Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Tour diary - The Amarnath Cave Temple!

Ice Shiv ling which forms naturally and can been seen from June to August every year!

The Amarnath mountain cave is situated at a height of 3,900 mts. above sea level. Accessibility will be only in the months of July and August, when the mountain is not covered by snow. From the month of June onwards, an image of Lord Shiva, in the form of lingam is formed naturally as an ice stalagmite which waxes and wanes with the month’s moon cycle. First a solid base is formed and then the lingam begins to rise on it. On purnima day (full moon day), it slowly acquires the full form. Two more small lingams can be seen near the main lingam which represents Parvati and their son Ganesha.

As per legend, Shiva and his wife Parvathi were discussing the secret of immortality and creation on one Purnima day. Some doves eavesdropped the discussion. So some people saw the doves drinking milk near the shiva lingam, which happens even today. They say, the doves are reborn again and again and made the cave their permanent home. People don’t see them often, but the ones who saw them are termed lucky people!

We can take the road via Baltal or Pahalgam to Amarnath. The Baltal route is the shortest but tough. The Pahalgam route is very scenic and has rest sites with many refreshment centers (lungars) on the way. It takes 5 days to reach. We can take bath at Panchtarani (meeting place of 5 rivers) and then reach the caves. We took the Baltal route which should normally take just 2 days, even if we go slowly, to go up, have darshan and come back to the base camp.

Passage to the cave temple!
 First day:

Reached Jammu in the morning at 9 a.m. from Delhi by Jammu Thavi express. The station is full of Amarnath yathris and military personnel. I was told that this station is not so crowded in normal days. Because of the yatra, it is fully crowded for 2 months - July and August every year when the Amarnath cave temple is open for darshan. The station has one juice shop and 5-6 snacks shop which sell samosas, kachoris, puffs and biscuits. I didn't see any newspaper or bookshop. Most of the yathris carry one shoulder bag and a small suitcase. I met a person who had been coming to the temple for the past 9 years!

We planned to hire a taxi - tata sumo - for the five day stay at Amarnath and Srinagar. We had contacted a travel agency from Chennai itself, but for reaching them, we had to hire a phut-phuti (a tempo-like van which has seats on the sides). The agency vehicles are not allowed near the railway station because of some union problem. We paid Rs. 70/- for 7 of us with our luggage.

We left for Srinagar by the sumo taxi which is around 300 Km away. It was around 11 am. Not much activity on the road. Just the vans, taxis and cars. Had tea in a small dhaba. People seem to be friendly and happy after all the turbulence in the region. When I was talking to the boy who was making rotis in the tandoor, told him we were from Chennai, he said with a big smile that he knew to make idly, dosa and sambar also!

Then we came near the famous Jawaharlal Nehru tunnel, which is around 2 and a half km in length, connecting Jammu with Kashmir. The CRPF men check the car and the people and ask us to show the yathri pass. On the other side of the tunnel also the local police check us again and when they came to know that we were from Chennai, they waved us to go on with a big smile!

The highway to Srinagar is broad and well laid with trees on both sides - this area is called the green tunnel. Because of the close line of trees, the sky is rarely visible. It was twilight at 7 p.m. here! We saw the soldiers with guns on their shoulders often. Some of them waved at us with a smile - Chennai faces! They knew that we south Indians were harmless!

Actually we planned to reach Sona Marg and stay for the night, but because of the traffic and military checks, we were late. We should have reached the place by 6-7 p.m. Now it was very dark and the roads were looking deserted. We saw other vehicles very rarely. We were a bit nervous. Then around 8.30 p.m., some men in uniforms stopped our vehicle. They had guns pointing at our car! They asked the men to get down and checked them. Asked us if we did not know that vehicles were not allowed on the roads after 8 p.m. We told them the train was late and so we had to start a bit late and that was the reason for our delay in reaching Sona marg. After some discussion and Rs. 100/-, we were asked go to the Manigam Military camp and stay there for the night. We were on our way again for another hour or so and the driver of our car said that we were nearing the Manigam camp. Suddenly some deafening sound started coming – as if someone was shooting at us with a machine gun. We thought that we were being attacked by some terrorists and we were not going to see Chennai again! But it came out to be a small bridge we were crossing which had small iron planks and they were making the sound when our car was rolling on it! We had a good but nervous laugh. After sometime of silent driving, we were stopped by some CRPF men and were asked to park our car in an open area, where other vehicles were also parked. They asked us to come out with one shoulder bag and took us in the dark road for some half a km. We had to leave all our baggage in the car itself. We came near the gate of the camp where we were asked to take out our camera and remove the batteries and keep them safely in the holes on the compound wall and take them back when we leave in the morning. The soldier who checked us was one Mr. Hussain. He was stern looking but was not impolite. He even gave a small smile later! We noticed a Hindu temple in front of the gate!

Then we entered the camp where we saw 300 to 400 yathris having dinner of rotis and dhal and getting ready to sleep. We learnt that this was common for the yathris who were coming every year to this area. After knowing this, we relaxed and had dinner when we met some jawans who were from Tamil nadu. They were happy to meet us and we were happy to talk to them in our own language! They assured us that there was nothing to worry, just sleep for the night and get ready by 8 in the morning when all the vehicles will start moving with army escort. The camp people gave us some woollen rugs. The food and rugs were provided by some seva mandals to the yathris. People of the seva mandals (mostly Punjabi and Rajasthani religious groups) collect nominal money and provide food and temporary shelter (these are called lungars) to the yathris. They respect the yathris and do the work as seva. It was raining and the whole area was wet and sticky. Still we slept well on the uneven ground with just one sheet for bed. No mosquitoes!

When we woke up in the morning, all were brushing and taking bath and getting ready for the onward journey. Temporary toilets were there for our use. Most of the people had their bath in the open tap. We hadn’t taken our clothes and so just washed our face and got ready. Had roti, pooris and some sweet also.
We were warned beforehand that once we go out of the camp, we cannot re-enter the place. So we came out of the camp and changed clothes near our vehicles. We gave away the snacks we had brought from our home to the jawans before leaving. At around 8 am the vehicles started moving.

Again we noticed the army men on both sides of the roads with guns, each at a distance of half a kilometre. The scenery on the way was beautiful. It was not very cold or very hot so we didn’t use even the shawls. Reached the Amarnath base camp at around 10.30 am via Baltal. It was drizzling in Amarnath. The clay mud was sticky and it was slippery for walking in chappals. I had planned to go to the hill by horse, so I didn’t bother to carry shoes with me. Some of us who had planned to go by walk got the shoes and rain coats for rent. Some soldiers said that it was better to wear shoes because if we had to walk somewhere on the way, chappals are useless and one of them offered his shoes. I promised him to return them while coming back. We never thought that these stern looking soldiers were so soft inside! God bless them. The soldier’s name was Surjeeth Singh and he was a driver in the CRPF.

Then the rain started pouring heavily and most of the people told us not to venture to go up the hill because it will be too slippery. Again we met some Tamil soldiers and they fixed us up in a lungar which had tents for the yathris to stay. We had some more rotis and subzis there at the lungar. It was still drizzling and so we waited there and it was evening by then. So the soldiers suggested that it was better to start very early in the next morning and come back by night. He promised to arrange for the dolis for 2 old ladies who were in our group and horses for the others. He warned us that if it rained the whole night, the track uphill would not be easy. So we just prayed that the rain should stop and our journey should continue. We visited the other lungars in the area. Every lungar had yathris staying in the tents at the back. Everyone was treating the yathris with a lot of respect. Different lungars had different snacks to offer – dahi vada, sambar vada, kachoris, samosas, dosas and all kinds of sweets. They had evening prayers – arthis – and later dinner with hot milk with saffron and pista badams! It was cold in the night and tent was chilly. And it started raining again and continued till morning. We were very upset and the soldiers came in the morning and said that the path was closed now for the time being. We waited till 10 am and there was no sign of yathris’ movement. The soldiers said that if we start going up late, then we cannot come back till next day afternoon. And that too if the weather was good. We had set aside 3 days for the Amarnath journey, and any delays would have upset our schedule as we needed to come back to Srinagar and then to Jammu and catch the train back to Delhi. We had booked for the Rajdhani express for the same day to return to Chennai. So all the plans went awry and with great disappointment, we started our way back home.

The entrance to the cave temple!

We heard that the yathra was resumed for another 2-3 days and again 2 days break because of the weather. So we have learnt our lesson that we have to keep aside at least 10 days and go via Pahalgam and come back by the Baltal route, if we ever venture Amarnath yathra again!

Om Namah Shivaaya!

Picture courtesy: Source : www.jktourism.org

EDITED ON 26TH MARCH '13: I notice people reading this post of mine and it is increasing slowly! This is a very old post...I was a beginner at that time.  Still, it looks interesting when I read it now.  I didn't do any correction (needs lot of correction!) in the post.  Just noticed that the photoes have vanished.  Just added them once more! Please comment after reading, which will be appreciated.  Thank you!


Crafty Shines said...

FIRST *buhahahahahah*

Saw the link to this in your latest post, Sandhyamma. Now you have a comment on every post, isn't it? Yay!

Amarnath is known to be a difficult yatra to do, and equally people speak of the food at langars there. Did you ever venture for this again?

Now they do have more facilities for travel, but Mother Nature still rules. Rains are unpredictable!

Beautiful pictures!

Sandhya said...

CRAFY SHINES: THAAAAN YOU, Crafty! Yours is the first and only comment in my first post!

Yes, now, I get comments steadily, which is pushing me to write more!

No, I didn't! Another tough trip for me was Vaishnodevi...we walked all the way up and down!

Helicopter service was there then too! But weather helps or breaks our trip!

Oh, I didn't take photos. If I go there now, the post will be fulllll of photographs!

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