TO THE ABODE OF THE GODS

The annual Amarnath yatra is here again and devotees, langar organisers, govt. officials and the terrorists group are busy preparing for the yatra. Hopefully, we will not have a repeat of what happens every year and also the floods of last year, the organisers must have taken adequate steps to avoid any such situations.

Every year there is anxiety just before the yatra dates, threats from various terrorist groups surface and fear of natural disasters loom. It normally turns out to be hoax calls and we have a wonderful and overcrowded yatra finishing off with a few Chopper visits by politicians.

I was longing to Kashmir and also the fact that I have not done a pilgrim yatra for quite a long time (since my Kailash Manasarovar yatra a few years back). Being a big devotee of Bholey Baba – it was a nice time last year to go for the Annual Amarnath Yatra. Would have loved to explore the area alone, but with terrorism being the main concern, I too joined the yatra as a regular pilgrim. The yatra has been reduced to a conducted tour because of the all-pervasive militant fears.

After registering myself in Jammu I joined a group of youngsters from Ghaziabad – who were looking for a single guy to fill into their vacant spot in the cab. We joined the convoy of about 10 buses and 20 other cabs. Amid cries of Jai Bhole Shankar and Ohm namo Shivay, we left early in the morning and passed through Udhampur, Patnitop, Ramban, Ramsu, Banihal, Anantnag and then finally to the night halt, the beautiful Pahalgam.

We reached Pahalgam on the second day and since it still was daytime, we proceeded to Chandanbari after registering at Pahalgam. Chandanbari was a big place and there were 100s of tents in the area. I rested in an army tent and had food at one of the langar tents.

Starting early next morning was the plan and I started at 5 AM in the morning. It was still dark, but the sky was clear. I wanted to complete the yatra as quickly as possible so wanted to cover as much as possible during the day treks. I crossed Pissughati, Nagakoti and reached Sheshnag in early afternoon. Resting for half an hour and feeding myself a big sized Bhatura with hot Cholley at a langar tent – filled me up with more energy and I started again for the next halt. Though a lot of other pilgrims chose to call it a day and rest at Sheshnag.

I went ahead and aimed at reaching Mahagunas at about 15,000 ft height and then continued on to Panchatarani. It was a taxing day; I had trekked for almost 14 hrs and covered more than 30 kms. I was welcomed by the check post at Panchatarani and was allotted a bed in a big vacant tent for night halt. Again hot food was made available in a langar tent and after the food; I just crashed in my sleeping bag.

Starting very very early was the plan again and I got up at 3 AM in the night. Immediately I started for the holy cave and after negotiating glaciers, and feeding at various langars on the way, I finally reached the cave at 5 AM in the morning and since I had started early – I was amongst the first comers and it gave me ample time to take a bath in the river – perform my puja and then shoot pictures with my cameras. It was almost an hour that I was inside the cave almost alone.

As I started my descend; I saw a sea of other pilgrims standing in queue on the glaciers and waiting for their turn. Bidding good bye to Lord Shiva, I left the Gufa area on my way back again to Pahalgam now, where I wanted to rest for 3-4 days and do some shootings.

The legend of Amaranth is centuries old. Lord Shiva, on repeated requests of Devi Parvati, decided to tell her the AMAR KATHA for which he required a secluded spot so that no one else can hear the tale. He took Bhansmasur’s help and destroyed all living animals and plant life en-route to the cave. At the cave he told Parvati the Katha but later discovered that two pigeons have also heard the katha. Therefore these pigeons also became AMAR – and it is said that they still live here.

The yatra, though an annual affair always has moments of anxiety mainly because of negligence and lack of awareness on part of the pilgrims. Most of the yatris are not aware of the tremendous requirements of the yatra. Most of them come with the notion that if they can complete the Vaishno Devi Yatra in two days, then they can also Amarnath Yatra also which now a day’s take the same amount of time through Sonmarg and Baltal. The usual Yatra through Pahalgam-Chandanbari-Sheshnag-Panchtarani takes almost 6 days to complete. The fact that unlike the Vaishno Devi yatra, Amarnath yatra has to be performed in total wilderness and high altitudes is never given a thought.

Bedsides the facilities available during Vaishno Devi yatra makes it look simpler. Most of the yatris come scantily dressed, carry no woolens with them, no blankets, no raincoats, or sleeping bags etc. During a storm or heavy rains (common in hills at such heights) it becomes so difficult for them to find a shelter. And there is no one to check this even though everyone is made to go through a registration process.

No proper night shelters are available except those built by langar organizers or makeshift tea shops and dhabas. The govt and Tourism Boards tents are meant to be used by relatives and friends of Sahibs only. The daily calls of nature are also to be taken in open, as the makeshift toilets are reserved for VIPs.

The Amarnatha yatra is an extremely difficult one involving long distance treks at high altitudes and in total wilderness. The weather is generally harsh, supplies almost non-existent, except langars, and militants a constant worry.

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