After having darshana of Maa Vaishnodevi all of us felt rejuvenated, and surprisingly suddenly started feeling hungry. Honestly speaking before this very moment no one had ever thought of hunger. We had been trekking since 3 p.m. and have had only tea once or twice and nothing else. It was 10 p.m. now and suddenly we felt tired and hungry as well as if all our bodily cravings returned back to us, all those cravings that had been obliterated when we were focused on having darshana of Ma Vaishnodevi!
We walked towards the nearest Bhojnalaya and once again stood in a long queue to buy tokens for food. Rajmah chawal and Kadhi chawal were the two options if you wanted rice and channe bhature another option if you don’t like to eat rice. The rates were very nominal and the food was simple. We had our dinner and had a craving for after dinner tea. Once again we stood in the queue for getting tokens for tea. The tea was damn cheap. Only Rs. 4 per cup and the quantity of tea in the cup was large enough.
It was almost 11-30p.m. now and the big question was whether to start fro Katra or to wait for some time at the Bhawan itself. It was getting cold now and the after effect of dinner was having its impact. We were feeling sleepy. We searched for a place to sleep but all were reserved. There is a constant day and night supply of blankets for a very nominal advance of Rs 100/ per blanket. You can have as many blankets as you want and then on return you get your money back.
By this time there was no space to be seen where one could lie down. All places were full of people lying down. I realized the truth of the old saying, “one doesn’t crave for taste when hungry and there is no need for a bed when one is sleepy”.
We decided that if we lie down to take some rest it would be very difficult for us to get up and start the long journey back to Katra so we opted to walk down. We gulped down another steaming cup of tea to provide us enough energy to get going.
As per the tradition we had to go to Bhairo Dev temple after worshiping Ma Vaishnodevi to make our pilgrimage a success. Bhairo Dev temple was at about 2 Kms from the Bhawan and the path was narrow, steep and dark. The worst part were the horses who would suddenly come forcefully down the hill and we, the pedestrians, would have to step up on the retaining walls of the path to save ourself!
The ascent was very steep indeed but somehow it reached the temple of Bhairo Nath. The shops around the temple of Bhairo Nath were very different in looks. Whereas at the Bhawan it was the color red that predominated every other color here it was black-sheer black that seemed to be the reigning color.
We offered our prayers at Bhairo Dev temple. There were black flags, black threads, mustard oil bottles being offered at the temple of Bhairo Dev. Here, too, like anywhere else people were sleeping on ground oblivious to all movements of men and horses around. Everybody, it seemed, was dead tired!
We started to descend downwards through a quite narrow, dark and steep path but luckily this path was restricted to the horses. This seemed like a privileged area as I came across a board prohibiting taking pictures. Whatever may be the reason but we were free from the fear of being trampled under the foot of a neighing horse on this path!
We crossed Saanjhi Chhat and then walked down to Ardh Kumari. It was almost morning time. The open space at Ardh Kumari had turned into a big sleeping ground and I could see a large number of men, women and children sleeping blissfully on the ground among filth and squalor!
I was happy that we didn’t opt to take rest and shuddered at the thought had we decided to sleep on the open space. Who knows we, too, would have become a part of the rubbish that surrounded human mass in huge quantity.
We had a cup of our morning tea at Ardh Kumari and slowly moved toward our base camp at Katra. The steep descent was putting pressure on my toes and I decided to walk bare foot to have some relief. Ah! What a pleasure it was to give some fresh air to my feet. But when I crossed heaps of horse dung on the way, I was petrified of catching some infection!
The roads were full of horse dung, waste cups and plates and all other human waste that one can ever think of ! The whole path was just a big whole waste bin!
Morning Sun brought to light all those blemishes that the evening haze of the previous evening had shielded. Or it was perhaps because while going up I was so focused on reaching the Bhawan that nothing around me impacted me but now while coming down I was typically behaving like a fault finding woman, a typical trait of my creed of creatures!
…to be continued.