Reaching Pissu top gave us great satisfaction. We knew it is the most difficult part of the journey. What makes it difficult is the steepness. In this path you are literally walking uphill. But there is always inspiration when you see old people going up and coming down. There is one inspiring incident that happened while climbing the Pissu top. I suddenly heard loud noises from a group that was coming down. Apparently a old couple (guess both of them are in 50+) were having a hot verbal exchange with a young ponywala. They were quite a distance away and it was not possible to make out what the fight was about. As the young ponywala came down with his horse and passed me by, I heard him saying, “You take all the service from us and yet dare criticize us|” The old couple were yet to pass me by and this man had gone quite far but they both continued to shout and exchange heated words and suddenly the young man rose his stick and shouted “Allaho Akbar” and started to run back towards the old couple with a long stick in his hand but the old lady was not to be shaken. She gathered her strength and was ready to take on the young man. We had no clue of what is going on. I intervened a bit and told both of them to cool down. I had to remind the young man that they are old people and he should understand that. The situation could have gone uglier as the communal flare went up. Suddenly we saw Army men rushing down and that brought the whole situation to the normal. As the old lady came down towards me, I asked her what was the exact problem. She said, “That young man spoke lightly of us and said that he will hit us. It was too tough for me to control myself when he said, ‘Remember! you are not in India. You are in Kashmir'” It was really inspiring for me to see a old woman having such a great pride in being an Indian. When she gathered herself to take on the young man, there was not the least fear nor hesitation but the courage to stand up. It was so inspiring. Swami Vivekananda used to lament, “What has happened to the Hindus! They have no pride in their religion. I was in Kashmir once and I asked an old woman, ‘Mother! to which faith do you belong to?’. She said with pride, ‘By the grace of Allah, I am a Muslim’ and if I ask a Hindu as to what faith he belongs to there is neither energy nor the pride in his religion” I was reminded of these lines when I saw this old woman and how she was proud in being a Hindu and an Indian. She would have made Swamiji very proud.
I do not have anything against the Muslim brethren. I have a good number of Muslim friends. But it’s a different thing when someone openly spews venom on your faith and on your country. I have heard my friend Zeeshan Ahmed saying that Islam asks you to be loyal to the country that you live in. I wish many of the Muslim brethren in Kashmir understand this. Kashmir would be a veritable heaven when it is rid of terrorism, communal hatred and sedition.
The next passage from Pissu Top to Sheshnag which is the base camp where the Yatris are going to halt for the night is very scenic. The road is also easier to walk. From here you are getting closer to the ice. There are also beautiful water streams. At places it is like a lawn spread out. This part of the journey is very enjoyable. Though we went as a group of 9, we could be seldom together. It’s tough. Different people have different walking speeds, some just want to run, some want to go at a decent pace, some like to rest and go and someone like me want to do a bit of everything and take photographs too. So we left individuals to themselves and only told them to be present at strategic locations when they reach there. One problem we faced here was that our mobiles didn’t work there. We took only one BSNL POSTPAID Local SIM which works in Amarnath mountain. So it was a bit tough for us to make out where each individual is. But trusting God that everyone will be safe, we just moved on. It also helps if you have a young group. You know somehow they will make their way and will be usually safe. We reached Sheshanag in evening and took a Tent for the night. It’s a temporary shelter and you shouldn’t complain of the facilities. It’s a great service in itself to put up Tents there for the Yatris. Sheshnag wasn’t that cold. But some of us didn’t particularly feel well. Most of us were tired and some of us, including myself found it difficult to start early in the morning the next day. It was about 9:00AM when about 4 of us started. It’s recommended to start at 5:00AM. Again the ponywalas come and ask whether you need a Horse. We had to repeatedly tell them that no matter what, we are going on foot.
From Sheshnag, the next main point is the Mahagan Top. We will be entering the most scenic spots in the Amarnath Yatra. This point is dedicated to Maha Ganapati. You can almost visualize and see Ganapati’s face in many of the hills at this place. This path is quite arduous. The thing that we started a bit late didn’t help us. In addition, another of our team members contracted fever and was feeling too tired. We have free medical clinics on the way. The Doctor suggested that microbes won’t thrive at this height and that fever won’t be there and just that you take adequate rest and move. We had carried Glucose and ORS and they came to our rescue during this journey. After reaching Mahagan top, our senior partner Rajesh Babuji wanted us to spend sometime chanting Ganesh Mantras at that place. We chanted Ganesh Suktam and Ganeshatharvasheersham and rested there for sometime. This is indeed a beautiful place. After the Mahagan top, we reached Poshtarini. At Poshtarini, there is one big langar which is better than most 5 star buffets in Bangalore. Some people are like that and they don’t mind spending crores for their faith. This langar is a classic example. You have almost every Indian food available here and as you know it is all free. Idlies, dosas, Rotis, Doklas, Mammos, soups, fruits, dry fruits, sweets, tea, coffee, chocolates, you name them all and it is all free for the Yatris. They have also put LED screens that play devotional movies. It’s probably run on Diesel Motors. At this place, two more of our friends, fell ill and had a sound sleep in this langar. Here we met an initiated devotee of Sri Ramakrishna Ashram. She was from Kolkata and had come with her husband. As far as I recall very few ladies were there in this trip. Later, we started for Panchatarini which was our next base camp. It was quite late when we reached there. This place is really cold and, personally, I couldn’t sleep that night.
For all practical purposes, reaching Panchtarini is almost like reaching Amarnath. The next day we were all excited to go to reach Amarnath and we started quite early. I was in high spirits and in best health this morning. For the first two days, I usually reached last but today was different. I knew I am going to make it first. My body had adjusted well and the legs were moving fast. As usual, the group split on its own and almost all of us trekked alone for some part of the journey. This route is actually very steep. It helped us that we started early in the morning. When you climb up on a steep hill, the best thing for you is to move on. If you keep looking down, you are not going to get anywhere. In this passage, you are going to walk on slippery Ice for about 1 KM. You need to have that stick with you to know where you can safely put your legs in. I had a slip and my black rain trouser got really dirty but it had done its job by then. This journey from Panchtarini to Amarnath is about 7KM and takes about 3 hours. When I reached Amarnath, what a sight! It was 8:10 in the morning and was so beautiful to look at. Here one bucket of warm water costs Rs. 50/- and you have to take bath in very small temporary bathrooms. All for Amarnath! I also thought, “No matter where Lord Shiva is going to hide himself, even if it be 50 miles high into the Himalayas, the devout Hindu is going to track him down”
I had carried the Sasvara Veda Mantraha book particularly to chant Sri Rudram inside the Holy Cave. After waiting for about an hour, I couldn’t get the other members to join me. It’s tough there. I went alone for the Darshan and while having Darshan, I met Revered. Swami Parahitanandaji right there. He was previously the manager at the Mysore Ramakrishna Ashrama. Actually it was him who recognized me. I didn’t put on raincoat and sweater while going in and it made it easier for the Swami to recognize me. Myself and Swamiji stood in front of the Ice Lingam and chanted Sri Rudram which lasted for about 25 minutes. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. The security staff were very courteous in allowing us to chant. They usually do not allow people to stand in front of the Lingam for more than 5 minutes. When we finished, the lady police respectfully and cheerfully asked if we are done. Probably, my happiest moment was when I did Pranaams to Lord Shiva inside the cave. It was bliss. I didn’t make any special prayer. It’s said He knows everything!
One thing that flashed to my mind while going near the Holy Cave was the age old saying of our sages, the voice of India, the experience of our Acharyas, the call of the Upanishads reminding me of the inner meaning of the Amarnath Yatra – Just as it takes such dedicated effort to reach the Amarnath Cave, it needs similar dedicated effort to reach the inner God (the Atman) in the journey of life. It was as if life explained.
On the way down, I met 3 of our group mates. One of them had lost the way and somehow came right and two others also made it. Others joined slightly later. Having not slept the last night, I desperately needed sleep. Two of us just got into one of the Tents meant for the Yatris and slept for couple of hours. The owner told us to pay whatever we feel is the right amount. We paid him Rs. 100/- and thanked him for the facility. It was about 4:00PM when we both left Amarnath. We had already discussed that except two, who will take helicopter others will take the Baltal route and will meet at Baltal.
As I wrote in the earlier post, the Baltal route is a shorter, steeper and slightly dangerous route and is preferred by some Yatris to climb down. 5 had gone ahead of us, 2 were to come by the chopper the next day, and myself and Prasad left Amarnath at around 4:00PM. We took about 6 hours to reach the Baltal base camp and stayed there at a free langar for the night. While coming down, we met one old person who was basically from Tamil Nadu and spoke very good English. He was walking barefoot! He was 64 years old. He walked much faster than us. We spoke to him for about 45 minutes while walking and he told us that he had visited Karnataka also. He named most of the pilgrimage places in Karnataka. He was on travel for couple of months and said he is not wearing footwear from about 12 years. He has a family and now he is moving in search of God. We felt so ashamed that here was an old man who didn’t wear a rain coat, didn’t have thermal wear, didn’t even wear a trouser (he was in Dhoti), no umbrella to protect himself from rain and not even a bag as I remember and yet was so steadfast in his devotion and moved to commune with God. On the other hand, we prepared so much for the travel, bought quite a few things, carried this that etc and yet couldn’t match the old man and his speed. I don’t know if he was Shiva himself!. I told him that we are very inspired by him and requested him to accept some money for his expenses, which he did. He stayed at a Langar on the way since it was dark and the security personnel don’t allow people without Shoes and Torch to travel in night. We also saw one young lady along with her family making tough efforts to complete the journey. We all reached Baltal more or less at the same time.
Perspiring at the Pissu Top, Meditating at Sheshnag, Chanting at the Mahagan top, being sleepless at Panchtarini and feeling blissful at Amarnath – these things sum up my journey to Amarnath. When I reached Amarnath, I felt as if I have reached the top of the world. The bliss that flows inside the Holy Cave of Amarnath is just inexpressible. Despite the communal clashes, the Hindus and Muslims need each other in this journey of Amarnath. That in itself is a demonstration of communal harmony. No words will be adequate to express our gratitude to the Indian Army which keeps vigil day and night to ensure the safety of the Amarnath pilgrims. Free food langars are such a great blessing in this arduous journey. People do it as a religious duty. As a matter of fact, these things make it easier for many people to undertake the Amarnath Yatra. Just one more thing that I want to add before I finish this long write up is the working of Karmas in the journey of Human life. We have heard there is God inside every person and the goal of man is to see (become) God by becoming pure. I believe in it and I know it is the only sane approach to life. Going on pilgrimage definitely helps you counter your Karmas and come in face to face with your imperfections and at the same time higher possibilities. There is as if a glimpse of the highest. There should be a reason why millions and millions of Hindu people have been undertaking pilgrimage for centuries! Adi Shankara, Swami Vivekananda, the born perfect, and intellectual luminaries themselves undertook pilgrimages. With all our imperfections and exploitation in the name of religion, there is a meaning in all this. Just that some people do it blindly. If you are wise, you will derive benefit from this, surely. For a time, you forget all about your comforts, family, friends, and just go deep inside yourself. What you learn is precious. If the understanding and fire is kept intact, I’m sure the journey of our life will be more purposeful.
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