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Human nature trails

Human nature trails
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Human Nature Trails. I realised this abiding truth, as I found my way through a Gurudwara, temples galore, a monastery and the beautiful hill side...

Apart from giving us glimpses of the beauty of creation both natural and man-made, travel provides new insights into the human psyche that is as wondrous and tempestuous as the environment around

I realised this abiding truth, as I found my way through a Gurudwara, temples galore, a monastery and the beautiful hill side that always strikes me as the very embodiment of divinity. In a week’s journey that started from the historic city of Amritsar, through the dusty tracks of the Trikuta hills in Jammu echoing the all encompassing influence of “Mata Di’ Vaishnodevi, the sleepy hill station of Macleodgunj , with the “Dharmshala” and its famous emissary of peace, the Dalai Lama, and temples in Himachal Pradesh like Jwala Mukhi , Naina Devi, Chamundi and Chitrapurni the sheer variety of life and the external circumstances that defined human behaviour were truly incredible.

Vaishno Devi temple

A visit to the Golden temple in Amritsar with its four entrances signifying openness towards all people and religions was indeed an eye opener for me as far as the concept of service was concerned. The temple had a huge number of visitors who stood patiently in the queue, their heads covered both in reverence as well as a protection from the oppressive heat as they made their way into the main complex which has the “Adi Granth” and a group of singers soulfully rendering the “Gurbanis”. A volunteer carefully led a woman who was unwell along with those who accompanied her in a separate line so that they could go ahead of the rest, and the crowd did not complain. Another group of volunteers cleaned the entire complex after every batch of visitors passed by so that the place remained clean anytime of the day.

The langar here is one of the largest free kitchens in the world serving hot and tasty meals to an average number of 10,000 people a day. The Gold plated structure against the blue skyline surrounded by a large lake is a picture of serenity but what really stands out is the intense longing of the people to serve others. I was told that in some cases the shoes left behind at the temple entrance are polished and shining when the owner returns to collect them. It is therefore hard indeed to believe that this was the place that witnessed so much violence in 1984 during the infamous “Operation Blue Star”. A similar feeling envelopes you when you see the place with the plaque that says, ”The soldiers fired from here” in the flower laden Jallianwala Bagh which now houses a memorial to the martyrs who fell to the bullets of General Dyer and his men. It takes you back in history with its memorial and pictures from the past and as you leave moist eyed, you are struck by the irony that the most serene places are the ones that witnessed ghastly incidents at various points in history.

There is only one way to tread.... and the horses, brave walkers and the not so royal Palanquins create utter chaos

The spirit of service continues all through the way where cars are stopped by enthusiastic volunteers willing to serve you lassi (Buttermilk) water or a cool drink. Travellers in fact are so overwhelmed that after a while all they can say is a big “No”. But all this selfless service ended as soon as we reached the famous “Indo –Wagah” border. Utter chaos and pandemonium prevailed at the Indian side as people queued up to witness the much hyped display of camaraderie on both sides of the border. After leaving behind all valuables and waiting endlessly, we found ourselves pushed and jostled by the crowds who seemed to believe that might is right. Bravely battling this too, we entered the venue and were asked to walk single file to occupy the stands. The crowds were spilling all over and people were forced to stand for the next two hours as the place was filled beyond its capacity. The crowd, got restive standing, pushing and stepping on toes even as patriotic Hindi film songs were played, and the locals (mostly women) danced in gay abandon. In a couple of minutes one heard loud music from the Pakistani side of the border and had to see one filmi dance after another for a tortuous 45 minutes. Slogan shouting became unbearable after a while, the dancing women got more energetic and the heat more oppressive........ .After sitting through all this we missed the spectacular display by the Border Security Force soldiers since the crowd stood up blocking the view. This lasted for another half an hour and I got the impression that the entire programme was more a diversion for the border weary soldiers than anything else.

Our next stop was “katra” a sleepy town in Jammu, a five and a half hour drive from Amritsar. This town has a number of hotels big and small filled with pilgrims from all over the world who come to see the wish fulfilling goddess considered an incarnation of the three forms Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga. Everybody greets you with a “Jai Mata Di” (victory to the mother goddess) and people have implicit faith in her powers to work miracles and protect her devotees. “Mata Di” is manifest in a cave in three stone forms, seen after a four-hour trek, horse ride or a palanquin service. It is the journey to the top that leaves you in a daze. Although there are helicopter rides that take you atop they are limited to a couple of sorties and have to be booked at least two months in advance. When you reach the point where you begin your pilgrimage you are besieged by the “horsewallahs” who hound you till you give in. Once you are seated on the horse and are left to its mercy, the owner takes it easy.... trailing behind only to come up every few minutes and give it a whipping. It even sparked desperate responses “Please mujhe chodke mat jao (please do not leave me and go)”.... evoking laughter from co-travellers who found the filmi angle to this hapless appeal. There is only one way to tread.... and the horses, brave walkers and the not so royal Palanquins create utter chaos with a free for all between the two legged and four legged creatures. There are horrifying images of people being carried on stretchers with none finding the courage to verify the status (living or dead) of the occupants. What if the animal did not keep to the curve I asked Randhir the guy walking along with the horse. “Mata Di” takes care of everything was the standard reply I got.

Over 30,000 people depend on the 25,000 horses that walk this dangerous path rain or shine, fetching the owners an income of 50,000 rupees per month. The amount on the maintenance of each horse is less than a thousand. No wonder attempts to get rid of this system in the past met with stiff resistance. It is time though for animal rights activists to ensure that this inhuman practise is banned as the pleasure of the pilgrimage is overshadowed by the unexpressed pain of these mute animals, which rings louder than the religious fervour of the devotees. Our drive from Katra to the next destination, Dharmashala in Himachal Pradesh was a pleasant one, but Macledodganj the hill station where this is located despite its picturesque mountain views, trekking tracks and waterfalls has its share of negatives. Rows of vehicles on the mountainside barely move as dreadful traffic jams take hours to clear. It’s no wonder then, that we felt meditative in Dalai Lama’s monastery surrounded by pine trees and hills which presented us a place of peace and solitude amidst the turbulence. It is in this diverse terrain and glaring contrasts that we got to see nature and humans at their natural best.

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