Chalo bulawa aaya hain!

 

Chalo bulawa aaya hain!

 

At the onset of the post, I think I need to confess that I'm not a believer and visiting shrines for wishes fulfilled or to be fulfilled isn't in my 'to do' things! Then why did I embark on this journey? I read somewhere that when someone asked Edmund Hillary why did he embark on a such humongous journey after Everest his answer was ' Because it was there!'

Well, so because it's there and I did not have any trip in the pipeline and when my colleague remarked that she needs to visit Vaishno Devi, automatically the traveller inside me jumped in. ' I'm ready…let's plan. She wasn't of course a travel freak as me and me with my reel and real memories interspersed as always…with staple Chitrahar song with Rajesh Khanna walking into the cave with his infant and 'Chalo bulawa aya hain ' in the background and my real memory of the six-year me limping, sometimes in Baba's shoulders, wading through the night to Vaishno Devi and the following morning found myself slung in the back of professional human carriers called 'Pitthu 's for the way down the hill! Me and my cousin wailing when the Pitthus stopped for a puff as we felt lost and forsaken!

But those were way back in the early eighties, now with a quarter approaching past the twenty-first century and two independent women deciding for a visit to the shrine is almost well not a cakewalk but so doable. We booked tickets via Shiv Shakti express to Katra from New Delhi and a flight from Jammu for our return journey. And following my travel gurus and convincing my friend to book two nights in a JKTDC cottage at Patnitop. Saving leaves, and squeezing in Patnitop in the itinerary we started from the office to catch Shiv Shakti express at seven in the evening.

This was our first trip together though we have travelled in groups earlier, mid-forties aren't a good time to adjust I guess and we were a bit apprehensive. But for me, it's the joy of travelling, the preparation beforehand, the salon visit, planning outfits, checking itineraries and I tried to inspire my friend as well! A trip is a trip..we will trek, and make reels so it's Devi darshan! My colleague remarked 'Your preparation doesn't seem for Vaishno Devi 🤭'..hair cut and facial and the colourful outfit I assembled on the day of departure. We planned to leave a tad bit early from the office and catch the metro to New Delhi station. 

Indian Rail always romanticised me and yes the vegetarian meal on the train was a bit disappointing. I mean I've been travelling in Indian Railways since time immemorial and always knew I had to choose between veg, egg and chicken. This train had no such option and I was whining to my colleague 'Is this a vegetarian train!' The remark was overheard by the aunty sitting opposite and pat came the Gyan, 'Beta…don't have non-veg before Mata Rani ke darshan!'

This is so familiar in our country, with plenty of advice galore everywhere. Though I know aunty was just offering what she felt was good faith for us. Anyways after the heavily spicy, devoid of a tasty meal, we tried to drift off to sleep. I made a huge fuss and was unable to climb the upper berth of AC 2 ( 🙈🙈), my athletic colleague offered me the lower berth!

I wondered how I'd make the fourteen kilometres to the top and back when the upper berth seemed like Everest! We huddled off to sleep, I tried some reading since the reading light was not working and had to give up some time!

The train ran before time much to my surprise and irritation… It was barely five in the morning! A beautiful view of the shrine atop the mountains welcomed us and we boarded an auto to Army Cantt where we put up in a guest house, courtesy of my friend's Left Colonel brother. 

 

After freshening up and a breakfast of Aloo parathas and tea, putting our stuff in the cloakroom…we chanted ‘Jai Mata Di’ and started our journey. Our pass was issued by the Army office and also we were informed that if we could make it by ten thirty in the morning to Ardhkumari, we could catch the battery-operated car to Bhawan. I was sure we can't make the steep climb of six kilometres within two hours. Here I need to inform all the battery-operated cars can be pre-booked around two months in advance. In our case, my friend's brother used some VIP protocol to arrange our tickets in battery cars. To such caring sweet brothers 😍… with whom my friend like all sisters argued and didn't take him seriously at all! Like ' oh he's irresponsible and useless '

Somehow initial climb wasn't comfortable, felt warm in a sweatshirt and jacket, also my friend was in a rush for catching the battery car and the non-believer I felt like giving up and there wasn't the Himalayas or anything to stop me dead in my tracks!

 

 

That's when my Baba called, like many times in my life with the much-needed 'You can do it ' message. After the sun, and the breakfast beforehand I was beginning to have a slight chest ache with all the huffing and puffing.

Vaishno Devi wasn't that steep compared to the smallish Himalayan treks I've done…that's what Baba said as well but then those trips were done and this just began! Besides I wasn't here for a race and also there was hardly any breathtaking view with my friend in for some relay race I was clueless sometimes. She asked me to take a horse or a palki, well with a little bit of ego I had I refused and also because they won't be comfortable as well. Gradually we understood that we won't get the ten thirty cars, my friend relaxed, we clicked photos, and shot reels and I was coming to form.

I chanted and played the Chitrahar song ' Chalo bulawa aya hai …it resonated in the hills and I remembered Rajesh Khanna Shabana Azmi again. The song sprawled to life amidst the mountains and gave me the much-needed kick!

With a little bit of drama, huffing puffing we reached Ardhkumari at around eleven fifteen and decided to wait for the next car at one thirty. The car would save walking up to five kilometres so we stayed put in the waiting area. Though Baba wanted me to climb the entire way as he did may be that's what Mata wants…that we reach comfortably and my friend and were in mutual agreement! After having some below-average Vada Sambar we waited for the battery car in between more pics and videos.

The army people saw to it that we were seated in the battery car and we reached the temple in the next twenty minutes. The queue wasn't much or maybe because we entered through the VIP gate sort, there wasn't much rush. Visit to the shrine was quiet and peaceful surprisingly and the crowd was controlled inside the concrete cave. The casual me took the main temple to be one of the subsidiary temples and when I heard the priest showing Kali Mata…I thought Maa Kali was so bong… Dakshineswar, Belur…Kali Badi at so many nooks and corners back home, I wondered what she was doing here in Katra!

Later I was surprised this was the main temple…like all, I joined my hands, closed my eyes thought about my loved ones for some fleeting moments…some power or some weaknesses that draw people for ages… questions were unanswered like life itself!

Next Bhaironath temple was easily done by cable car, the folklore about Bhaironath wasn't much much pleasing so I skipped the main temple.

I was wondering how Maa and Baba did the entire trek in their sixties! The glance of the Himalayas from Bhaironath lifted my spirits somewhat and was making my journey worthwhile!

Towards Vaishno Devi, the entire road was fenced with a net and hence no place to sink in the view. The unfiltered mountains from the Bhaironath top were refreshing and for some time I forgot my hunger pangs. As suggested by all we climbed after light breakfast, I didn't have anything on the way before Ardhkumari because of chest pain, also our Army brothers suggested finishing Bhaironath darshan by cable car timely and then stopping for lunch at Sagar Ratna.

The warm dosa at Sagar Ratna breathed life into me like nothing else. My own temple I guess, we devoured the food with our hearts and soul. Might be one of the most soul-satisfying meals I ever had! After some mad rush in the queue for battery cars and a prolonged wait, I and my friend hopped into the vehicle.

I was exhausted and sleepy. Even then the journey downhill was fast, and relaxing…we chatted, had tea maggi in between, shopped for Prasad, and walnuts and we were down in almost no time. We had dinner on the way and then walked to the army cantt guest house. My friend slumped in almost after reaching and I after phone calls and texts had a nice sleep.

The trip was well planned, and executed…our pics were hit in the office, and so were the reels….we came back richer, happier souls. Though my cribbing for non-veg might have irritated her…well that's me I guess.. irritating, hyper and wanderlust at heart!

 

 

Soma Bhattacharjee

 

 

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