They were dressed in orange clothes, a pair of wicker baskets were balanced upon their shoulders with the help of a bamboo stick. Some of them had bandages on their knee caps, some were drenched in sweat, others hobbling with canes in their hand in scorching Gurgaon heat.
A legion of Kavars was proceeding while loud music played in the backdrop. “They travel hundreds of kilometers to collect holy Ganga water, some take it from haridwar, others travel all the way to Gangotri. The water is never allowed to touch the ground” said my autowala.
“FAITH” was the word that stuck me that moment. I too was born in a Hindu family but I have often described myself as more of an atheist. Its when I see people showcasing such extraordinary resilience that I feel envious of them .
In a similar encounter when I met some Jogi Babas near Tungnath who were going from Badrinath to Kedarnath on foot. In the world of today where advertisements are being flagged that you can do the Char Dham Yatra in just 12 days. Google pages are filled with Char Dham Yatra Packages.I can’t help but admire the sanctity of the thousands of Jogi Babas who cover these distances on foot.
According to popular Hindu belief, anyone walking from the Yamnotri in the west and towards Badrinath in the east achieves Moksha(Liberation). This is the same route was followed by the Five Pandavas and Draupadi at the end of Mahabharata. These are perhaps the most sacred of mountains, every village and lake filled with mythology of its own.
Before the development (which is synonymous to roads in hills) kicked in much of the pilgrimage was done on foot. The route was clearly defined with dharamshalas and rest houses were clearly laid out. Today the vast majority of yatris travel in buses or cars or helicopters, which carry them from point A to point B within a matter of days or hours.
Originally Char Dham Yatra was done on foot which took somewhere between 2 months to 4 months. The journey today undertaken in ’12 days’, There are direct road linkage to Badrinath and Gangotri. Whereas helicopters can take you to Yamnotri and Kedarnath which otherwise is a 16 km trek.
Unlike people in the days gone by who covered these pilgrimage as an act of physical penance, the char dham yatris prefer to travel in air conditioned coaches or private cars or taxis across the mountains.Earlier Char Dham Yatra used to demand commitment of time and energy, it now costs little more than a bus ticket.
Every pilgrimage begins with a question. One can easily meditate at home on these questions reading books, or listening to spiritual gurus on tv channels. But a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage demands much more, it demands complete surrender of physical body, sometime going to the physical breaking point. This complete surrender of body and self, as referred in vedanta philosophy , can be a way to transcendence.
There are many questions as to what is nature of human being and how does it relate to the world outside of himself. There are no straight forward answers, many books and channels fill one’s head with dogmas, as if the answer is written somewhere hidden in a book.
Its my own personnel experience if one could wander in the Himalayas long enough, there is so much beauty there, I hope one could unlock the answers within. Many of the seekers have been coming to Himalayas to unravel their such deep inquires. If only one could get an insight like one finds a switch board in a dark room. The Moksha could well be found on the way and not in the shrine that one is going for.
Such a pilgrimage is sustainable both to the pilgrim and to the fragile ecosystem of the Himalayas. The number of pilgrims that come to these temples is ever increasing. The disasters of 2013 was an alarming bell that something needs to change.
Meanwhile a school of thought have risen up to reopen the old ways of pilgrimage which have lied dormant for decades now. Such reopening of the trails would not only encourage a more challenging journey for the pilgrims but will also contribute to the local economy which would flourish due to this inflow of new seekers.
A quote by Rehman Baba sums it all up for me.
“There is no doubt in the sanctity of Mecca, but a donkey won’t become a Hajj pilgrim by just going through the motions”