Celebrate India – Joy's Amarnath Yatra
"Jab Jab Bhole Shankar ka Bulava aata hai, tab tab bhakt darshan ko jaata hai" meaning that whenever the Lord calls, the devotee goes to his abode. However this becomes increasingly difficult to believe when you have been stuck in the same tent for two days straight. While it has been snowing in the mountains non-stop and chances of your Amarnath Yatra are becoming bleaker by the hour. Your only solace lies in the UNO cards you were smart enough to bring along, the free food in the lungars and a group of people to keep you company.
Well, for those of you who do not know, Amarnath Yatra is one of the holiest pilgrimages in the Indian Culture. It leads up to the Amarnath Cave that houses the famous natural shiv ling made entirely of ice. It waxes during May to August and gradually wanes thereafter. The legend says that Lord Shiva brought Goddess Parvati along to this cave to recite to her the tale of immortality but accidentally two pigeons still in their eggs heard the story as well and became immortal. Many pilgrims have claimed that they have seen the two pigeons.
Considering that it is just a legend, chances of actually seeing these pigeons are almost next to none and my chances of even getting up to the cave itself were looking even bleaker. I had already contacted my boss and asked him for two days extension on my leave but if it had continued to snow I would have surely been forced to turn back and head home. But I guess Bhole Naath actually wanted us to come – when we woke up the following day, the sky was clear and so was the route through the mountains. We packed our bags in a hurry and set out at once. The 16km trek to Chandanwari was not all that difficult, partly because we were all used to hiking and trekking, and partly because the trek was picturesque and the air pristine.
We camped in Chandanwari for the night and the next day set out for Sheshnag. And this was where it started to get interesting. The trek became increasingly difficult as the altitude started to increase. Within 3KM km of trekking, we reached Pissu Top. It has some spectacular views to offer and some mythological importance as well. It is said that that to be the first to reach for darshan of Bhole Nath Shivshankar there was a war between devtas and rakshas. In the war, the devtas annihilated rakshas in such large numbers, that the heap of their dead bodies resulted in this high mountain. The journey to our next destination, Sheshnag (its name is derived from its Seven Peaks, resembling the heads of the mythical snake) followed steep inclines on the right bank of a cascading stream and wild terrain untouched by civilisation. And camping around the Sheshnag Lake, at the end of the trek, with the beautiful glaciers in the background was just like icing on the cake.
The next day we set out for the last camp, Panchtarni. This is probably the most difficult part of the trek because to reach Panchtarni, one has to cross the Mahagunas Pass at 4276 metres (14000 ft) for 4.6KM and from there on gradually descend to Panchtarni at a height of 3657 metres (12000 ft) for another 9.4KM. If one is not used to this altitude (which most people aren't) or has not acclimatised well, then they are likely to feel dizzy or nauseous due to lack of oxygen.
Therefore carrying some dry fruits and lemons might be a good idea. Also one key essential for the trip is Vaseline or cold cream, because trust me, without them (sometimes even with them) your skin will start to crack rapidly in the cold dry winds.
The following morning was the day of the final trek to the A
marnath cave temple. We got up early so that we could get to the cave, stay there for a while and get back to Panchtarni in time. There are no accommodations near the cave although some people choose to camp themselves. The trek was 6KM each way and was relatively easier from the previous day's trek. On the way to the trek lies the confluence (sangam) of the two holy rivers Amravati and Panchtarni. The water is of course icy-cold but taking a dip in the holy water before entering the cave is considered a good practice. And near the cave, you will find ashy whi
te soil that is called Bhasm. Pilgrims usually smear several parts of their bodies with the Holy soil. I, on the other hand just chose to put a tilak on my forehead and move on.
As soon as I entered the cave all the fatigue of the trek vanished in an instant. The cave is huge and surprisingly very well maintained even at that height. But of course the most unusual feature of the cave is the three Lingams. The biggest of them all, representing Lord Shiva and the smaller two, representing Goddess Parvati and her son Ganesha. Incredibly, the ice formation is not everywhere; it is only those three stalagmites and that is what is fascinating about it. I later learnt that there are two natural water channels running above and below the stalagmites inside the rocks and are responsible for the formation of the lingams. And it helps, that the stalagmites take the shape of lingams very much like the ones found in other Lord Shiva temples throughout the world.
It is fascinating to see how nature's mysteries and the power of faith go hand in hand to deliver such spectacles. Without either of them, the Amarnath experience would not have been so easily available to the millions of pilgrims who visit the cave.
There was not much space or time to daydream about the wonders of the cave. The darshan was quick because there were so many others waiting for their turn, but it was enough. In retrospect, I realized that it is not the destination but the journey that counted in the end. And keeping in mind this experience, now I am sure that "Jab Jab Bhole Shankar ka Bulava aaega, tab tab bhakt darshan ko jaaega."
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