYO ZE SHA RI SHI ZE SHO HO KU SO FU SHO
FU METSU FU KU FU JO FU ZO FU GEN ZE KO KU CHU MU
SHIKI MU JU SO GYO SHIKI MU GEN NI BI ZES SHIN NI MU
SHIKI SHO KO MI SOKU HO MU GEN KAI NAI SHI MU I SHIKI KAI
MU MU MYO YAKU MU MU MYO JIN NAI SHI MU RO SHI YAKU
MU RO SHI JIN MU KU SHU METSU DO MU CHI YAKU MU TOKU
I MU SHO TOK KO BO DAI SAT TA E HAN NYA HA RA MI TA KO
SHIN MU KE GE MU KE GE KO MU U KU FU ON RI IS SAI TEN
DO MU SO KU GYO NE HAN SAN ZE SHO BUTSU E HAN NYA HA
RA MI TA KO TOKU A NOKU TA RA SAM MYAKU SAM BO
DAI KO CHI HAN NYA HA RA MI TA ZE DAI JIN SHU ZE DAI MYO
SHU ZE MU JO SHU ZE MU TO TO SHU NO JO IS SAI KU SHIN
JITSU FU KO KO SETSU HAN NYA HA RA MI TA SHU SOKU SETSU
SHU WATSU GYA TEI GYA TEI HA RA GYA TEI HARA SO GYA
TEI BO JI SOWA KA HAN NYA SHIN GYO.
After the prayer, she became totally silent and what Amel could see was the divine halo, which had formed around her. He wondered as if it was his hallucination. He looked at the picture on the wall again. She resembled that girl in the picture, he decided.
“So how was that”, she asked?
“Awesome, Sonam. I am still in a daze”
“Don’t be in a daze or else we will be late in our adventure. Come let’s go”
They covered a lot of places that day including spituk monastery where Amel felt extreme silence within. It was about seven kilometers from Leh and the clear blue skies above were giving it such a magnificent look. Inside, he felt the divinity pouring all over him. He forgot where he was and what was he doing
“Amel, shall we go now”, He heard her saying
“Yes, sure” and then they went to explore other places. Amel felt that he would definitely find the Shangri-la he was looking for.
They were exhausted and by the time they reached the Hotel, no one was really able to walk. As they were entering the Hotel, Amel missed one step, twisted his leg and shrieked a little.
“Hey Amel what have you done. No problem I can handle that. Let’s go to your room. Can you make it?”
Amel nodded with a little pain.
They reached the room and Sonam asked him to pull up his trousers a little so that she could rub his ankle and feet.
“Sonam, I will manage”
“No. You should hear what a doctor says. Come on. Please”
“As you wish” Amel shrugged and pulled up his trousers. He was lying on the bed now while Sonam started massaging his feet, ankle and lower portion of the legs. She did it for some time and asked, “How are you feeling now?”
“Just give me five minutes. I will get you an ointment from the medicine shop”
Sonam arrived back after some time and started applying the ointment on his feet.
He looked at her. She had typical oriental looks but had a strange and enigmatic beauty.
“What are you looking at?” She asked him
She stopped massaging and blushed a little. Then she looked at him and asked him, “Why do you want to find Shangri-la?”
He looked at her intently and said, “Because it’s an abode of peace and it’s the only paradise on earth”
“You really want to know what it is?” she looked at him intently and asked
“I will tell you after a while. Meanwhile, why don’t you take a little nap? I will be back very soon”
”Okay” he smiled
She came closer and gave a little peck on his cheeks. Next moment, she was gone.
Thinking of her, he dozed off and woke up abruptly when he heard a knock on the door.
It was Sonam, again.
She entered the room and smiled.
They both sat down and there was a sudden silence between them.
She looked at him and asked huskily, “Do you really wish to know the real-shangrila?”
“Yes. Very much.”
She stood up, came nearer to Amel and said, “Ever since I have met you, I have been thinking of you continuously and your search for Shangri-la. Now I will tell you what Shangri-la is” with this she brought her mouth on his lips.
“Kiss me Amel and make me pure” She hissed
Amel brushed her lips a little then stopped. Again, out of a strange force, he kissed her passionately and held her tight. He kissed her again and again. Then he kissed her neck and started rubbing her breasts over her white shirt. He moved his hands inside the shirt and cupped her breasts again. He unbuttoned her slowly and within moments, the clothes were shed and they were in each other’s arms, touching and caressing each other. Amel could sense the same fragrance, which he felt earlier and he knew that it was some divine fragrance.
“Make love to me,” She commanded
He obeyed gladly and kissed her all over, beginning from her toes. He did it so delicately that he could himself feel her lithe body reacting in the most divine ways. She moaned a little but was in full control. She was guiding him in this path of paradise and extreme pleasure because she knew that he needed lot of tranquility, pleasure, passion as well as his Shangri-la.
He could not sustain the pleasure, grabbed her and entered her in one go, her lubrication enabling him to do it swiftly. He pumped inside, with slow intensity, as he was well aware that he has to do it slowly to feel the real pleasure.
Sonam was silently feeling the bliss, which was so holy and divine, the communion, the yoga of two bodies, the moment of self-love and the blessing from above. This magic of two bodies joined together, celebrating the wholeness of existence itself was like electricity. As he went deeper, she felt herself complete as if the sun and the moon and the stars were watching this moment of surrender and rapture. Her cries for more were subdued as Amel was himself moving towards that goal.
The orgasmic state came suddenly; when time became still and they reached the pinnacle of extreme rejoice.
They lay in each other’s arms and he asked “But where is the Shangri-la”
She looked at him and said, “This act of pure love, this unselfish quest for rejoice and dancing with the existence, this paradise of communion is the Shangri-la”
He thought for a moment and said, “So everybody has their Shangri-la?”
“No” She stopped then said, “It’s for those who think it as a pious thing, those who have purity in heart and mind. Today we have found the real Shangri-la”
Amel smiled and muttered, “Will we be able to re-discover the Shangri-la again”
“Yes. After a moment, and again, everyday and every night till you are here”
“What happens when I go back to my country”, Amel asked
“Enjoy the present, Amel. Don’t dwell on past or future and don’t give a name to our relationship. Let things happen naturally. Let us enjoy our oneness and this oneness is divine”
Amel nodded and gave her a kiss.
Writer’s note: For more information on Banja Luka and Ladakh, please visit the following sites on net: