Vaishnodevi Yatra: Finally an Audience with the Devi and Self

Throughout the path to Vaishnodevi a hoarding that is prominently displayed at all strategic points is one that is difficult to avoid! This hoarding tells or prepares the pilgrims about what to expect at the Bhawan!

It is human psychology that we have to have a concrete shape of someone we love, admire and adore and in all possible manner we try to invent one shape or form where we don’t have any. In the same manner whenever we think of Mata Vaishnodevi it is the image of a goddess in all its opulence, strength and valor! Where red saree, sindoor would complete the picture of Goddess who, astride a lion, would annihilate all the demons from the world.

The boards displayed at many places make the pilgrims wait for the dharshana of Ma Vaishnodevi in Pindi form. A form which is unique for it represents the Devi!

On reaching the entrance, my heart sank to see the number of devotees standing in queues which were as long as half a kilometer! And the worst was that we had lost contact with the group that we had come with. The registration slip was with another friend in the group. We just could not do anything without the slip. You have to show this slip at the counter and your group is assigned a number. You are allowed in the Bhawan as per  your number.

Without this slip we had no other option but to wait. And the surging crowds around me made me frantic about what if he would not be able to find us.  But luckily we spotted the other members of our group and walked towards the counter. We were advised to deposit all our belongings like purse, shoes, mobile, camera, leather belt etc. in the lockers provided for this specific purpose. There were still longer queues at the lockers as well!

You are allowed to take only money  to the Vaishnodevi Bhawan and nothing else. Other offerings like coconut, and Chunri for Mata have to offered at a specified place. Nothing is to be taken beyond a point. People can be seen searching for a place to keep their belongings when they are not able have access to a locker. At one stage even I thought of putting off my shoes in a corner and putting my small camera in the shoes! 🙂 I was glad that I was not carrying my DSLR that takes lots of space.

But luckily as our friend had arranged VIP passes so we got a locker easily and were permitted to join the long queue at a place where from the distance to the Bhawan and the wait was manageable! Once again this was an awkward moment for me when I overheard someone standing in the queue comment rather sarcastically, “Here come the back door entries!” And another realization dawned on me that people who get things done in a easier manner need to have thick skins so as to remain unruffled by public outcries!

While standing in a queue I was surprisingly happy to note that there was no display of frenzied outcries by the devotees the way one has in many other places. The boards put here, there and everywhere directed the devotees to mentally concentrate on the Shakti and not to chant her name and praise to her loudly!

Gradually the queue was moving and with abated heart I was waiting to meet Maa Vaishnodevi. I thought of my dream of coming to this temple since childhood and today when I was 55 years of age I was able to realize it. My heart filled with all those emotions that in the innocent years of my childhood had made me crave for Her blessings and even today I felt like a child seeking Her blessings. It seemed as if time had stopped and nothing had changed.

Like a small child I conveyed to Maa all that I had suffered and how I wanted her to teach a lesson to all those who had been instrumental in causing undue sufferings and pains to me. At this point I thought of how Maa Vaishnodevi, too, had to fight and struggle against Bhairav and realized that one has to go through all that one is destined for. I was grateful to Her for making me come out of my sufferings and herein lay her blessings.

I was almost at the entrance to the tunnel leading to Her abode. Somethign touched my feet, it was water beneath my feet. I entered the cave having washed myself of all that was unworthy of carrying to Her presence. Symbolically I had become clean and pure worthy to have an audience with Her. I entered the cave. It was long and having low lying roof. Water was seeping from the walls. I could feel that i was inside the womb of the mountains, Going deeper and deeper inside to have an audience with Maa!

It is difficult to put in words the feeling that I had when I was before her. Three Pindis denoting Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Saraswati were staring hard at me, The Pindis had come alive and so had my connection with Her! I could feel how different parts of my persona which had baffled me at times were in fact Her manifestation in all human beings.

I had depicted my Kali form to my enemies when I had faced them fearlessly, my Lakshmi form in my home where I was the  caretaker, and my Saraswati form to my students with whom  I learnt more than I taught.

I felt free. I felt enlightened, I felt empowered!

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Vaishnodevi Yatra: Ardh kumari to Sanjhi Chhat

May be it was the tea that invigorated us to walk with gusto or it was the good feeling of having covered half the distance that we resumed our walk. Or Perhaps it was watching very old and feeble men and women walking with a zeal that put us to shame for counting the hardships istead of counting the blessings.

We started the trek with added vigor and strength.After Ardh kumari the hill is very steep upwards to move for about two and half kilometres. Its shape is like the head of an elephant due to which it is known by the name of Hathi Matha. it was indeed very steep ascent.

Looking down the small town of Katra seemed like a distant hamlet. There were a number of horses and ponies waiting in a shed. That was the only time when I saw them taking some rest as otherwise I had seen them on a continuous move. I wondered at the trained ponies and horses who would gallop at a speed which would put my heart to tremble. Though I  was walking on foot my heart would tremble for the pilgrim astride the horse. But they seemed to enjoy the horse ride. I, very ruefully and selfishly, thought that after some time all that they would remember of this pilgrimage would be the horse ride and nothing else. The ascent was very steep and the poor horses walked with a great weight on their backs!

My husband, a trained vet, felt so sorry for the horses as they seemed to have no rest at all. The only saving grace for a horse was if he was lucky to have a light weight pilgrim atop it though in most cases I could see quite heavyweight pilgrims atop the horses. And these pilgrims as they didn’t have to do anything else than watch the fellow pilgrims treading around, would shout at the top of their voice, ” Jor se bole Jai Mata di”!

And we, the poor walkers, would not have enough energy to shout back! 🙂 I realized that why people in power generally are most vocal in giving advice and directions, it is because they have nothing else to do and have to use their surplus energy in some activity.

Vaishnodevi Ma had opened many vistas for me. I was learning a lot. My belief in theory of Karma resurfaced and I thought if the theory has any grain of truth in it then these horses, once upon a time, must have a human form in some previous birth  and  must have bled to work some others. They are repaying that Karma in this birth by carrying pilgrims without any rest and pause. I shuddered at the thought of what might happen to all those gleaming and smiling pilgrims sitting proudly on horse back and chanting Jai Mata Di. No God or Goddess would come to redeem you of your bad karma even if you go hundreds times to pay homage to a far flung and  inaccessible temple of a Goddess! It was with great difficulty that I got myself out of these thoughts and once again focused on the pilgrimage!

Suddenly at this place the sound of helicopter caught my attention and I watched a helicopter in the sky moving towards Sanjhi Chhat which has a small helipad. it costs only Rs 700/ per passenger in the helicopter and some pilgrims avail this service to reach Vaishnodevi temple. They alight at Saanjhi Chhat and from there take up horses to go further.

Sanjhi Chhat is levelled and declining ahead. From this place the temple of Mata can be seen which increases the enthusiasm of the devotees. It  was around 7-30 p.m. and I could see the bright lights of the temple. The steps of all the pilgrims automatically gained  momentum and the devotees started chanting her name with more profound faith and devotion.

Now we had to descend a little to reach the Bhawan. I was wonder struck at workmanship of carving a way in the rocky mountains. I wondered how difficult it must have been to get this pathway constructed. I was more than surprised to find a board claiming to be a middle school at Saanjhi Chhat. I could not see a village around but if there was a Middle school there surely would have been some population around. I wondered whether our Hon’ble Minister Kapil Sibal could ever understand the problems of these students studying in school in such areas? Could these students be ever equal to any other child studying in a Metropolitan city? Would it be equality of  opportunity for a child studying in this school when he competes for admission to IIT or NIT with some other child from an urban area?

Or would the blessings of Mata Vaishnodevi alone would be sufficient to bestow some special boon to children studying in this school? Or worse still would some children styding in this school would end up mending horses on the way to Vaishnodevi Bhawan for rich and elite pilgrims?

I shook my head of this nonsense thoughts and tried to concentrate on Mata Vaishnodevi  whose Bhawan glittered in lights before my eyes!

… be continued

Vaishnodevi Yatra: Reaching Katra

Whichever part of country you may come from, you have to reach Katra to start for Vaishno Devi temple. We had started from Hamirpur so we passed through Kangra, Nurpur, Pathankot and finally when we crossed the Chakki bridge, the driver of our vehicle informed us that now we were in Jammu and Kashmir! The place was Lakhanpur. It was the toll tax  barrier for all vehicles entering Jammu and Kashmir. I looked around, nothing had changed much. The topography was quite same as it was few miles before but the place had a different label. There were so many vendors selling Dahi-Bhalle.  The driver stopped the vehicle at a side. “Enjoy some Dahi Bhalle, it will take some time fro me to get my papers checked.” He said  and went to show his papers to two gentlemen who were sitting very comfortably at the other side of the road. There were many other vehicles stranded on our side of the road and the drivers of those vehicles were on the other side showing files containing relevant papers of the vehicle.

I saw a driver getting a slip of paper, and then I saw the driver of our vehicle handing over some money to one of the gentlemen but no paper was returned back to him. Raju, the driver, came back, sat in the driver’s seat and instantly pulled off the cassette player from the vehicle. On making inquiry we were told that since all his papers were alright, and he was in uniform with his name prominently displayed on a badge, the gentlemen police could find no fault to challan him. Whar Raju told was interesting. “Do you have cassette recorder?” asked one of the law enforcer. “Yes.” said Raju as he knew that the next step would be to physically verify its presence. and added, “But we are not playing it.” “1000/” said the other gentleman. Raju being a street-smart person and the one who makes several trips to Katra carrying pilgrims,  silently handed a 100/ Rs note in the hand of the gentleman and returned back. “But the other driver was giver a slip.” I asked incredulously. “The fool that he is, he preferred to be challaned for not wearing the uniform instead of paying some easy money.” Raju lamented. A smart answer from a person who is a regularly plies taxis on this road! I made a rough calculation. Taking into consideration that over one lac vehicles pass through this barrier in a month, the everyday number would be more than 3000 and if half of them pay Rs 100/ as easy money the amount thus collected would be staggering! Mind bowling indeed.

Jai Mata di, I sure was learning some lessons for being a successful person. Raju had taken the task of being a guide to us, “Check your mobiles.” he asked all of us. “There won’t be any signal.” We fumbled in our bags and pockets for our mobiles and found NO SIGNAL! Only one of us had signal as his mobile had postpaid plan. Not knowing what other lessons awaited us in Jammu and Kashmir we started the journey towards Katra.

It seemed as if all vehicles on the road were plying towards Katra. There was so much of rush. Katra, a  town, was bursting at its seams because of the incoming traffic. Raju took us to the parking near the Bus stand. We got down. The temperature was quite high, it was hot, very hot!

It was 2-50 p.m. and we decided to start the trek. As it would have been very difficult to contact Raju the next day when we were supposed to come back to Katra from Vaishno Devi temple, we fixed the time and the place where Raju was to wait for us–the same taxi stand next day, the Sunday at 8 a,m.!

The lessons for the pilgrims:

1 The driver of your vehicle must be properly uniformed, have all papers of the vehicle. All taxes must have been paid. For every vehicle that enters Jammu and Kashmir daily tax at the rate of 270/ per day has to be deposited. No cassette recorder in your vehicle is allowed. If you have one, remove it before entering Jammu.

2 Except for post paid mobile services, all other mobile services are jammed so you must carry some mobiles with postpaid services.

3 Temperature during May and June goes up to 40* Celsius in Katra so you be prepared for the hot afternoons!

Jai Mata di!

…to be continued.

Trekking to Kamru Nag in Winter: A rare experience to cherish

The trek to Kamrunag in Winter months is worth all the troubles as the sight of the snow covered Kamrunag lake and the simple wooden temple of Kamrunag beside it dissipates all the troubles that one might experience during the trek. Te experience is worth giving a try.

Saturday, 12 February, 2011

The Sun was covered midst overcast sky. The wind was fresh and chilly. We all were suitably dressed to face the chill during the trek but unfortunately were not guarded against rain! The nuzzles of grass on the slopes around us and the slopy fields being prepared reiterated that Spring was not far behind. The sight of women carrying Kiltas full of manure was a pleasant change from the distant snow covered mountains. We reveled in the sight of these women knowing well that very soon all remnants of human population would vanish from our sight. The women folks were pleasant looking and smiling. They had quite big loads on their back but  still some of them had knitting needles in their hands and were busy knitting, even wile plying through the capricious sidelines of the slopey hilly terraced fields. They exchanged smiles with us. Wished us a pleasant journey though added cautiously, “you should have come after a month when the weather would have become pleasant.” Then added as an afterword, “Go on and have the darshana of the deo.”

Gradually as we started the ascent, the air became chillier and was biting coldly at our faces and the overcast sky became darker. We had a worried look at one another but moved on. I was so worried about KS as he was taking a big chance of undertaking this arduous trek. We had decided to walk at a slow pace and to sit after short intervals to catch breath. As some well wishers had forewarned us about the wild animals that we may come across, we were walking in a group. We might have trekked one third of the ascent when we saw the snow at dark and shady portions of the trail. We all were excited. I looked up at the distant top which seemed to be covered with snow but I thought that the path would be clear though the tops and slants may be covered with snow. We moved on.

During the last one third of the ascent we were surprised to see snow all around. There was no path to speak of, the white snow had covered all the traces of the trail! We moved on but found that the snow had become hard at the parts where we could find some track and was very slippery. Everybody would slip once in a while. I was much worried about KS as his shoes were very slippery. The sole of the old shoes had no grooves left  and was absolutely plain. We were at a point where from neither we could get back nor could dare to move forward. We decided to move forward. Ashu, my son, would help his Papa holding is hand and supporting him.

We walked and walked amidst snow and suddenly my sister’s son shouted, “Ah the lake is covered in snow!” We had reached Kamrunag and the mere look at the divine lake covered in snow made us forget all the troubles that we had faced. The small wooden temple of Kamrunag with snow covered top beside the snow layered lake was a divine and blissful scene out of the ordinary world! We had seen and felt what we never could dream of!

The real pleasure of seeking the blessings of Kamrunag is when one treks through the rocky terrain, through the deep deodar forests to reach his temple at Kamru Nag. The sight of a simple temple beside Kamru lake is simple blissful and the devotees are immersed in a divine experience of a lifetime!

To be continued…

Counting my Blessings….

A news item in the Tribune that Kamru Nag, the reigning deity of Mandi Shivratri, has descended down from his abode in the majestic top of the Kamrah village to bless his devotees  at Mandi Shivratri reminded me of our visit to the Kamru Nag temple. A very recent visit i.e. on 12 February, 2011, is remarkable for many things as I sincerely could count my blessings rather than rue over my trials and tribulations!

Friday, 11 February, 2011

Trekking to Kamrunag in Winter…

“Can we trek to Kamru Nag during this time of the year?” was a query that my son had during his recent visit. I had no answer to it and asked one and all who had any idea about trekking to KamruNag durig winter months. The answers baffled me. Someone advised, “It is much risky, as there may be bears in the prowl!” Another one warned, “the snow on the slopes is tricky and dangerous!” The best advice, though, was, “if go you must, go in a group.” As my son would have gone back had we waited for the better times to trek to Kamrunag, we had no choice than to decide to go to Kamrunag in the month of February. And this year the prolonged winters in Himachal made our trekking decision too dicey and affair.So one fine morning on 11 February, 2011 we started in the morning for Rohanda, which is some 45 kilometers from Sundernagar. The trek to Kamrunag is difficult but the real pleasure of seking his blessings is when one treks through the rocky terrain passing the deep deodar forests to reach his temple at Kamru Nag.

We reached Rohanda at 10 a.m. The air was chilly. The sky was overcast with clouds though there  seemed very less probability of rain but you can’t say anything as it is the abode of rain god that we wished to reach! We had slight heated discussion at Rohanda as I was not at all inclined to take along my husband KS to this trek. We had planned earlier that he would stay at Rohanda while all of us went trekking up Kamrunag! I had a very solid point. Ever since his hear injury, I had become very protective towards him. Taking him to this trek was nothing less than taking a big risk and I was not in any mood to risk his safety and health at all. But stubborn as he, too, is like me, he brought out two walking sticks from the rear of the car and said jokingly, There are to support the two oldies in the group.” He wanted to come. My son, too, wanted him to come, but he didn’t know much about the precarious condition that  his  Papa, after his mysterious head injury, had been in the Neurosurgery Emergency ward of PGI Chandigarh!

I had to give up and we started for Kamrunag with prayers in our heart. The local people looked at us with starange mix of feelings. They had seen young people taking a chance of trekking to Kamrunag at this tiem of the year but not persons like us! But we moved on.

To be continued…

Road to Rohtang and Beyond…

Rohtang PassThe road through Rohtang Pass is nothing less than the best example of human capability. The meandering road with sharp serpentine curves and still sharper U-turns is testimony to human spirit. While admiring the road and the courageous persons who might have worked to make this a reality for people like us, who shrug and complaint even while sitting comfortably in a vehicle, I saluted the indomitable human ability to dream and to turn those dreams into  reality.

I thought of a conversation between Dominique Keating and Gail Wynand in Ayn Rand’s famous book Fountainhead:

You’ve never felt how small you were when looking at the ocean.”
He laughed. “Never. Nor looking at the planets. Nor at mountain peaks. Nor at the Grand Canyon. Why should I? When I look at the ocean, I feel the greatness of man. I think of man’s magnificent capacity that created this ship to conquer all that senseless space. When I look at mountain peaks, I think of tunnels and dynamite. When I look at the planets, I think of airplanes.”


The rough and rugged

It was really strange that I was thinking of Gail Wynand, my favourite fictional character, while looking at the road to Rohrang and beyond and was really curious to know more about the persons who initiated the “project impossible” constructing a road. I thanked the GRIF and BRO for maintaining the road at all costs. Keeping in view the geographical location and climatic condition, it was really a very tough job to keep the road intact.

Warrioirs of the Rohtang Road

I saw a group of labourers traveling in a pick-up van. These were the persons who keep the road in working condition. Almost all of them had kept their mouth and nose covered with a piece of cloth. The dust and the lower oxygen supply were the two main adversaries that they had to work against. They were courageous person, I thought. None of them seemed to be Himachali, all were from outside Himachal. Tey migt have come to HImachal in search of better avenues and had found one at Rohatang Road. Just a few minutes ago, I had seen a number of groups of tourists who had come for fun and frolic to Rohtang Pass. Strange are the ways of God! I suddenly tought that if some mishap occurs, here at the Pass, there would not be any such distinction between the poor and the rich. The Nature, in wrath, is great equalizer! Though I appreciated the road but my curiosity regarding the first ever endeavor to have planned this road to have initiated the survey of the road was still making me uncomfortable. I thought of asking my hosts at Jahalma village to get me some answers. I also wondered how people traveled in earlier times when there was no road. How did they successfully crossed the pass during inclement weather. So many questions were storming my head.


Descending down the Rohtang towards Keylong


The road was now descending slowly. The scenic beauty around us had changed significantly. The meandering road, seen from this height, seemed to vie with the river that made its presence felt. The river seemed like a blue ribbon from this distance and many water falls, too, were joining the water of the river. The road seemed dangerously narrow to me but while driving through the road, I found that it was not very narrow. The large heaps of stones that I could see on this side of Rohtang Pass made me inquisitive. There were stones and stones. Some small roadside minuscule temples and Boddh worship places could also be seen around. All this was adding to the mysticism of the place. I just shuddered at the though how would I live if someone leaves me alone at this place. All the crowd that made Rohtang a happening place was left behind. Now the traffic had thinned and stones gods of the Pass had taken their place. I could feel  a serenity that silence only can produce. Or was it the silence of the sleeping spirits of the Pass? I had many questions in my mind but all these needed to be answered by someone who knew the Pass closely. I decided to put these questions to my host during our visit. I really longed to reach Keylong as soon as possible.

…to be continued under the category Journey through Rohtang and Beyond


Rohtang: the Pile of Dead Bodies…

The sad news about some 300 tourists having been stranded at the Rohtang Pass made me recapitulate my own experience at Rohtang not a week before this sad incident. At the time of my visit, I had found it hard to believe that such a sunny and pleasant looking place could be home to any catastrophe. I had rather some discussion on the same very point with many people. I was a novice and ill-informed traveller similar to all these tourists were who so unfortunately caught in a rough weather. It seems like the wrath of the gods of the mountains for curious people poking their nose and thereby destroying the silence and serenity of the Himalayas.

15 October, 2010

Rohtang Pass

The weather was excellent. The sky was clean with not even a speck of cloud. The snow covered peaks of the mountains were shining in a glorious way with the clear bright blue of the sky in the background. It was cold but cold in a pleasant manner not the biting cold that I had heard so much of and was mentally prepared for. The wind blew harsh against our faces which were the only part of our body, along with our hands of course, exposed to wind. On the whole it was pleasant. I was amazed why so many stories about the blizzards at Rohtang pass circulate when the clear sky belied all those stories. “Don’t take this clear weather for granted” said KS “as it changes without any prior warning.” But I could not believe what he was saying. “Some year back, one IAS officer from Keylong collapsed here at the pass before he could get any help” butted in our accomplice. I still found it difficult to believe as the weather was so magnificently fine. “At this altitude of more than 13,000 ft. the oxygen in the air is less and it results in breathing trouble for the less acclimatized persons” joined someone else in our conversation. I looked around and found the BSF men in blue tracksuits having trekked all the way to Rohtang Pass. I had seen this group trekking up when we were at Marhi. I saluted their courage.

Revellers at Rohtang Pass

Most of the tourists, fully covered in the colourful cover-ons were busy getting their pictures taken and readying themselves for a pony ride to the highest point where they could touch snow with their bare hands. Their exultation was beyond description. The were in cheerful spirits. Each one of them dressed in colourful attire complete with gumboots and a cap, were waiting for a pony ride to the top of Rohtang Pass. They were happy, really happy and felt like being on the top of the world which they really were at though they had not laboured hard for this position. They were clicking pictures and were getting clicked by friends for a life-time memory picture. I enjoyed watching their happiness. They must have planned for this trip which was considered to be a difficult trip and by grace of God the weather has been extra merciful to them. I looked up. The sky was still clear without any speck of a cloud. I was planning for my trip back home and praying to God for keeping the weather clear for a few more days.

The Silky Smooth Road along the Silk Route

I clicked a few pictures and viewed the wonderful scene from the Rohtang pass and got in our vehicle for our journey ahead. The road was exquisite. I remembered Lalu Prasad’s, though ludicrous, comment referring to roads as smooth as Hema Malini’s cheeks but the road from Rohtang brought similar kind of feeling in my heart. The road was black tarred and smoothest ever that I had seen ever. Kudos to Border Road Organization for keeping the roads this way! But the question as to why Rohtang turns so formidable kept on buzzing at the back of my mind. I decided to put this question to our host who knows more about these mountains than any of us as he is a part and a parcel of these very mountains. So, when we got to chat at his home I put this question to him. He looked sad and contemplative and his answer was simple and plain, “people are interfering with the ways of the Nature and all these mishaps are Nature’s way to show its wrath.” I was not, however, convinced. “Didn’t you people travel across the Rohtang Pass?” and continued my argument, “didn’t such mishaps occur at that time as well?” “Yes” he answer plaintively. It was Yes to both my questions. People did travel during earlier times as well and there used to be some mishaps during those days as well. “But, we travelled because of necessity not for pleasure making the way people travel these days.” I found some good argument in his logic. For that matter my visit, too, was a mix of pleasure and work. “We respect Nature and its various shades,” and Nature takes care of all our needs” he said. How true it was. I thought of a large number of tourists who had travelled to the Rohtang Pass and the number of vehicles that passed the road everyday! The rubbish and filth scattered on the mountain passes by these vacation makers is a testimony to the sacrilegious affront to the sacred mountains.

Gods of the high mountains

And treading the sacred mountainous passes merely to have a gala time enrages the spirits that lie peacefully among the tops and valleys of the mountains. It is not for nothing that Rohtang means in Tibetan language “the “Pile of dead bodies”! It means in Tibetan language as “The Heap of Skeletons” or the ground of dead bodies. No wonder that the “dead bodies” or the spirits that want to rest in peace are aroused by the unwanted and unwarranted traffic on their resting place and want to scare away the pleasure makers. The least that the pleasure seekers can do is to take permission of the sprits of the pass the way the early travellers used to do. I would write more about it in my next post.

Is there something great about 10-10-10…



10 p.m.

I am just wondering what is so great about the day except perhaps for the numerals that are so unique by their numbers. Looking back at the day I am trying to find something great about this special day. So I tried to analyze what did I do that was uniquely different from my other days? Well, yes, it was different. Today we went for a very long drive. We went to Sandhole, a place some fifty kilometers from Hamirpur and the road was anything but smooth! But the pristine beauty of the nature all around did wonders and more than compensated for the bad road. I have taken some pretty shots of river Beas. And some other good shots of life in rural India. And above all I listened to wonderful stories of past. On the whole there was not something very special but I feel as if this magical number would herald some good phase in our life. Amen!