It was a long time dream to go and worship the Endless God Lord amarnAtha swAmy. With lots of prayers to the Merciful Lord to bless by permitting to come to His holy abode, applied to a yatra service operating out of Chennai to participate in the pilgrimage to amarnath, a yatra many people from various parts do in love of their beloved Innocent Lord (! bhole nath). There is a registration procedure from the local state government of Jammu and Kashmir seeking the yatris to register themselves. The publication seeking this gets published in the month of June and yatris could do this registration through the J&K state tourism office in the major cities of India. The mind started counting out the days and started dreaming in eagerness the holy place to go.
There were news about the landslides disrupting the path due to heavy rain. By the grace of God that became alright in a few days and the yatris were permitted to continue their journey. Subsequently came the shocking news that some brutal barbaric islamic terrorists had gunned down many innocent pilgrims at pahalgham. May the Lord bless the devotees who shed their bodies in this holy pilgrimage and may the Supreme pashupati correct these misguided people to seek the God in the path of love and wisdom. This massacre made the situation tense and the yatra was suspended for a few days. Anxiously called up the yatra service whether they would cancel the trip off ! But the Lord amarnath permitted this effort to see His holy feet, so the journey was as per schedule and the dharshan for the devotees also had resumed. It was next a task of convincing the caring hearts about going ahead with the yatra in spite of the troubles. The mind prayed, "Oh Lord, remove the obstacles that come in the way of your devotees." Only with Its Grace this journey towards It could happen. Finally when started off for Chennai, as some local troubles settled down, it was a thankful still thrilled feeling.
The way to bailgaNv ==>
In Chennai there was enough time to worship the Lord kapAlIshwarar and Lord thiruvEttIshwarar to bless completing the pilgrimage. The same night (Friday Aug 4 th) was the train to Indraprastam (Delhi) with the other yatris from the group who gathered at Chennai. It was heartening to see a good number of yatris in spite of all the news of troubles. They were from various cross sections. There were two young devotees in the group. While traveling in the train got the opportunity to have a glimpse of the marvelous philosophical text of Kashmir Shaivam (2), the shiva sutras (3) with the commentary from sri Jaideva Singh. The enthusiasm to see the cradle of sudda advaita shaiva philosophy, a place where the worship of Lord shiva was irradiant, kept growing. The train reached Indraprastam on Sunday morning.
Before we started off on the bus towards the north, got the opportunity to worship the Lord chokkanathar of malai mandir in the capital. Through the fertile Punjab worshiping the Lord of all lands at Amritasaras reached Jammu on Tuesday evening. Because of security reasons we were told that all the yatri buses could leave only together very early next morning escorted with an army convoy. If we are any late we would have to wait for the departure only the following day, we were told. In the evening purchased some dry fruits as offering to Lord amarnAth and trekking shoes. In this city where river tawi beautifully flows, there are many temples. Got to worship Lord raNabIreshwar and went to raghunath temple where there are supposedly crore salagramas installed. There is an altar of Lord shiva in this temple where the Chaste Lord stands as a big spaTika li~Ngam. There are many more temples to see but we were already late. In these temples they don't allow taking camera, belt etc to be taken inside for security reasons. "Oh Lord, let there be peace and fearlessness in the minds of the people to worship you in love !"
<== The start of the trek
The next morning at 2am all were ready after bath etc and assembled at the departure ground. Even in that very early morning one very old devotee in our group was sincerely sitting in the ground and doing the puja of the Three eyed Lord with lotus flowers. It was an enjoyable sight. Got the holy ash prasadha at the completion of the pUja from him. Many buses that had assembled over there started with the army convoy at 4 am in the morning to bailgAnv (now distorted to Pahalgham), the base station for the yAtra. The route was a very scenic one on the Himalayas. Almost all the days of our journey we went chanting shrI rudram and other hymns of the Lord. When the bus was nearing bailgAnv in the evening there was a big crowd on the other bank of a stream with some holy fire. That was the shUlapANi's holy trident called in the local terms as chaarri mubhaarak which is brought from Srinagar to the Lord's cave every year and a previous one taken back. From this place onwards there were many langars (free food prasadha tents) where the people in service were calling out the devotees to have food and drinks. It was a marvelous service to the devotees of the Lord who is praised as ailabR^ida (Donor of food, water and nutrients). We reached bailgAnv at 6 pm.
The weather appeared a little bit cloudy. They said the next day trekking would start provided the weather is conducive. But anyway the hearts of the devotees started beating "amarnathji amarnathji". The next morning it was drizzling after a rain the previous night. So they had suspended the trek. At about 10 am came the announcement that the trek could start. We had bought some rain suits there which were quite helpful throughout the trek. There were elaborate security arrangements in all the places over here. For the ease of trek we were advised by the yatra service people not to carry heavy bags and take just a small bag. Taxis/jeeps go till chandanwari, a place 16 kms from bailgANv. From here one has to either walk or ride over a horse or taken in a chair by four people till the holy cave. About one third of our group decided to trek. Praying the Lord of Universe's holy feet singing a thEvAram to make this pilgrimage fruitful started the trek. There was a feeling to keep singing thEvAram along the trek. But very soon the voice modulation became unmaintainable because of trekking and so resorted to chanting the holy five letters through the trek and when stopping here and there sang a few thEvAram hymns.
Climbing up Pissu top ==>
In a few minutes came the rocky narrow lane alongside the stream liddar and the surrounding were really enchanting. In the cool ambience like that of the shade of the Lord's holy Feet, with the company of the Companionless God in the thoughts alongwith another young devotee started climbing a path moving up like a serpents tail over a steep peak. Talking with him went on with the enthusiasm and ease. These two it turns out to be the most important factors along with some stamina (of course the Lord's grace for all these to materialize) are quite required for the trek. 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 eitherbam bam bole or jai bholenAth. Hailing the Lord's names we very soon reached the top of the hill. This is the Pissu top. Devotees from various places had kept langar at this top. The snacks given by them and the tea with their love was quite refreshing. Throughout the yatra apart from amarnath yatra, most discussions were around kailash yatra as some of the people have already got blessed to have darshan of Mount kailash. Discussing the details of the yatra we continued towards the Sheshnag.
After Pissu top there was a more or less smooth gradient till sheshnag. The trekking bag (shoulder bag) was quite helpful in taking the chocolates and water which were giving energy for the trek. Enjoying the heart stealing beauty of the land, remembering the hailing of the Lord in rudram as the Lord fast moving river, Lord of the falls, Lord wandering over the trees and Lord of the hard rocky road moved ahead towards Sheshnag. The mind was so thrilled to be in the place which was a cradle of shaivite philosophy. These rocks and stones could have been the place where the great philosophers and devotees like vasugupta, abhinavagupta and others moved around, thoughts were pleasantly reminiscing. Oh Lord of all creatures, may Your grace be there for all the souls to follow Your path and enjoy in Your unlimited bliss. As the Sheshnag approached it was about 5 pm and the sight of the mountain on the lake was wonderful. The mountain and its reflection is supposed to be resembling the serpent Shesha. The stay was arranged at a tent by the yatra service people here. (The tents could be booked at the standard price at bailgaNv J&K tourism office also or could be directly taken over here. The rent is typically 100 Rs.)
<== Beauty en route
By the sunset inside the wet tent it was quite cold feeling. It was cloudy and started drizzling too. The fatigue of the climb was pushing the body down. On a nylon cot cotton stuffed bet sheet was put and a similar one was given for covering. The sweaters, monkey cap, muffler and the gloves were quite helpful to at least limit to certain extent the cold feeling. At this point felt quite energyless. Prayed to the only Shelter the Lord to show the warmth of His Feet and prayed again and again to bless with enough energy to come and have the dharshan of His holy place. The simple and hot food served in the night by the yatra service was very apt for that situation.