The Amarnath jyotirling always appeared too distant for me. On couple of occasions, I told some of the devotees that I don’t have a strong desire to go to Amarnath. But this time, I felt a sudden urge to go. I did some research well before the Yatra began and again forgot all about it till I found a group of devotees going to Amarnath. That rekindled my interest and I made up my mind to go. Initially, I thought of going with them and after sometime felt like going alone. But most of the times we have gone as a group. I just thought of checking with some devotee friends who might be interested in joining. Gradually the number went up to 11 but two of them dropped at the last minute owing to professional commitments. So the number was 9. Our permit date was on 27th and 28th of July 2015.
The Yatra didn’t take off smoothly at all. We got so many obstacles that some people thought of dropping out but I had made up my mind to go, come what may. I thought if the Lord is determined to put obstacles, I am equally determined to go. Initially we were scheduled to start on 19th July and the train tickets were booked. But the Indian Railways kept on doing last minute train cancellations to New Delhi. Our ticket was canceled for 19th and then we booked again for 21st and even that got canceled. Eventually we traveled to Chennai and from there got one train at the last minute to Delhi. So the trip finally began.
I didn’t mind visiting Chennai on the way because I had never gone to Chennai before. I wanted to visit Chennai Ramakrishna Math and Swami Vivekananda House. The fact that my Deeksha Guru most Rev. Swami Gautamanandaji is currently the head of Chennai Math, I thought it’s the best way to start our journey. After completing our local sightseeing in Chennai we left for New Delhi on 22nd afternoon by Pondicherry express. To be honest, I didn’t find any major improvements in the Indian Railways since the last time I took a train to Delhi about 4 years back. After reaching Delhi early on 24th morning, we took another train to Jammu and reached there in the evening. Here, our accommodation was at the Ramakrishna Mission in Jammu.
I contracted fever immediately on arrival at Jammu. Jammu Ashram has a dispensary. I skipped Jammu sightseeing and went to the Doctor on the advise of Swamiji. Doctor was very positive. He gave me some tablets and asked me to take them for 5 days. He assured me that I will enjoy the Yatra and also told me that the place is very beautiful. On 26th morning, we started for Pehalgam. Pehalgam is one of the base camps for Amarnath, the other one being Baltal. Baltal is a very short route.. about 14KM but deemed very tough to climb. People usually take Baltal route to climb down. Also the Pehalgam route is known to be more beautiful and is the traditional route. Before starting for Pehalgam, we stayed at the dormitory provided for the devotees in Jammu. In the morning, all the buses starting towards Pehalgam are accompanied by a Convoy. After our visit, the Border Security Force had an altercation with the terrorists who targeted one of these buses. Two jawans sacrificed their lives to save the yatris traveling by Bus. So Amarnath Yatra is actually risky. But for one, I believe that if I am supposed to die, I will die anywhere, I can die at my own place. So I was not deterred by these threats and also the natural calamities that are expected there.
Jammu to Pehalgam is a beautiful route and takes about a full day of travel but you won’t be complaining considering what you get to see on the roadside. Beautiful greenery, hills, mountains and our Army Men guarding the route at strategic points makes it a very involving journey. We have free food counters called langars on the way. The Bus will stop there for our breakfast and lunch. For Amarnath goers, there is no problem for food from the very beginning to the end. For about couple of hours, we did Bhajans in the Bus. And later one of the persons sitting behind us constantly requested us to continue doing Bhajans. He told us “Baba ka Naam Sunao” (please make us hear the Baba’s name). I met that person on the way back too. He said that he’s so happy to see me and gave me a hug. I was happy to see him too. It’s difficult not to like the goodhearted people.
Reaching Pehalgam was like reaching heaven. We were totally taken aback by the beauty of the place. Also that we reached Pehalgam at around 7PM when it was just about getting dark, made the place look even more beautiful. A wonderful stream flowing by, mountains on the other side, tall trees – these are all just beautiful. Here we had an option to stay in a Tent but chose to stay in a Hotel considering that cost was the same and also that we get easy access to Hot Water and charging points. The next day we chose to visit Baisaran Valley which is hailed as the Mini Switerzland. I am not sure if that is true or is just a tourism promotion word, but we went there because we wanted to get used to Trekking before we start for Amarnath. This journey is about 8 KMs and it did provide us a fair idea of what is to come during our longer trek. Baisaran Valley is a beautiful landscape. We had some happy moments there interacting with some locals, walking around the place and doing some photography. It was in a way a good prelude to the Amarnath. It was quite relaxing.
The next day we started for Amarnath. We hired a cab to reach to Chandanwari from Pehalgam. It’s from Chandanwari that actual trekking starts. After the security checks, we had our breakfast in one of the langars (in fact couple of them) there. Some of these langars also give chocolates and fruits to carry forward. In fact it can become too much! We took whatever we were comfortable with and started our journey.
Now, this is the beginning of a long trek, a devotional trek where the people are ready for any eventuality. If you look at the possible problems, most people who love their lives will simply not attempt an Amarnath Journey! There have been deaths due to terrorist attacks, due to landslides, or by cloud bursts or by heart attack (In fact one person died because of an heart attack when we were traveling). But lakhs of people still go to have Darshan of the Lord Amarnath. This is what Swami Vivekananda told in the west, “Just as your people are ready to jump into the mouth of a cannon, our people are ready to die in the name of religion” He used to say, to aspire for God is not a bad thing after all! You have a practical demonstration of that in the Amarnath Yatra.
It was quite cold but we had carried adequate clothing to help us in cold. The first main point to cover was the Pissu Top. This passage can easily discourage the Yatris. I started to perspire heavily after about 2KMs. Our group had also broken to multiple fragments. We met each other while taking rest at different points. Here the Ponywalas frequently pressurize you to take the Horses. But we had all decided that we will try our best to go on foot. So we didn’t hire any. After reaching the Pissu top, you are greeted by our National Flag and you are naturally happy. There were couple of langars here and we relaxed there for quite sometime. Here we saw one person who was returning from the Amarnath Yatra. He was apparently a Sanyansin and he was having a prosthetic leg. It was such a surprise! Later we also saw another person who didn’t have a leg but was moving with the help of a stretcher! Now you understand what religion and God means to the Hindus!
(To be continued …)