Taking pains…

It was a first time trip to Vaishno Devi- inevitable, I guess since the time I landed in Jammu.
The atheist in me had avoided it but accompanied parents this time to the shrine for which you need to trek 15 kms up a hill. The trip was a display of staunch belief of people – in God. The belief which leads them to walk the arduous road up. The first thing that came to mind is why is God such an evil that it forces people to take such pains just so that they could prove their faith in him(‘her’ in this case). Or is it the people who need to reinforce their own faiths that the god exists. Do they feel that by taking lot of pain they will get recognized in God’s eyes? May be he will have a look at their problems and solve them too? Pain is the path to the salvation. Something like that guy from Da Vinci Code who wears a skin piercing belt on his leg.

To endure this tough path, there are plenty of measures. The first and the foremost is the omnipresent shouts of Jai Mata Di. The verse has been quite well marketed actually. People of all religions, castes, creeds etc etc are seen chanting the same words. Taking the Goddess’ name after all helps to take the mind off the pain. The irony however is the same very people wont chant those words once they have left the place. To endure other pains of the world there are many other options – blaming someone, abusing, beating etc etc.
Among other things, which come generally in the early part of the trek are those ‘jagrata‘ songs which remind of certain popular hindi songs – same music, different lyrics. They were so loud that I could hardly hear Metallica on my I-pod. Talk about finding Peace in the arms of god!!

But then again, after enduring much of that ‘healing’ pain as you near the main bhavan, you realise that all this pain has different classes too. There are some on whom the goddess has already bestowed her blessings.They have come to thank her (hopefully) on a chopper. Swoosh in – 5 minutes, go through the VIP Darshan and swoosh out – 4 minutes flat. and there are others who still believe that their walking trip, their path of salvation will lead to them coming through chopper and the VIP darshan some day. (who wants the pain, anyways??). Then there may be some adventure seekers or observers who are more interested in the journey part of it – may be group of friends on a religious picnic. I doubt God’s calling plays a major part in their being there. Its more like “achaa!! sonu is coming and monu too??? ok. I will think about it. Oh!girls
are coming too… I am in!!” (Their pain is of different kind which comes later)

On the positive side of it, the whole route, specially the Bhavan was super secured. I had not seen so much layers of security at New York airport as there was at Vaishnodevi shrine. Nothing except your clothes are allowed inside. Belt, wallet, shoes, socks, keys, mobiles. That all is fine. But the problem was that many times something was allowed inside by 1 layer of security and then asked to be removed by the next one. May be this was another way to increase the pain points – making it much tougher to reach the god. The closer you get, more painful it will get!!

Interestingly, not only it was tough to reach the God, it was tougher to depart from there. Carpets had been provided en route so that it is a bit easy for you to walk bare foot on the cold marble floor. But they were distinctly absent on the way out. Surely, after the painful(pun intended) experience, which will last for a couple of days (less if you travel by a chopper), you are bound to remember the God. be it while standing when your legs hurt or sitting when your back hurts!!

Related MMT take!!!

Christmas Getaway

Lot of firsts were reserved for this Christmas. It was the first getaway from Jammu – generally holidays are reserved for going home. First time driving more than 300 kms – on a hilly terrain. And it was the first time to extreme north of India – just 180 kms shy of Srinagar.

The destination was Patnitop. It was an early morning start. The car flew on the empty roads. The bypass road to NH1A is excellent. In fact the whole highway was totally unexpected. Considering that we were going towards Srinagar, the image in the mind was that of a torturous, narrow, steep, bending and curving road. But it was quite the opposite – a comfortable, Shimla kind of highway. In fact the conditions of roads in Jammu City have been a revelation too. They are as good as any.

Coming back to the journey, milestones indicating the reducing distance from Srinagar created excitement enough to stop and pose for some clicks with one of them, which had an Urdu translation as well. While in south India, we constantly complain of a language problem, the boards and names written in the language which make no meaning. Like Sanchit, I also never expected a similar problem in North India as well.

Patnitop was nothing but just another stopover on way to Srinagar – just marketed well, may be because of its appropriate ‘getaway’ distance from Jammu.

There is a resort for night stopovers which we were not really interested. After having breakfast, in which Kava was ordered. It’s a Kashmir specialty – green tea with almonds etc. Didn’t really like it. The weather was awesomely chilly. On getting news of some snow on Natha Top a place around 14km from there we decided to head that way. Rs 50 was charged at the start of the road and someone tried to sell us the idea of renting out gum boots and heavy clothing for the snow. Having experienced enough snow, we could see clearly that there was negligible snow on the hill. In any case, Sanchit and I had trekked several kilometers of more than ankle high snow on the hills at Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh in mere sports shoes so we were sure we could definitely make it through here. The way up was disappointing if anyone had expected the white cover. It was a barren brown land. We found a spot, parked the car and climbed up a small hill. The chill was felt immediately as the first step was taken out of the car – the cold wind making the bright sun useless. Within minutes, ears were literally paining with cold, nose incapacitated to do its primary job, the mouth, slightly open frozen in its place and the wind making funny sounds as it passed the teeny tiny gaps in the teeth. All kind of biological sensors under the skin had gone awry.

The loss of 4 senses was compensated by the last one – eyes. It was a visual treat. In front of us were the splendid Himalayas. It was the first time I saw snow clad mountains with the sharp, pointed peaks. Generally the hill tops get curved at the top and are exactly the same as we used to show in the drawing books in our bachpan. But here was something that had come out just out of those books and our imagination.

After some minutes, the 4 senses whose call for some relief had slipped under the beauty of the nature, stood up and it was time to return to the car where the sun and the glasses had colluded  to trap the heat inside the car. It was an instant relief.

My co-passengers slept off on the return journey where the highlight was the Udhampur by-pass road. We had missed it in the morning and had crossed the city. The bypass, though a bit longer was amazing. The car literally flew over the lonely and deserted stretch.

The after effects of around 300 kms of driving were witnessed when, on reaching Jammu, I came out of the car. The knee and the foot refused to move from their places. They had to be moved a lot to get them back into use.

Overall it was a satisfying experience which gave me the confidence that driving down(rather than taking a flight) to Srinagar is a nice option. In any case, the last 100 kms of the 300 km distance is through plains only as you leave the hills behind and enter the valley area.

Hopefully it will happen soon…