Seeing is believing indeed. The Temple, reputed as one of the Char Dhams of the Devbhumi – others are Badrinath Dham, Gangotri and Yamnotri – is all decked up for the first Aarati and Puja. The flowers , marigold, roses, orchids and so on have been brought from places as far off as Calcutta, Sikkim- Gangtok and look so fresh as if they were grown in the hills around. The snow around the main shrine is still about five feet deep but a passage has been cut through to facilitate devouts approach the main gate that was opened to the devotees early morning at six.
At the beginning the arrival of devotees was just a trickle but the momentum picked up as the Sun travelled midway in the sky. Indeed there was a good sprinkling of the Engineer officers and men, the climber- volunteers of the Nehru Mountaineering Institute not forgetting the labourers, who had toiled day and night for months to make the passage to the shrine as safe as possible.
It may be mentioned that the old pathway from Gauri Kund to the Kedarnath temple had to be abandoned as massive landslides had made it difficult to negotiate on foot or on ponies. Lanchur was chosen as the new hub and a new pathway made to Kedarnath shrine, of course longer and steeper than the old one.
The correspondents and reporters of the Media, both print and electronics, the Police, the medical personnel and the administrative staff were there on duty – alert and cheerful. The arctic tents they took shelter in, the mattresses and the quilt indeed made them cosy inside whereas the temperature outside hovered between -2 and -5 degrees C.
CEO of the Devasthanam Board of both Kedarnath and Badrinath dhams assured all concerned that all arrangements were made for food, water, medicines and resting places of pilgrims. They invited pilgrims to come in droves without any fear of the tragic event of the year gone by. Nevertheless, it would take time to reassure folks back home living in remote areas that all was well. In these circumstances the best positive input comes from mouth to mouth publicity given by the returning pilgrims.
The pilgrims progress in numbers will depend on the stories that these devotees of today narrate to their kith and kin and thus encourage them to undertake the pilgrimage to the abode of Devon Ke Dev Mahadev; travel to Kedarnath dham and enter the precincts of the most sacred shrine of Kedarnath where the Aadi Shankaracharya had gone and worshipped.
There is no point in understating the hazards of the journey even today. Recalling olden days one hears that the pilgrims of yore came with heads shaven and their Kriya-Karm performed ante mortem as there always was a question mark on their return from the pilgrimage in one piece. Of course, travel modes have improved manifold since then.
Nevertheless the old, the infirm, the heart patients, the diabetics and so on are advised to carry the required medicines, doctors’ prescriptions and a confidant-attendant to cater for an emergency, if it arises. It is being mentioned not to deter the pilgrims-to-be but to caution them of the hazards so that they are prepared to face any eventuality both mentally and physically.
The air travel in a helicopter is comfortable but expensive. Of course, efforts are being made by the Pawanhans management and the authorities concerned to have the air fare subsidized. In the mega-tragedy last year as many as five helicopters on rescue mission had crashed; one of them being the MI 17 heptr. In one case even the debris was left at the crash site as retrieval was well nigh impossible.
What is a real Pilgrimage if it is not hazardous and full of many eventualities; sad and not so sad. The harder the challenge, greater is the determination of the devout man or woman to travel to the Lord’s abode, have a Darshan, pray in the sanctum-sanctorum and seek the Divine Blessings. A meditation on the Mantras in the purified, never mind rarified, atmosphere is a boon granted to a few who accept the challenge of travel and reach the destination.
The elevation of the Kedarnath Dham is a little over 11,500 feet above sea level. Nevertheless human beings like you and me can take it if we are prepared to face the challenge. Pranayam practiced over a period of time is helpful in breathing in the rarefied atmosphere of high altitude that begins from 9,000 feet above sea level and may go on higher and higher. Man is a flexible creature, a creation of the Almighty and protected by Him. The pilgrim has to take a step forward and the Divine help will be with him whenever and wherever needed.
So, make up your mind and go. You will make it and return safely to the arms of your loved ones. May Ishwar be with you!