Today, I didn’t need the alarm or dad’s intense glare to wake me up. In fact, I woke him up by giving him the same treatment! Payback is such a bitch! Heh
We hired a cab for the rest of our stay in Jammu and as per the instructions, he reported to duty sharp at 0700hrs (go figure!). Today’s itinerary was pretty exciting as we were visiting Vaishno Devi and then heading straight to Patni Top, which is considered to be next best to Srinagar.
It started drizzling when we left and for some reason it bothered Mom. According to her the helicopter wouldn’t work if it were raining. Yes, my mother has an explanation for everything, and yes, we were taking the ‘Chopper’ to cut the distance by 11.6 kms. Sandeepji, our cab driver, was an extremely polite and informative man. To be honest, I thought he was a full-time guide who was making some easy money by driving people around. He made sure the drive to the helipad was lovely, not that he had to try hard as the weather was way too beautiful to pay any attention to the bumpy ride. Funny thing, the car’s stereo used to stop every time the car hit a pothole. No kidding! Twice the RJ tried to ask some question for her listeners but was muted by the wonder car only to start again and play ‘Teri ore’ or ‘Tera suroooooooor.’
Question, what will happen to Himesh bhai if he sat in this car for few hours? *Devilish grin*
90minutes drive and a chai break later we were at the Sanjhi Chhat ie the helipad. I couldn’t wait to be in the helicopter and thanks to the Pawan-Hans employees; we were ready to fly within 15 minutes! DUUUUDE! They made me sit next to the pilot! I don’t know whether I was happy or peeing my pants. It was a strange experience; I was smiling from ear to ear and yet had stomach cramps! It’s not same as sitting in an airplane, as I had thought in the morning. I bet Sardarji pilot’s caller tune was ‘I believe I can fly’… That’s all it was – flying!
3 minutes and 17 seconds later, we reached our destination. From here, it’s a 2.5kms walk to the temple. I, being practical, suggested horseback ride. Mom refused stating ‘Maata himmat degi’. It was an amusing statement, as she can’t walk that well. Yea, couple of knee surgeries does that to you. I tried to convince her but gave up soon!
This was it! We were moments away from Maata and it actually cleared my mind of all the usual clutter. It has been a long time since I felt this way. It was a different feeling and I was enjoying it to the fullest. Took us an hour to reach the checkpoint and for some reason I was only reflecting on my life in the past decade, be it social, personal or professional. This walk was no different from any of those. I knew my destination and I was taking steps, slow at times and rapid at others, to get there. Isn’t that what we all do? Set a target and go for it? Anyway, we eventually got to the VIP entrance. Mom was struggling and was feeling the immense pain in her legs, Dad was tired too but not once did he lose his straight face or let go of Mom’s hand. I might find myself at war with him in day-to-day life but I know I’ll die a happy if I manage to be half the man he is at 60.
We entered the queue from the army gate and soon, we were part of those who were waiting in the line for hours. Just like daily life, even at temples, money & reputation holds more value than the less blessed individuals. People from different caste, culture, societies and states were together in this queue, screaming ‘Jai Maata Di’, louder every single time. It reminded me of the little rascal in the train. I felt bad that I cursed him for howling and disturbing my sleep, especially when I wasn’t any different from him. To think of it, that poor bastard was crying because no one could understand his language. I, on the other hand, scream when I am happy, sad, angry or ecstatic. Its weird how my mind was in different zone when, ideally, I should have been thinking about the list of things I wanted from God or about everything that I had to thank her for. Mom was really struggling now but like Dad she kept her pain in control and kept walking towards the temple.
Some facts bout Vaishno Devi temple; It’s not like any other temple that you might have seen as there is no statue or photo of any God inside the temple. You have to walk inside a tunnel, where the police will push you as if u were in jail and they were taking a headcount after a field day. Once u do reach the place, you will have less than couple of seconds to, one, look at the right spot to pray, two, remember everything that you wanted to ask/thank, three, bend over and pay respect, four, ignore the push from others, five, get the most important tikka on your forehead, six, pray to other two gods present with her (Vaishno Devi is accompanied with Kali Mata and Sarasvati Mata) and last but not the least, lose yourself in her presence. Oh Yes! It really doesn’t get better than this.
So, just like that, it was over. Half hour in cab to the station, 30 hours in train to Jammu, one and half hour to reach Katra, 3 minutes in the helicopter, and hour to reach the VIP entrance, and then the final wait in the queue. All this for less than 3 seconds in her presence!
This was, and still is, the best journey of my life. (June 2011)