I originally planned to go from Bharmour to Manali to Leh to meet the Ghosh’s, who are arriving in Leh on June 27. But, Manali and Leh have been having heavy snowfall (2.5 feet!! In one night!) and I am not appropriately dressed for this…and the Manali-Leh road is closed…
So I decided to go to Kashmir. What do people imagine when they hear the word Kashmir? Majorly contrasting things…some may think of kashmiri shawls and scarves, some may think of Hindu Kush marijuana, others may think of the political violence that has shattered the region for 21 years…
Well, it’s all that and more.
My journey from Bharmour was utterly flawless. I had no idea how connections would go, I just knew I was headed in the direction of Kashmir. I arrived in Chamba and there was a bus 20 minutes later to Pathankot, a major transport hub in Punjab. I arrived in Pathankot at 8.50pm, suspecting I might need to spend the night there, but a Sikh guard came over and immediately offered to help me, directing me to the bus on the other side that would leave in 10 minutes for Jammu. Wow! Oh wait – Jammu – do I want to arrive there at…midnight? Alone? Hmm...oh well.
So I jump on the bus, I’m almost the only woman on the bus, men shuffle around yelling at each other instructing me to sit…a man named Raj is next to me, speaks good English, is from Delhi, and is very friendly. I discover that this bus, after stopping in Jammu, will continue to Katra. This is the site of the Vaishno Devi pilgrimage. Indian tourists come to the state of Jammu and Kashmir for 2 major pilgrimage reasons…Vaishno Devi, and Amarnath Cave. The boys on the bus get all worked up and tell me it’s some sort of divine sign (umm I doubt this ; ) that I have ended up on this bus and say I MUST go to Katra with them, they’ll take care of me and I should do the pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi before continuing to Kashmir. A once in a lifetime opportunity etc etc. So we arrive, 1.30am, my body is shattered, and we wander around the streets of Katra until we find a place to stay.
Vaishno Devi is a 14km walk each way, a very well-paved path leading up the mountain where people are chanting Jai Mata Di, and various other mantras associated with the goddesss(es) residing there. It’s true Indian style – lots of kitschy souvenirs on the way, drinks stalls every few hundred meters – this is how Indians holiday. Combine nature, religion, and entertainment. Why not?
The walk was scorching and I was exhausted much more from the heat than from the
physical demands of the hike…but sunset from the top was amazing. And the energy emanating from the temple where we receive Darshan from the goddess…pulsating.
We finally made it back down to the bottom almost at midnight, exhausted, had some dinner, and slept a few hours before I continued on my way up to Kashmir.