Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey

Tripoto
30th Jun 2014
Photo of Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey by Bhagwat Balshetwar
Day 1

Planning and Initial phase of Journey....

Since the year 2011, my family was discussing for a trip to Amarnath and Vaishnodevi Pilgrimage Yatra (Yātrā (Sanskrit: यात्रा, 'journey', 'procession'), in Hinduism and other Indian religions, generally means pilgrimage to holy places such as confluences of sacred rivers, places).

Despite deciding so many times, we were not able to find a date to go there!! Eventually, in March 2014, we took a firm decision to go for the Amarnath trip. The tour operator asked us to have a medical test done and submit the Amarnath registration form. We went through the medical tests in Sassoon hospital in Pune, after which, I submitted all the required registration forms to the tour operator.

There are 2 ways to reach Amarnath Cave from Srinagar.

1) Baltal Base Camp ( 14 km from Amarnath Cave)

2) Pahalgam (32 km from Amarnath Cave)

We registered for the Pahalgam route. Four options are available to go from base camp to Amarnath cave as follows:

1) By foot

2) By riding horse

3) Helicopter

4) Palanquin (A palanquin, also known as palkhi, is a covered sedan chair (or litter) carried on four poles. It derives from the Sanskrit word for a bed or couch, pa:lanka.)

At Srinagar we changed our plan (29th June 14) ….

Helicopter booking started from 1 March. However, it got over in 2 days. One of my friends told that we can book helicopter from Srinagar as well. We reached Srinagar on 29th June. But, to my utter dismay, I found that Rs.4500 ticket was being sold at 8500 bucks in Srinagar market.

In the meantime, Amarnath board decided to close Pahalgam route due to heavy snowfall in that area. Hence our tour operator had to take decision for changing the plan and the new plan was to visit Amarnath Cave through Baltal base camp. On top of that, on Baltal route, the Panchtarni helipad was 6 kilometers away from cave. If we booked helicopter then we needed to either walk, or else we had the option of riding horse for 6 km. So my father decided that we would ride horse in journey.

Srinagar - Dal Lake

Photo of Amarnath Temple, Pahalgam by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Srinagar - Dal Lake - Shikara

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Srinagar - Dal Lake - Garden

Photo of Dal Lake, Srinagar by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Travelling from Srinagar to Baltal Base Camp (30th June 14)….

While traveling from Srinagar to Baltal, the J&K Police and Army checked our vehicles and our passes, twice. At Moneygram check-post we were told to park our vehicle at ground. We had our lunch at Lungar (free community kitchen). Food was not at all a problem as different types of dishes were available there. People over there were such good hosts that they won everyone’s hearts. They were asking and welcoming everyone to come and have food. Where in this world we get to see such people now-a-days?

There were more than 20 pandal in that camp. The volunteers from each lungar requested us to have lunch in their lungar, and we ended up having food from 3 lungar! At 3.00 pm, a convoy of vehicles slowly started towards the Baltal base camp. The Army jawans were travelling along with us. Two army vehicles were guarding from the front, two from behind. All in all there were around 40 yatra vehicles who were escorted by jawans. One has to experience that in order to fully understand the engagement of Indian Army and J&K Police.

River

Photo of Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey by Bhagwat Balshetwar

River

Photo of Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Glacier with River

Photo of Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey by Bhagwat Balshetwar
Day 2

At Baltal Base Camp (30th June 14)…

Our registration pass date was on 2nd July. We reached the Baltal check post on 30th June. Since we reached a day early, the army did not allow us to go the base camp. We tried to convince them for 3 hours, but in vain. The fact was that, the Pahalgam route was closed and hence we had no option other than going through Baltal. Eventually they allowed us to go after getting convinced about our situation, after some checking of course. And we the reached Baltal base camp at around 7.00 pm.

River in full swing on one side of the camp, Range of Himalayan Mountains On the other… Sea of tents in between….the lungar’s spreading up to foothills of mountain... Parking lot in front of gate no 1… small vendors spreading across the base camp..... magnificent is the only word…

By now we started feeling temperature fall in environment. We searched for the tent, and then we searched for the horse vendor. The person charged us Rs.2150 per person per horse.

Senior citizen couple who were accompanying us, stayed in our tent. The uncle was 80 and aunty was 75 years old. They were stocked up with medicines. My curiosity end up in asking them “why you came in such an adverse environment?” They told me that even though they were not physically fit for journey, but they were mentally enough prepared. They had the permission of their children’s for this journey. Before leaving home, they had a final goodbye session in their family, just in case any adverse situation happened in this sacred journey. They had nerves of steel. They were not physically fit for walking or horse riding. So they decided to take palanquin.

Our Tent

Photo of Baltal Base Camp, Baltal by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Baltal Base Camp - Parking

Photo of Baltal Base Camp, Baltal by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Baltal Base Camp

Photo of Baltal Base Camp, Baltal by Bhagwat Balshetwar
Photo of Baltal Base Camp, Baltal by Bhagwat Balshetwar
Photo of Baltal Base Camp, Baltal by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Baltal Base Camp

Photo of Baltal Base Camp, Baltal by Bhagwat Balshetwar
Day 3

Sacred Journey to Amarnath Cave… (01 July 14)

Our journey to Amarnath Cave started from Baltal camp on 1st July. We woke up at around 3.30 am in the very early morning. We took our bath at that time and paid Rs.70 for a single bath! By 4.30 am we started riding our individual horses with bated breath. We thought that we did early. But our horse owner told us that we were still late by 30 min. After a 30 min horse ride we reached the main check post. Our passes and personal id were verified by the authority, yet again.

And thereafter, the most memorable and most fearful journey of my life started. It was a real fun. For the first 3 kms I was not able to even balance myself on the horse ride. The railing along the roadside stretched up-to 4km, and after that we could see the steep fall along the roadside. Along the way we were slowing moving up to great heights, and then moving down to steep rises. I really felt butterflies in the stomach and had Goosebumps. I decided to not see steep sides of the huge mountains.

The Road was 8-10 feet wide and it was created by crafting of mountains. Devotees who were on foot journey were travelling by the mountain side. Middle of road was occupied by palanquins. Usually senior citizens used Palanquin. Horse rides were on the steep side of road, and they were away by 1-2 foot from the road end. The Horse owner held the horse by a rope around his neck .He also had a stick in his other hand.

The road was fully occupied by horse droppings and mud due to rain on the previous day. The horse owner told us that we should help the horse by bending ahead while it is advancing, and while on slope we should bend towards backside. We had 4 horses moving in sequence. In our procession my horse was in the fore front, followed by my wife’s , my mother’s and lastly my father’s , in that sequence. The name of my horse was Bulbul. I tried my best to communicate with Bulbul, but in vain.

Deep valleys were showing up and I have to say that I got really frightened. I thought in my mind that if anything happened, then nobody would be able to find even a fingernail of mine. The horse was walking along the edge of the mountain. A deep valley, a small road, trust, fear, curiosity, nature, glacier, and frame of mind….all these took me to an altogether different world. I could see the water flowing out from a glacier. It was such a soothing and charming view. However, unfortunately, I could not take more photos as I had to balance myself on horse. I could see army jawan carrying 2 dead bodies on stretchers. I thought that if my horse slip on road, then I might be able to hold railing in order to survive. But what will happen to my family? All these thoughts were moving around in my mind .However, by grace of Amaranth, such terrible situation did not arise.

Army Jawans were standing at every 500 meters… they stood like rocks... they were guarding whole area all day/night like panther silently watching jungle….responsibility was shown in their gesture … they were doing their task with no fear… thrust & hunger was not bothering them… they were helping people, distributing snacks, biscuit & tea… they were controlling movement of people… I salute their courage… high respect for them…

We took a tea-break after around 7km. The health of my mother’s horse was not good. So I asked the owner to replace the horse with a healthy one. He asked about money I would pay. I told him I would pay him money in Baltal base camp, only after return. I asked the horse owners to have tea. I was quite surprised with bill. It was Rs. 240 for four teas! I saw that they were taking tea with Kashmiri roti.

After the tea session, the road turned very narrow with steep valleys. Before Barari stop, 2 roads were separated, one for horse and another for Palanquin. We took a 5 min break at Sangam stop. The last 1 km road was made of glacier. But we stepped down from the horse probably far too early, and we had to cover some part walking. We had to make almost a 6.5 hour journey in order to reach a point near Amarnath cave. And then I could see that big waiting line of devotees. The entire area was crowded by tents and lungar’s. Temperature dipped too low.

At Amarnath Cave… (01 July 14)

Amarnath Cave is at a height of around 12756 feet from the sea level. The oxygen content in the area is very low. As we stood up glacier, we realized that we had not taken a single meal in the last 6.5 hour long journey. It was so physically stressing that my wife collapsed. After taking rest and plenty of water, biscuit and oxygen, her health improved. But, thereafter, we did not want to take any more risk. So we decided to ride Palanquin for the remaining distance. But, to my utter dismay, our palanquin was stopped by security personal, and again we needed to walk along in order to reach queue.

The snow was slippery and a number of people slipped due to that. Due to less oxygen in the air, a number of senior citizens and ladies suffered. In the hustle queue, we were moving with crowd. Suddenly the Army jawans came into picture, just to make sure that people were disciplined in queue. They helped elder people to reach cave. They were guiding people. Also they sent people to medical camp for checking. Within 2.5 hour, we had darshan of Amarnath God. Amarnath cave is at 12756 feet height above sea-level and completely made of rock.

The Amarnath Shivlingam (Wikipedia: “In traditional Indian society, the linga is rather seen as a symbol of the energy and potential of God, Shiva himself”) is made by snow. It had a height of around 10 -12 feet. I somehow forgot everything else while taking darshan. I was enthralled.

I did not see a single bird in the 14 km long stretch of journey, but could see one pigeon in the cave. According to Hindu mythology there are two pigeons. I could not understand how the pigeon alive in cold. What might they eat in this remotest place? People come here only for 2 months in year and even they suffer from cold and low oxygen. Probably it was the miracle of the nature. Or could it be Baba Amarnath’s blessing? Who knows?

We took snacks in the lungar. The road was so slippery and snowy that we had a hard time to walk. In two or three occasion I simply slipped, but somehow balanced myself from falling.

Our Horses

Photo of Amarnath Temple, Pahalgam by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Barari Top - Its Tea Time

Photo of Amarnath Temple, Pahalgam by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Barari Top

Photo of Amarnath Temple, Pahalgam by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Barari Top

Photo of Amarnath Temple, Pahalgam by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Glacier

Photo of Amarnath Temple, Pahalgam by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Horses on Glacier River

Photo of Amarnath Temple, Pahalgam by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Return Journey to Baltal Camp… (01 July 14)

After reaching to the pasture, place where we had kept our horses, we started our return journey on horses. The weather was changing in every couple of minutes. The valley was blanketed with the dark cloud. It was such a fearsome cloud with darkness spread all around it. I thought, again, that if my horse slipped due to heavy mud, then what would happen. But, somehow, the local people and their horses were travelling easily.

I started to appreciate horse as an animal. A horse is just like an obedient child. We can bank on the horse. In our fearsome journey, whether it is the steep valley or a slope of the mountain, the horse never broke the disciplined queue. While moving slowly on the horse, we could see a small waterfall beside the road. I saw that, if the water was crystal clear then only the horse drank that water. Else he would continue his journey.

The return journey was quite good. We had rain… same mud covered road… same mountain… same glacier… same nature… and the same horse. But I enjoyed the return journey. Army CRPF Battalion numbers were carved the on another side of the mountain. The palanquin was moving in specific patterns. Many people sitting on the palanquin were asleep. The whole 14 km stretch of road and mountain were made of brittle Clint.

The Divine presence in atmosphere… Mind rapidly switching between fear and curiosity ... Mind-blowing glacier… the glacier walk was like walking on white carpet… light hearted rain was creating magic in environment… sharp turn on the road was worth the view… snow was spread across the valley… snow melting was creating small waterfalls… which was turning into flowing river… and roads path were being designed like a river flowing from mountains…

The return journey took around 4 hours. Finally able to carry the day after safely reaching the Baltal base camp. My hands, feet, knees, neck and the entire body was aching. We decided to call it a day. We were dead tired. I started to rewind this memorable journey of my life and fell asleep by taking a pain killer.

Next morning, I started the return journey to Srinagar. I felt pretty fresh. I listened to the announcement, that due to bad weather and heavy rain, Amarnath cave was closed for 4-5 hours. I thought that if we took darshan on 2nd July then we might need to stay 2 more days in Baltal. While return journey to Srinagar, our vehicle was stopped again at the check post. They didn’t allow us to go further due to stone pelting on the road. So we used the local four-wheeler to reach Srinagar.

Misty Mountain

Photo of Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Misty Mountain

Photo of Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Misty Mountain

Photo of Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Misty Mountain

Photo of Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey by Bhagwat Balshetwar

Misty Mountain

Photo of Amarnath Yatra - Sacred Journey by Bhagwat Balshetwar
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