India is not called a Land of surprises and contradiction without a reason. For example lets talk about its religious practices. In most of the modern religions people built their place of worship at location which are easily accessible. Most of the Churches , Mosque and Gurudwaras would sit at a very pretty good location with in the city. But just look at us Hindus. There is not a single entity in the nature we have not utilized to make our temples. More the difficult location, more the famous and pious it is.
Amarnath, Kailash-Mansarovar, Vaishnodevi, BadriNath-Kedarnath, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kanyakumari are some of the well known religious pilgrimages which are testimony to this mostly ignored matter of facts and faith which seemed to encourage a physical activity, and a difficult one, to perform our religious duty. Over the time we have neglected our tradition which for me is like an ancient version of ‘Come n Play’ campaign run by Delhi Government during CWG Games.
Apart from the physical activity and sporting environment there is a joyous celebration related to Hindu festivals and religious events. Otherwise most modern religions are very serious to the extent of boring in their outlook and process. No offense but I have rarely seen people in Church, Mosque or even Gurudwara smiling. People act as if they have been given a punishment. Some People take their religion so seriously. But in Hinduism its totally different. We celebrate our religion in loudest of voices and highest of places.
One such religious pilgrimage is Vaishno-Devin in Katra in J&K.
The temple is near the town of Katra, in the Reasi district in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is one of the most revered places of worship in India. The shrine is at an altitude of 5300 feet and a distance of approximately 14 kilometres (8.7 mi) from Katra. Approximately 8 million pilgrims (yatris) visit the temple every year and it is the second most visited religious shrine in India, after Tirumala Venkateswara Temple.
One have to get to the town of Katra to start the journey and the best way is to get to Jammu and then take Pre-paid taxis or Buses. After reaching in Katra town you would have plenty of hotels and Dharamshala to choose from. But don’t expect the standards of hotel rooms as found in other touristic place. They are very expensive for the facilities they provide. Renowned hotel chains are preferable if you don’t have any budget constraints.
The journey start from the place Baand-Ganga, and it has two sub-destination salong the way to Bhawan, the main temple, and they are called ‘Ardhkumari’, ‘Sanjhi-Chat’ and finally Bhawan. There is a temple of Bhairon Baba above the Bhawan and its considered that the pilgrimage of Vaishno-Devi is incomplete without visiting Bhairon-Baba.
Upto Ardhkumari, which is on halfway as the name suggests, we have a continuous line of small eateries, restaurants, book/dvd stalls and some general shops selling items of religious importance. Its more of a religious picnic. Everybody from children to elders in their 80s enjoy the atmosphere which is filled with chanting of “Jai Mata Di” with prefix of “Aage wale”, “Piche wale”, “Zor se Bolo”, ‘Awaz na aayi”.
There is a certain camaraderie among people which is unusual in normal lives. Nobody pushes you, poor and rich all are same here though not fully free from commercialization , you get greeted by strangers. You get support and encouragement from your fellow devotees.
From Ardhakumari there are two different ways to approach the Bhawan. One is an old one which is difficult, relatively narrow and steep. But its somewhat short. Another alternate way was made to make the journey more easy and comfortable. This way is much broader, comfortable and scenic. We have MNC eateries like CCD also.On this road even two truck can move side by side. And thankfully for older people battery driven tempos are also plied on this way.
The whole journey from Katra to Bhawan and back can take up to 20 Hours or even more. Its very demanding physically.But you can use Pitthus and Khacchar but its amazing to see that the people with even disabilities go to the place and complete the journey.
Another comfortable and alarmingly cheap way of going to Bhawan is by Helicopter and the price is dirt cheap. For just 700 INR. Rarely do we get a chance to ride a chopper, though now airplane is in the reach of general public. So this is an exciting idea and a inexpensive one. Helicopter takes you from Katra to Sanjhi Chat from where you have to move on your legs up to Bhawan.
Once specific incidence over there consolidated my faith on the fact of life that whatever we have achieved in life is much more than what millions of people can only dream of. So don’t always complain.
This guy whose both legs were disabled crossed our way at two kilometers away from Bhawan. I was just speechless and shocked. He was using the empty water bottle to slide on the floor and thus moving forward. The problems in my life and others seemed nothing. All the problem we mention in our daily lives were looking like a beautiful joke to myself. I literally clapped and had my eyes wet. God bless him.
On a religious journey, I confronted the cruel realities of life of people and realized that whatever I have is enough than I deserve. I thanked God for that and I couldn’t ask anything except that to wish that this world becomes more beautiful and livable for all.