18 April 2009

Spiritual Travel : Amarnath Yatra

Amarnath Yatra

The Amarnath Yatra is an annual pilgrimage taken to the Himalayas by the devotees of Lord Shiva. In the Amarnath cave every year the drops of water form a stalagmite in the shape of the Shiv Ling. That is the symbol of Shiva that all devotees worship. The natural occurrence of this shape of stalagmite is supposed to be considered highly auspicious and many devotees undertake the strenuous journey each year to see it. Some people trek for miles even before they can reach the mountains. Others come in vehicles till Pehelgam and make camp at the base of the mountain range that they must now climb.

The cave in question is myth logically supposed to be the place where Shiva told Parvati, his wife, the secret of immortality. Since he wanted to ensure that no mortal being heard the secret, he took her to this distant and inaccessible cave. After they reached here, he divulged the secret to her. Only trouble is that after the long climb she was so tired that she fell asleep half way through the narration. Yet as he continued to talk some one keep saying “hmmm” and he continued the narration. It later transpired that a white bird had heard it all. When Shiva realized this he told the bird that it would be immortal, but would never be able to leave the cave for too long. This was to ensure that the bird did not pass on the secret to any human being.

No matter how fit you are, this is one demanding hike. The religious faith and zeal are what keep most of the people going. There are huge community kitchens set up at regular distances to feed the people. Some tents are also provided to offer shelter from the elements as you break for the night. The climb is difficult but it is not uncommon to see entire families making the journey together. You will have grand parents, parents and children all climbing up the slippery and treacherous slopes together. Falling, recovering, and supporting each another with physical help and encouraging words.

The journey is perhaps better than the actual destination. As the actual amount of time that you get to spend in the cave is severely limited. The security personnel are told to ensure that the line keeps moving, so you will barely get a feel of the cave before you have to move out again. The sight takes some getting used to, plus the stalagmite is cordoned off so you really wonder about just what you got to see as you get ushered out of the cave. Sure you will be given the “Prasad” and you will have a great sense of achievement at completing the trek up, but the actual site seeing can be over rather fast.

On the way down, one needs to be more careful than on the way up. Coming down moss laden paths is difficult at any time. So when it comes at the end of a couple of days of climbing up, you need to be alert and careful. At the end of the Amarnath Yatra the people who went along with you would have started out as strangers and wound up as best friends. It can be one of the best experiences of your life, as long as you prepare yourself for the trek well. Make sure that you carry adequate woolens and any medication that you will need. There is literally nothing available in the wilderness. There are no shops from where you can buy things. You will be dependent on what you carry or what others are willing to share with you.

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