Thursday, June 30, 2011
Vegetation changes from shrubs scattered across the slopes to cacti to alpine as we reach higher altitude and the slopes get steep. A splash of golden yellow Amaltas flowers breaks through the green cover, it is like a chandan tilak across the vast rocky forehead of brooding mount. Mamma monkey clasps her baby close to her chest, scampering across the road. There is a puppy excitedly pressing its paws, ready to greet his master, all these scenes I take in. One moment there is drizzle and sunlight filters timidly through wet leaves, the next, clouds travel with us and mist rises spreading like a sheer fabric from the vales. Glaciers have been grating the mountain sides for millions of years creating deep gorges. We had visited these mountains almost six years back, there were dry patches and nude peaks crumbling landslides spilling onto roads, now the peaks are lush green. The sharp peaks look gentle with the green forest cover. Traditional houses build with stones stacks plastered with mud and supported by wooden beams are ideal for the delicately balanced Himalayan topography. During earth quakes, these houses survive the swaying Earth where the cement and brick houses crash trapping people inside.
On Saturday, 18th June, we traveled from Ghangaria towards Hemkund, the History of the place traces back to Ramayana period, which some say was 1,750,000 years ago. It is said that Lakshman meditated here on the banks of this frozen lake 'Hem Kund'. The lake is surrounded by seven peaks. During summer months, snow melts a little on the shores and thousands of pilgrims endure the difficult climb to reach this holy lake and take a dip in its holy waters. All through the trekking people help each other, there are sikhs offering glucose to tired pilgrims, encouraging them to take a step at a time. The climb is so steep that one is out of breath in a few minutes and then these is lack of oxygen at this altitude. It is deep wisdom that is instilled by the ancestors that inspires such devotion and determination. HemKund was discovered by an army officer who had read mention of a similar place in Guru granth saheb, the religious book of Sikhs, this pilgrimage is a recent phenomenon compared to the ancient Lakshman temple. The pilgrims chant satnam waheguru throughout the difficult climb, some climb bare feet, there are palkis for old people and those who find the climb impossible. Four men shoulder this tiny wooden structure holding the human body and treading through rocks, glaciers and boulders. I admired their tremendous strength that propels them through struggling pilgrims to reach HemKund at the altitude of 15200 feet.
It is a collective force that pushes men and women to forsake comforts and take up this difficult task. I observed that this collective pilgrimage teaches humans many values-beings together as one people, taking care of other's needs, putting the collective before the individual. Somehow it effortlessly motivates people to work towards the good of all, and that working towards collective goals can be enjoyable. When a rock is dislodged and hurls down a slope, people eagerly warn others climbing up to move fast and away from the stone's path. Strangers sweet talk you into keep moving-it is just fifteen minutes away-and that fifteen minutes is actually an hour! Nature absorbs most thoughts and there is a state of thoughtless awareness, you slip into meditation just observing the blue sky, tender shoots breaking through glaciers. When you fill up your soul with meditation, you preserve your peace and balance. Introspection is like churning, it allows solutions to surface. There are analogies that you stumble upon during this arduous trek, interpersonal relationships stand stark naked, you know when you have to stand by what you believe, what needs to be prioritized and when to take a firm decision and say no to pressure. It is learning experience, this difficult trek. Ancient brooding mountains silently witness the procession of humans comforted by the gentle beauty, there is humbling down of ego. That which is irrelevant blows away and the grains of wisdom settle down, bringing about self realization. There is not much we humans need to be contented, and that which is the core of existence comes to us. Himalayas are indeed 'Deva Bhoomi' land of the saints and Gods.