Awake and ready by 7.00 a.m., beginning the day with a sort of sojji served in a leaf-cup by a road-side vendor, before the city has risen into the full vibrancy of a working day. Sitting in a bus, waiting for a mountain climb. A two hour ride with an in-between stop at a check post. The conductor says there will be a checking at the post. Getting down, I find only men surround me. A little perplexed I am wondering what to do, when someone else says the checking is only for men. I wonder why there is a checking, even! But I go
In another hour, we have reached Katra. I rush towards the ticket counter along with a few other people. The crowds have not yet begun their sojourn towards a god, or their god, or their belief, or even their prayer. I am surrounded by youngsters- high school boys eager to make the climb. A ticket is obtained. Breakfast at 10.15 at a small food stall that made really tasty parathas, and then towards the foothills.
At the base, there is a security check and I meet Raju and Sapna. Sapna is a gorgeous, young, shining black mare decorated by her owner with chamkis and bells- not necessarily something that is comfortable. And yet, she was the one who was taking me up 10 kilometres to rendezvous with the goddess. She was patient. She loved walking at the edge of the road- the corner which faced the gaping slopes of the mountain. At bends in the mountain road, she would always take the outer arch. She knew her way about the roads. Sometimes, her owner would lag behind a bit, and with just a whistle or a call he would be able to bring her to a halt. It was a lovely experience. Riding a horse for three hours over hilly terrain is very very different from the short horse-rides offered on Chennai beaches, and by the time we reached the top, my body was numb.
And then the temple: It was small and surrounded by fences- a little disappointing, architecturally speaking. There was a constructed cave that entered into the shrine of the goddess, through which there was holy water dripping towards the floor, giving a damp, dank feeling; a feeling of being stuck inside a womb! The goddess was three-faced, and shone golden, with the redness of her sari. I only said a quick hello and goodbye before leaving.
Not bothering to get food, I ate something light before embarking on my return. I decided to walk. But there was no more time- no time for decisions or indecisions! And so the pace quickened. After a couple of kilometres, there were steps and I took them with the joy of seeing a short-cut. But still, there was the vague doubt of the lack of time chiming within the back of my head. And the speed increased. And there was no more time to stop and stare- the green mountains, the quietness of the mists were no longer the primary concern. The landscape shifted from the greenness of trees to the stark whiteness of shop walls. And still I was climbing down, incessantly looking at the watch, thinking- “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late”.
Nearing the base, my feet nearly cave in, but somehow I manage to stagger towards an auto that charges too much. I walk further on hoping that some auto-driver will accept a decent price. Eventually finding an auto, I head towards the bus-stop. And then a return journey with a panic-causing traffic jam that was eventually evaded, and a safe-reaching within the expected time limit.
A meeting of friends, a short conversation, a sending off of friends heading towards Srinagar, a delicious hotel thaali and a dreamless slumber.