Belief is that God of all Gods, Mahadeva, chose Amarnath Cave to disclose the secret of immortality to his second consort Goddess Parvati. To reach the cave, Lord Shiva went through the Pahalgam Chandanwari route. Belief is also that Lord Shiva on the way kept renouncing everything. He left his mount (in Sanskrit: Vahana) “Nandi” (the Bull) at Pahalgam. At Chandanwari he released “Moon” (Lord Shiva wears moon crescent on his head), at the banks of Lake Sheshnag he removed the snake vasuki from around his neck. His son Ganesha was left at Mahagunas Parvat (Mahaganesh Hill). At Panchatarni, the almighty Lord Shiva left the five elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky) behind, symbolic of sacrificing the world.
The journey of faith
It is a journey of faith, a test of body and mind, to experience spiritual existence of his almighty Lord Shiva and to see him in his unique shape of naturally formed Ice-Lingam, at his chosen abode, the Holy Amarnath Cave. Inside the cave, water drops from the top of it and freezes into ice, first forms a solid base and then takes the shape of a Lingam in a miraculous way. But reaching there is arduous and demanding. Lord Shiva demands endurance and strong faith from his devotees to reach there, to seek his blessings and to receive salvation.
A Look back into the History, 29th July – 8th August, 1898
Swamy Vivekananda’s Irish disciple, Sister Nivedita’s ‘Notes on some Wanderings with the Swami Vivekananda’ describes the journey of Swami Ji during the above periods to the holy cave of Amarnath and his recounting about the same.
Sister Nivedita, recalling Swami Vivekananda’s experience, wrote:
“Half an hour later he entered the cave. With a smile he knelt, first at one end of the semi-circle, then at the other. The place was vast, large enough to hold a cathedral, and the great ice-Shiva, in a niche of deepest shadow, seemed as if throned on its own base. A few minutes passed, and then he turned to leave the cave.
To him, the heavens had opened. He had touched the feet of Shiva. He had had to hold himself tight, he said afterwards, lest he ‘should swoon away.’ But so great was his physical exhaustion, that a doctor said afterwards that his heart ought to have stopped beating, and had undergone a permanent enlargement instead…..”I have enjoyed it so much!”………….. “I thought the ice-lingam was Shiva Himself. And there were no thievish Brahmins, no trade, nothing wrong. It was all worship. I never enjoyed any religious place so much!”
……… He always said too that the grace of Amarnath had been granted to him there, not to die till he himself should give consent. And to me he said “You do not now understand. But you have made the pilgrimage, and it will go on working. Causes must bring their effects. You will understand better afterwards. The effects will come.” (Reference below)
(“THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SISTER NIVEDITA”, Chapter X, THE SHRINE OF AMARNATH, page 351, BIRTH CENTENARY PUBLICATION)
My preparation for the Yatra
It would be my second journey to the holy cave. I wanted to undertake the yatra though the traditional Pahalgam route. It is the route Lord Shiva chose to reach the Cave. This route would remind me of the Journey of Swami Vivekananda. The experience of my last journey in 2011 was not fulfilling as the Ice-Lingam melted early and I was not fortunate to have the Darshan. So, for this year, with my finger crossed, I wanted to get yatra permit of an early date. At last breathed easy, I got the yatra permit of 09.07.2014 for me and my two friends. We were then waiting! waiting! And waiting to start of the Yatra for the year from 28.06.2014.
08th July, 2014 :: AT PAHALGAM
It was the last evening at Pahalgam before starting of our yatra at dawn to the Holy Amarnath Cave. Pahalgam is the base for Amarnath Yatra for the traditional Pahalgam Chandanwari route. It has camping facility for the pilgrims at Nuwan. But we had a different plan, we wanted to start early, have early morning hot water bath and a cab at our service at 4.30 in the morning. So staying in a hotel was preferred over the base camp.
We were strolling near the taxi stand, wanted to book a Cab, talked with a Tata Sumo driver, he agreed at Rs.1000/- for dropping at Chandanwari check gate at dawn. We were OK with the price. He asked for an advance, only Rs.50/-, the lowest amount ever I paid to anyone as advance. We finalized the deal and exchanged the phone numbers.
During July and August Pahalgam generally remains full of Amarnath pilgrims, though there were few tourists too. The most of the business houses were selling goods needed for the yatra. One can get everything in these shops, from raincoat to boot. The horsemen, palkiwala and pithu who are Kashimiri Muslims and actually facilitate the yatra for Hindu devotees also do a good business during this period. They approached us too, but until we were confirmed about the route condition and found reasons to hire their services, we did not talk to them. We wanted review of the trek. The only source available to us was feedback from returning pilgrims. There were heavy snow falls this year and the Pahalgam route could not be made ready until 02.07.2014. This year, pilgrims first undertook the yatra on 02.07.2014 through this route. We talked with the pilgrims returning from the holy cave. No, the news was not encouraging at all. Some were returning from the halfway being unable to trek further. So we abandoned the idea of trekking. Now only two options were available, first to go on horseback and second by a chopper. We chose the first one.
Where there is a little hope for business, the horsemen would be all around. Why should not they? After all it’s their business, a seasonal one, which last only for a month or two during the pilgrimage periods. We were too followed and watched by them. We showed our interest and they were more than happy to talk with us. They asked for a price as high as it could be but settled happily at a price as low as we could bring it down. Their service would start tomorrow at Chandanwari.
It was then the dawn to break the darkness of the night…..
09th July, 2014 :: Pahalgam to Chandanwari
Up early from the bed, took a quick hot bath, made the last round check up and dressed on time. Was it mere the excitement, or some forces behind? We were ready and soon the good news came, the cab arrived, and we were off to our ride to Chandanwari Check Gate. It was 5 in the morning, we were stopped at 3 kms from Pahalgam near a small bridge on the river Liddar along with other vehicles. The first check gate on the way was yet to open. Security personnel were checking the yatra permits. Off again at 5.30am, now riding on a zig zag road by the side of river Liddar and reached at Chandanwari few minutes ahead of 6am. We were among the first few yatris to be on the queue for security checking. Here security checking required passing through the metal check gate, but it did not beep, on enquiry I was replied, it went out of order. We proceeded ahead as there was no problem with the security checking and soon we met with our horses.
Chandanwari to Pishutop
From Chandanwari our journey began on the horseback. We were given a quick one minute complementary crash course as how to ride a horse. “Sa-Ba! Charhai pe aage jhukna, Utrhai main Owjan Piche” (Lean forward while climbing up and keep the weight behind while going down).
Looked up! And up. There at the top we saw the Pishughati, it almost was touching the sky. As our horses were climbing up we remained lean forward, almost all the time, since it was only ascent, steep and steeper. Oh God! Path to salvation demands really a strong mind and stamina even on a horseback. Some brave hearts, initially who might have thought to do it on foot, were turned around to find a horse.
We were climbing the steep ascent through the muddy, rocky and narrow route. Those on foot were making their path upwards according to their own convenience. Every step on such steep ascent of initial trek is the first test of one’s mind and faith. To strengthen devotees’ faith the Military Personnel were there and their presence felt throughout the route.
The Indian army on the way to Pishutop were vigilant. While they were looking below at the trek to extend their help to the pilgrims, we too looked down and realised that the climbing would have been a real challenge if not on the horseback.
We were passing through a very narrow road to climb yet another steep ascent. The horsemen were shouting to guide the horses “Chamriya! Bach! Bach!” I was wondering if the horses could understand that, but they worked well and we moved forward safely to receive a warm welcome to Pishutop.
We reached at Pishutop after riding for half an hour. The beautiful landscape unfolded here and we could imagine the scenic beauty of the roads ahead.
The Journey to the Holy Cave continued…………