The first stop was Banganga. Banganga is located just after the police check post. Two long queues for men as well as women passed through the routine checks. Our bags and belongings were frisked. We came out to an open space which meandered towards the first stop of the Yatra. The Banganga river is said to be associated with the miracles and legends of Mata Vaishno Devi. Water remains in the river throughout the year except when there is an acute shortage in rainfall or snow during monsoon and winter seasons. To my dismay I found little muddy water in what was called a river! It was a pahari nallah!
The legend has something of mysticism attached to the place. The name Banganga is self indicative of the origin of the place. It is believed that Mata Vaishno Devi on her way to holy cave created this river with an arrow from her quiver. Being sacred, devotees take a dip into this holy water before proceeding their journey.
I looked at the ghat but was aghast at the muddy water and despite all that I had thought of decided to go on walking without having even a splash of water from Banganga. I could see hordes of yatris taking a bath in the river which had very less water in it.
The entire road was full of pilgrims, old and young. The mood was of devotion and piety. The heights above beckoned us and we swiftly crossed Banganga. We had covered only 1.5 Kms of distance from Katra but we felt as if it was a long distance. The ascent to the Bhawan started. It was a wide road with shops of various kinds on both sides of the road. Most of the shops were of photographers who had the interiors decorated in the form of the Vaishnodevi shrine complete with the lion of Mata and these shopkeepers were shouting to attract the pilgrims to have a snap shot taken. I looked inquisitively and found some pictures where the devotees were shown to be performing puja before the pindi of the goddess in the very sacred cave! These pictures reminded me of my daughters’ pictures that they had displayed on FB where they seemed to hold the leaning tower of Pisa with the touch of their one hand! I was happy with the ingenuity of human mind and the craftsmanship of our own people!
The other shops that were conspicuous by their sheer number were of dry fruits. I had never seen such a huge variety of dry fruits as I saw in those shops. I made a mental note to buy some during my return journey.
The main focus of our mind was to reach the next stop –Charan Paduka. about 1.5 kms. from Banganga and at an altitude of 3380 feet, the place where the imprints of Mata’s pious feet are believed to be imprinted on a rock slab. Though the Darshans at Charan Paduka do not take more than a few minutes on a normal day. One pays obeisance at the footprints of Mata engraved on a rock slab and proceeds further. Symbolically, it means touching the feet of Mata and seeking Her blessings at the start of the journey. But sadly I didn’t know about this legend and Charan Paduka was just another step for us.
We crossed Charan Paduka without paying any attention towards what it was all about. I am feeling guilty about being so focused to reach the temple as to overlook the small details on the way.
But looking back, all that I can say is, it was but natural as whole of my attention was concentrated to save myself from the mules and horses that literally swamped the path! 🙂
…to be continued