Nagpur: A group of 90 Nagpurians left for Amarnath on 27th July, returning just two days ago. The day after they returned they heard of the firing on a bus of yatris in which 7 died tragically.
Today, Ramesh Baishware, who was part of the group,recounted his journey for us.
But a little about Ramesh first: this guy is from that very noble profession without whom you wouldn’t look respectable and well turned out every morning when you step out for work, he is our dhobi!
Come rain or storm or a burning cauldron of 48* outside, he comes thrice a day delivers freshly ironed crisp clothes and takes a fresh batch for ironing. His family has been subsiding on this profession of his; he has two children. A son and a daughter. His wife of 20+ years died last year of cancer. Ramesh spent about Rs. 7 lakhs on her treatment but could not save her. Throughout her illness, or even after her death, Ramesh took no off – even if it was twice rather than thrice a week, he still came for his job.
Thus it was surprising when he declared in May that he would not be coming for 13 – 14 days, two weeks!
“I am going on Amarnath ki yatra” he declared.
There were 6 of his family, including his 21 years old daughter, and some relatives of his wife.
They left from Nagpur by train on 1st July for Delhi; from where they took another train for Jammu.
“It was as soon as we left Jammu and entered Kashmir valley that we became very aware of the army’s protective net around us” says Ramesh. “One day out of Jammu, they made us halt for two days at Pahalgaom, because it was ‘unsafe’ to proceed and there was disturbance ahead. We were like guests of the army for those days, we were given two large halls to sleep in, and fed in their langhars. ” (All this company of yatris, got to eat a lot of Rajma- chawal in their 11 days trip, the staple food of Kashmir!)
It was not just the 90 people from Nagpur in 2 buses, by now they had joined a ‘convoy’ of 10 – 12 other buses.
The third night, they halted at Baltal, from where the trek up the Himalayas would begin the next day.
“There was snow all around; it was very cold and we were sleeping in tents!” recalls Ramesh.
They began walking up at 7.30 next morning. The route became more tortuous as the day progressed. Ramesh’ 21 years old daughter Nisha, began suffering from vertigo and lack of oxygen at some point. Fortunately there was a doctor in amidst the climbers who gave her some medicine that made her feel a little better.
“Or we would have to come back.”
Here onwards, Nisha and her cousin, a 18 year old boy, were taken on horse back with each horse having his own attendant.
“Even the horses, who must be doing the climb so often, are unsure of their footing, the route is so narrow and slippery.
At one turning, the horse carrying the young lad, slipped and almost fell in the valley with his passenger but the owner of the horse pushed the animal the other way with all his might. This made the horse-man slip down and fall but he held on to the cliff side and was pulled up by other men.
The group had to halt once at Sheshnag on the way up. This place was even more cold than Baltal and again only tents were available to sleep.
They continued with the climb next day at 7.30 a.m. again and reached the top at 4.30 p.m. But it was 6.30 by the time they got ‘darshan’ of the Amarnath ‘shrine’ which is actually a huge solid sheet of ice made of water dripping from the top into a body of water below. It appears somewhat like a Shiv ling and is considered THE pre historic avatar of Shiva. Cries of ‘Jai Bhole naath’ rend the air as the ice ling is spotted. But devotees who have spent two days climbing, risking their very lives, cannot linger for a minute also in front of the natural wonder. They are made to move on by the guides present there. There is such a rush of human beings at that point!
After one night’s halt at the zenith, the next day the group climbed down by another route which involved just a day of trekking down.
“We wanted to proceed to Gulmarg after that, but again the army prevented us from going there due to ‘conditions’. So we went to Shrinagar instead and enjoyed shikara rides in the Dal ‘jheel’.
The tourists do shopping also during the boat ride. At one end of the lake there is a huge floating market of shikaras which are ‘shops’ selling various ware. Ramesh and company bought ‘jerkins’ , dry fruits and the famous Kashmiri handicrafts from them.
“How was your interaction with locals? How did Kashmiri people behave with you?” We asked.
“They were normal. ‘We are not against you, tourists. But we fear the army who pulls us out of our homes at night to ‘interrogate’ us, often beating us up also. It can be anyone’s turn any night!’ they told us” recounted Ramesh. He was full of admiration in fact of the young horse owner who saved his nephew. “But for him we would have lost our ‘Munna’. My daughter was also feeling very giddy, even on horse back. Her attendant looked after HER and the horse, both!”
Around the Dal lake, one of the buses in their convoy became a target of some stones which came suddenly from a hidden by lane. No one could see who was throwing them, but as soon as the army reacted, they went away. The entire convoy was also preceded and followed by army vehicles.
“Will you go back to Amarnath again?” We asked Ramesh.
“No, definitely not! Once is enough, and I do not say this because of fear of terrorists attacks.
We never really felt scared on that count. We were very well protected from that danger. But no one can protect you from the brutal terrain, the dangerous climb and the tortuous weather! It is because of that I do not want to go back.” Ramesh concludes.
In his parting shot he says ” I will not mind the hot Nagpur summers anymore! Better to live in this weather than live 12 months in the cold and cruel conditions of Kashmir.”
—Sunita Mudaliar (Executive Editor)