12th-july-2010: We got up very early the next morning. It was still dark. Quickly we came to that part of the pilgrim camp where covered rectangular shaped bathrooms and toilets (almost telephone booth sized), all made of plastic walls and roofs, were present in large numbers. Hot water was available at Rs. 20 per bucket. There we saw many pilgrims were already present. They all seemed to be in haste to get ready quickly to start the yatra at the earliest. People were standing in queues in front of each toilet and bathroom for their turn. We too stood in one of the queue. We too went to toilet, brushed and got ready. We returned to our tent, said good bye to the tent owner and came out with our bags near the exit gate of the camp.
The time was around 7.30 am and already there were approximately 5-6 thousand of pilgrims were standing - waiting for the exit gate to open. Exit gate was strangely not opened by the security personnel. It was most irritating period for us. Initially we thought that security personnel are checking yatra permit of each pilgrim. But no it was closed due to unavailability of vehicles for Chandanwari.
All pilgrims were seen frustrated at buffet. On making some enquiry, we came to know from local shopkeepers that many pilgrims had been staying in hotels outside the pilgrim camp. These pilgrims (who stayed in hotels) had taken all the taxies available, to go to Chandanwari at the break of dawn while we were held up at the pilgrim camp by security personnel up to 10.30 am. Now we felt very bad. Either the government should have made arrangements for a regular taxi service between Pahalgam and Chandanwari or it had no rights to hold us up to 10.30 on the exit gate. I did not understand why they held pilgrims inside the camp up to so late at the first place, when other pilgrims staying in hotels were free to start their journey at 5 am or before. Perhaps governments do not understand the problems of common people.
If in future I again go for Amarnath Yatra then definitely I will never stay in the pilgrim camp of the government. I too will stay in some hotel outside the camp so that I may start my journey for Chandanwari early in the morning at the time when taxies will be available.
We came at exit gate by 7.30 am. After 2 hrs by 9.30 am, it was almost stampede like scene created. Meanwhile someone kept his body weight on Kunal’s haversack on his back. In my team only Kunal was little short tempered. After 10-15 min of tolerance, Kunal couldn’t control his temper and busted out. He was little behind to me. That time I was not able to turn a bit behind and get interfere into this issue.We were totally succumbed under crowd. Anyhow Mangesh interfered into that issue and made it normal.
Why did we come to this pilgrim camp? Why did we chosen this route instead of Baltal (a shortest route)? So many thoughts started coming and going in and out of our mind. Finally when it was opened, we came out of the camp, on the main road of the Pahalgam town. The entire road was seen crowded with pilgrims. From here we had to go to Chandanwari - a place up on the mountains (altitude about 2900 meters), at distance of around 16 km from Pahalgam. Pilgrims go from Pahalgam to Chandanwari by taxi or bus. And from Chandanwari onward, they have to trek all the way to the Amarnath cave.We immediately boarded into an empty mini bus for going to Chandanwari. After 1 hour wait and overloading the bus, driver started the bus towards Chandanwari.Soon we came out of the Pahalgam town. It was day time now. So we could see the view on both sides of the road clearly.
On arrival to Chandanwari, again we went through a security check-up barrier and finally we were ready for our dream yatra at Chandanwari. It was 12.30 p.m., when we started for Sheshnag at Chandanwari then suddenly 2-3 people requested us to have some breakfast at their Langar. Surprises were everywhere... I knew that langars are free. But the people there invited us so kindly to take Bhole's prasad. Even food quality was excellent. We had there a light breakfast and started trek to Sheshnag which was about 13 kms (11730 ft.). As the Yatra continued further from Chandanwari, it was a steep height to reach Pissu Top.
It is said that to be first to reach for darshan of Bhole Nath Shivshankar there was a war between Devtas and Rakshas. With the power of Shiv, devtas could kill the rakshas in such large number that the heap of their dead bodies has resulted in this high mountain (Pissu Top). The climb to Pissu Top is steep. Once one starts feeling that I have to walk up so much height, the psychological tiredness makes the body also tired. All the yatris when they see each other hail the name of the God as either bam bam bhole or jai bholenath. Hailing the Lord's names we very soon reached the top of the hill. This was the Pissu top and we noticed that we had left tree line behind. Devotees from various places had kept langar at this top. The snacks given by them and the tea with their love were quite refreshing.
On the route we found presence of Army, BSF and J&K Police everywhere with their open hand for any kind of help we need. Actually they were on lookout for terrorist or miscreants who try to disrupt the holy journey and create panic, confusion and communal hatred on the direction of our peaceful neighbors (they want piece, just a piece of India's beauty, Kashmir). That’s really wonderful feeling. It’s like Bhole is guarding his followers. We all were tired and in submission state in front of nature. There is an infectious kind of kinship that forms between all the yatris and everyone tries to help.
We were in a place with no electricity, no luxuries, no toilets - taking care of the baggage while the team, divided in small groups. The climate in this place changes all the time. For us there was no option but to continue our journey. We were feeling very frustrated and helpless that time. On a gradual break and my dad’s encouragement we kept moving. We were having only two torches that time and the route was steep and slippery and if someone slips he will end up in the valley. Moreover, to my amazement the people who were returning from Amarnath were using the same path. In these critical circumstances people were carrying their 4-5 year old kids. I strongly feel that the kids should not be carried as it’s no way a spiritual journey for these young kids as they don’t even know where they are traveling to. When I see these young kids crying I felt that this is cruelty and parents should think twice before taking their young ones in such extreme conditions.
It is believed that by the grace of Baba Amarnath there are no major accidents in this area. In the middle of rush we all got scattered and I was with Shiva and we don’t had torch that time. My Dad, Mangesh and Kunal were somewhere else. 2-3 times I tried to call them but didn’t get any response from them. Then we stopped at a place and waited for them for 10-15 min. When they reached then again we started moving keeping 2 torch people (My Dad and Mangesh) ahead. After a few hours of climbing in this unpleasant weather we reached Sheshnag Lake. Sheshnag is an amazing mountain lake. It is situated at an altitude of about 3,658 m above sea level. The waters of this greenish blue lake are cold and clear and are covered with ice till June. As the Sheshnag approached it was about 10.30 pm and the sight of the mountain on the lake was invisible. We were not able to see anything except camp lights or our torches light.
When we reached at camp site we found an announcement center on the way. So quickly we made an announcement to call to our team members who reached there earlier. After few minutes I saw Ajit was running towards us. They had booked a 10 men tent there. The rent was ` 1800 for that tent. Sheshnag is one of the windiest places in this valley. Sheshnag, a mountain which derives its name from its Seven Peaks, resembling the heads of the mythical snake. The second night’s camp at Sheshnag overlooks the deep blue waters of Sheshnag Lake, and glaciers beyond it. There are legends of love and revenge too associated with Sheshnag.
The campsite overlooks the deep blue waters of the lake and the glaciers beyond it. We were hungry that time but due to tiredness and delay, without any thought of dinner we stepped into our tents, and started to warm our bodies. I and Sushil did some massage to my dad’s body. Now I was under fever and cold. I took crocin just for precaution and did not eat for that night. From that point nobody of us had perfect lunch or dinner. The temperature was almost -100 C and was freezing cold, so no one wants to come out of tent for dinner or pee.
As I felt here at Sheshnag we all were more or less got affected by Altitude Sickness. But it was noticed more on 2-3 people from my team. Altitude sickness occurs when you cannot get enough oxygen from the air at high altitudes. This causes symptoms such as a headache, always vomiting tendency and not feeling like eating. It happens most often when people who are not used to high altitudes go quickly from lower altitudes to 8000ft or higher. It is also known as AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness). Altitude sickness can be dangerous. It is smart to take special care if you go high-altitude trekking or hiking in Himalayan Range. Air is "thinner" at high altitudes. When you go too high too fast, your body cannot get as much oxygen as it needs. This causes the headache and other symptoms of altitude sickness. As your body gets used to the altitude, the symptoms go away. The main symptoms of altitude sickness include:
- Having a headache. The headache is usually throbbing. It gets worse during the night and when you wake up.
- Not feeling like eating.
- Feeling sick to your stomach. You may vomit.
- Feeling weak and lazy. In severe cases, you do not have the energy to eat, dress yourself, or do anything.
- Waking up during the night and not sleeping well.
- Feeling dizzy.