Even the month of July is simmering hot in north India and after tiring checks and halts even 50km. on the way to Jammu,though the people give us excellent welcome at the Bhandaras(where food,medicine and even staying facilities are made free of costfor the pilgrims) the journey is boring and alarming with the threat of terrorists for the disconcerted pilgrims from different parts of the country till they reach Pahalgam.But be rest assured that there will be no problem except a lot of discomfort after which you step into the heavenly Pahalgam where Shiva is said to have left his bull as he started with his paraphernalia and consort Parvati in search of a place where he could explain her the secrets of Eternity.
We spent a lovely evening in Pahalgam having a simple dinner of piping hot parathas and cauliflower curry with Kashmiri spices,sitting by the side of a walnut tree with raw walnuts in the lawn of an inexpensive hotel.Then we had along walk on the almost empty roads on which a pair of ducks walked carefree;a bit further a group of children were making kababs by the roadside.further down some people were calmly coming out of a Goddess's temple.All these activities were smoothly going on under the vigilance of security people moving in armored vehicles looking for unearthly terrorists!Yes,it was pilgrimage season and we too moved freely enjoying a rare event of our life.Next morning,the beautiful Pahalgam with snow clad mountains all around and the youthful river Lidder playfully flowing through it,bid us farewell for a dream filled journey to Amarnath.
We reach Chandanwari,16km. farther,by a van.It's a small cute spot garlanded by river Lidder with colourful tents of the security people amidst.Here Lord Shiva is supposed to have left the Moon which adorned his head.From here onwards we are on a trail with pine trees around adding freshness to the atmosphere.The first trek itself is a tough climb to Pissu Top,a distance of 3km.taking us to a hight of 11000ft.Then,soon we are in the vicinity of huge ice chunks allowing clean chilled water of Lidder through them.We move further through beautiful rock formations with small waterfalls everywhere.
It's almost noon and we are heading towards Sheshnag,a gradual climb of another 750ft.and a distance of 11km.We are already tired and move on monotonously a long way,up and down,without much marginal attention.Around 5p.m. we reach the legendary Sheshnag lake,where Shiva is supposed to have left the snakes that adorned his body.Behind the lake is the huge multipeaked Sheshnag mountain.In the late evening both of them together invoke a cautious curiosity with the weird story that on some particular days a huge snake appears standing erect in the
We proceed further and reach the camp where our moods are immediately elevated as we see two or three well lit bhandaras bustling with people and music.Each bhandara has quality food items and sweets to serve the pilgrims.It's just like a 5 star night(in urban terms) in the Himalayas!
Next day morning,we start for the highest spot of the journey,the Mahagunas Top,an altitude of 14000ft.Though the steep climb is less than 5km.,the rough terrain definitely exhausts one,and lack of oxygen gives a gripping headache.The top is also susceptible to unpredictable rough weather.We quickly move towards Panchtarni at a lower hight of 12000ft.This trek with wild mountain scenes around and the five rivers contentedly flowing in the plains,give us great relief and relaxation after the hard climb to Mahagunas.We happily cover a distance of 9.5 km.,sometimes wading through chilled waters and reach the camp late in the evening again to find festive food arrangements and an atmosphere of celebration as we shall be reaching the Holy cave next day!
Early in the morning,we start on a curving and risky trail,mostly surrounded by ice,for our final destination.In the beginning as the sun rises when we look back from an elevation,we see the beautiful plains of Panchtarni with the rivers snaking glitteringly over them and a huge range of mountains behind them washed by the sun rays all over!This is said to be the place where Shiva danced Tandava in happiness.But take care,walk without looking here and there;the route sometimes curves with edges which may throw you into abyss,if you miss a single step!When we reach the Sangam point 3km. midway and peep,we see a confluence of pleasant green waters with neat tents in the plains between them.From there roughly,the 14km.,tough Baltal route starts.Go on further chilling yourself and also finding lonely vendors selling cool drinks on the way.You are quite near the Cave where you can take bath in the chilling waters of river Amravati flowing towards you from the side of the cave.From here you can see the Himalayan fantasies in ice!After that you may think of doing away with the artificial snow-worlds of theworld!
Now you are moving through a lane with people selling Prasad and Pooja material on both sides.A very good number of them are Muslims.If you have hired a pony,your ponywalla is a Muslim!When I talked to a Muslim businessman in Pahalgam,he said that Muslims also visit Baba Burphani(Lord Shiva) for ''Mannat"(wish fulfillment).Well,the cave is about to appear.
And lo!Suddenly the huge marvel appears from a distance!The Magnificence,facing south,brilliant in sunlight,more so because of the light from a huge rock face somewhere in the opposite side,is definitely a Nature's wonder at an altitude of 13000ft.!The Cave has been visited since hundreds of years by great saints like Adi Sankaracharya,Swamy Vivekananda,Ramtirth, and so on.V.S.Naipaul visited the Cave when he was in India and wrote of the joy and happiness he experienced on seeing the mighty cave along with other people!
This Grand Cave,40yds. wide at the outer mouth,75ft. high and at least 80ft. deep sloping down in the mountainside was also visited by Francois Bernier,the French physician accompanying Aurangzeb to Kashmir in 1663.The physician exclaimed about the Cave in his travelogues,"Grotta full of wonderful congealations!"
The wonderful congealations are Amarnathji(Lord Shiva),the undefinable Himalayan Mendicant;His consort Parvati and son Ganeshji, for the Indians.
Raja Ram Atre