14th-july-2010: Next Day, we got up very early in the morning. Temperature at Panchtarni was very low at that time. In the month of July, weather of Delhi or Mumbai a generally very hot. But here at Panchtarni the weather was too cool. But we had no time to enjoy the coolness and stillness of Panchtarni. We had to start for the holy cave. So immediately after getting up, we went to the toilet, after which we brushed teeth quickly without bath keeping in mind that we will get bath at AmarGanga River near cave. But Ganesh and Doctor Ashok lal took a quick bath there just out of our tent. Hot water was being sold there by local Kashmiri people at ` 20 per bucket. They were heating water in big drums by burning logs of wood in an earthen chulha near our tent towards the bathroom area of the pilgrim camp. And within 45 minutes of getting up we were ready to go.
Still I was furious for Ranjan and being boiled to shout on him when he meets me.
By keeping all essential items for puja (like Bhang, Dhatura and Gangajal brought by dad) in upper pocket of my sack, we started our holy journey to the holy cave.
When we started off from Panchtarni the legs started pleading. The path initially looked very smooth gradient, so started walking enjoying the flow of the side by flowing river. Soon we saw the climb that took to the peak of the mountain. The tired leg made the mind just get shocked how this pass could be crossed. It appeared there was hardly any energy left. But the lovely Lord was calling! With so many pauses continued the climb. With very frequent halts was inching forward. The haversack which was carrying some chocolates, Honey, Energy drinks etc also appeared heavy like the bundle of iron rod, though may be helpful at times was still a burden on the shoulders.
The military man encouraged, "Be brave, move ahead." Somehow got over this pass and the path was less steep afterwards. As we kept walking on this very tough route, which was in the form of a narrow pagdandi full slippery ice, some unknown source - may be himself, the Lord Shiva!- kept providing us with the strength to continue walking despite the fact that we have not much stamina. On crossing few distance there was a junction (known as Sangam a point falling in the path of the holy yatra where Baltal and Pahalgam route merge) where one another path joining this one. That comes from Baltal to the holy cave. This was a shorter route as compared to this traditional route, but was more steep and difficult route as compare to this traditional route. We had to return back through this shortest path only to Baltal.
We continued our yatra by chanting Shiva's name, because people returning from the holy cave informed us that the cave is now not too far. When the mind was full of fatigue and body was inching forward one of the person from the yatra service who was returning after having the darshan appeared and said that the cave could be seen just if the curve was crossed. It was like the darshan of the great saintly devotees to the ones who are trying amidst their struggles to reach the Lord's bliss. From here we climbed a very difficult rise for some 45 minutes and the curve got over we saw our first glimpse of the holy cave, the fruit for which all the effort was!! The marvelous sight of the Magnificent Lord's holy cave!! Walking some more distance and our path descended into a narrow valley full of ice. The sight of the holy cave had rejuvenated our spirits. The mouth uttered bam bam bhole, Om NamaH shivAya. Now there was quite some refreshment in the mind. By praying the Bholenath and chanting Rudrashtakam we moved ahead.
Meanwhile I noticed that as earlier again we had divided into 2-3 groups. Kunal, Mangesh and my daddy was with me and we were not aware whether the other groups were ahead or behind us. But we didn’t stop there and slowly kept moving. The ice on which we were walking was actually a frozen river. Beneath the top solidified layer of ice, liquid water was flowing at high speed. That water was flowing below the ice that we were walking on, was apparent from the faint sound of flowing water that had filled the entire environment. When we reached within 2 km of the holy cave after crossing the Sangam Top, one of the most beautiful natural scenes came to our view. Time was around 8.00 am and date was 14th July, 2010. Day was Wednesday. We were walking in a narrow valley. A wide frozen river was present here. Here the environment was almost dust free. So the sunshine was brighter.
The ice of the frozen river was shinning and sparkling in this sunshine. We walked some distance over this frozen river. Then we found the path was bifurcating at a point where too many paths were getting merged. For the ease took the one that was not going up it was only for pony and dandi. Actually the other one was the correct path and this one though takes to the holy cave is over the icy caves under which the stream runs. At this point my legs just refused to move ahead. The cave was just 1.5 kms away. But it was a climb again. Here I stopped and started looking for other missing members (Shiva, Ajit, Doctor, Ganesh and Sushil). Soon they also reached and meet us. Later on I noticed that this place was Pony stand for the cave. No one allowed moving ahead on pony from this point. Now my eyes was only looking for Ranjan at any point by assuming that he might be waiting for us for Darshan on the way. Slowly we moved forward towards the cave.
Again the body started slowly affected by fatigue. Little ahead we found thousands of shop on the both side of route throughout the cave in which prasadam, chunni, and other worshipping items were on display for sale. The climate was clear and it was very nice time for prayer. One pony wala on the way asked us to sit near the fire for some time. Though the legs were pleading for rest the Lord's abode was pulling.
On the bank of AmarGanga river at one place one shop keeper asked us to put our luggage and get bath, he will provide us hot water at the rate of Rs. 50/- per bucket and he will not charge extra for taking care of our luggage during our prayer. After little bargaining we got agreed on Rs. 30/-. Then Zaheer (shopkeeper) took us inside the tent and arranged some space for us by clearing the floor which was littered with bags, sticks, quilts and eatables. We immediately dropped our self there. The tent was on a small square shaped ice platform. This tent was also working as a makeshift cloak-room. Many pilgrims who had gone to have darshan of Amarnath ji in the cave had left their bags and other belonging here. Later we came to know that there was a condition-applied tag for the safe keeping of your bag in this tent. You need to buy prasadam from the tent's shop. Yes, they were not charging any rent for keeping bags from pilgrims.
Our tent owners were a group of 4-5 friends. All of them belonged to Anantnag in Kashmir. They were all Muslims but they respected our Hindu sentiments. Every year, during Amarnath Yatra, they come to set their shop near the sacred cave. For this they have got license from the State Government of Kashmir. They have been coming to set their shop here for the past many years. We talked with them desultorily on various issues. We enjoyed chatting with them so much that we had lost track of the time. Now we had to get bath as soon as possible. Getting bath in the open sky, at a place on a glacier/ frozen river, was like Discovery channel people do. Cool wind was blowing with very high speed. But we had no any other option.
We quickly got fresh and were ready to go to the sacred cave. I was so overjoyed by the bath. Even cold vanished with it. We bought prasad from Zaheer’s shop. And we began to walk towards the cave. When we walked about 1 km we saw a line of people standing to do darshan of the ice shiv-lingam in the cave. We too stood in this line. Time was around 9.30 am when we stood in the line. The line was passing through a security check-up barrier. We also had to pass this Army checkup. I greatly respect these security personals as they work day and night for our safe yatra.
When we reached at that point of security barrier I noticed that one smiling face was looking forward to us by waving his both hands. Here my search was over and he was Mr. Ranjan. Few hours ago I was so angry on him and I had decided to shout on him when he meets to me, but don’t know what happened to me that time. My all anger got melted like butter in front of "Baba Barfani" (Ice Lingam). I hugged and squeezed him like my 7 months old son (Rudransh). So we all got tension free at that point and asked him to wait for us. We handed over our all mobile phones and cameras to him because these things were not allowed after that barrier. Soon we crossed that barrier and joined the queue again. After 7 am, helicopters began arriving at a frequency of every 5 min bringing people from Baltal to immediately near the cave.
Few people who were arriving there on dandi, reached at Panchtarni by Helicopter and then the rest 6 km distance on Dandi. Those arriving in the helicopter were being accorded VIP treatment. There was no queue for them. They were directly escorted into the cave. So helicopter passengers could do the darshan in 10 minutes. But their convenience was causing lots of trouble to pilgrims like us who were standing in a long line. Due to these helicopter passengers getting direct access in to the cave our line was moving slower than an ant. These days money can buy you anything. Human civilization has become so much money minded in this era that even God's home is not spared from it. Security personnel and managers of pilgrim places un-abashedly give priority to rich at the cost of great inconvenience to common people.