21/ 22/ 23-May-2012 DAY 7 & 8 & 9
After a hot shower, I was ready to face the cold winds. It was 4.30 AM and hot tea was waiting for us. By the time we left Pahalgam it was 5.30 AM. Katra is a good 280 KMs away. We stopped around 8.30 AM for breakfast. A warm welcome was given to the hot paranthas. It is a shame that we did not get to taste the popular local “Rajma Chawal” during our trip. Our trip was uneventful except for one incidence. As we were negotiating one of the hills, suddenly a group of students (both boys and girls in the age group of 10-13 still in their uniforms….would have bunked their classes) descended on the road from the hills. As we have seen everywhere in the valley, army jawans with their automatics were present here as well. They steered cleared from the civil disturbance. Meantime, the students had piled up little rocks on the road and completely halted the traffic on either side. Somebody alerted the local police who quickly blasted their way in and wielded their steel batons on the students. The holdup lasted 45 minutes and soon the traffic was cleared. I am still wondering at “the cause” that led the young students to agitate on a highway…
By the time we reached Katra, it was late evening. The small road was choc-a-bloc with people. Our Volvo bus pushed its way through the crowd and dropped us in front of our hotel “Chirag International”. It is a good hotel but they would do a favor to their guests if they fumigate their place to keep the little cockroaches away. People busied themselves again with some local shopping.
Several from our group decided to climb the hill right after dinner. Three families including mine decided to leave next day morning by horseback. We were given enough warnings by the tour manager about the crowd and the precautions to be taken.
We mounted our respective horses by 5.30 AM. It was an arduous climb. The heat is energy sapping and I would recommend that everybody carry “Electral” or such energy supplements. One will lose body salts pretty quickly especially if you plan to climb all the way. We reached the top by 10.30 AM. We had to let go of our horses almost 1.5 Kms before reaching the temple. The crowd was surging and the queue was getting lengthier by the minute.
I never associate “cleanliness” with holy places in India. But in Vaishnodevi precinct, the administrators have totally been derelict in their duties. In the general melee, suddenly “work horses” would push their way through catching everybody unaware. With horse dung all over the place, people doing their morning ablutions right in the open, with muck on the road it was absolutely nightmarish. Slippers and shoes are strewn all over the place. There is no signboards, no announcements and the guards posted are not helpful. We decided to put our shoes in a locker room and stood in a queue but the queue never even inched forward.
I saw mothers dragging their bawling two year old on steep steps under hot sun. Probably the mother has faith but what about the little child? Services have been short changed in the name of faith. My friends who had gone the previous night had many unpleasant stories to tell. It need not be this way. We can make our religious places much cleaner, much more senior citizen friendly, much easier for the little children. It just needs will.
There were lot of groaning and moaning in the evening, with lots of out of shape feet . Some of us enjoyed nice leg and foot massage right outside our hotel.
As our flights and trains were at different times, we left at different times of the day from Katra to Jammu. My flight was at 4.30 PM and I was near the airport by 2 PM. My driver suggested that we should visit India-Pakistan border around 25 KMs from the airport. He promised to get us back to the airport in time. We reached Suchetgarh in 30 minutes.
There was a TV crew interviewing the officers and we had to wait for 10 minutes. A BSF jawan took us to the actual “line of control”. It is interesting to see a border wall that is totally engulfed by a tree. The tree has extended on both sides of the border. Neither Pakistan not India can cut the tree – a sort of “nature’s way of unity”. There are two large concrete platforms on either side of control for occasional tete-a-tete. We were asked not to take photographs of the LOC for security reasons. There are two large gates on either side of the LOC with the flags of the respective countries painted on them. The BSF post was a railway station during the British times. Sialkot is hardly 11 kms from the post. With the LOC running 3200 kms, jawans are posted at short intervals to ward off any untoward incidence.
On the way back to the airport we picked up cherries from the RS Pura market at excellent prices. Three cheers to the Indian armed forces for bringing peace to the valley and making it easy for ordinary citizens to enjoy the Paradise on Earth.