Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University (SMVDU), has organised a one day Faculty Development Program (FDP), and had requested me be the resource person for the same. However, since I was supposed to travel from Pune, I was unable to reach Jammu before the start of the session. Therefore, I requested my colleague Dr. Kapil Kadam to be the resource person for the morning session, while I reach there for the post lunch session.
As per the schedule, I reached Jammu airport and was picked up by the car to travel for the sprawling campus of SMVDU at Katra. The workshop was attended by teachers from various domains, and the participation was spontaneous and active.
After this workshop, the next agenda was to climb up the famous pilgrimage of Shri Mata Vaishno Devi! This shrine is situated at 5200 feet above the sea level, and a distance of ~13 KMs. Kapil and I started off at 7 AM, with a popular slogan: Jai Mata Di!
The ascend is not very easy, but the company of large number of devotees, ample number of ponies, 24×7 shops flanked on both the sides, and occasional chant of ‘Jai Mata Di‘…makes it look easy. The trick is to conserve your stamina as much as you can. We decide to take a pit stop a bit later, since we may slow down after that. It was chilling cold, and walking up the hill was better than climbing up the stairs. However, we ended up using the stairs at many places. We kept having some handy snacks and lots of water on the way up to delay the stoppage! The excellent landscapes of the pure form of mother nature helped us to have short resting opportunities (under the pretext of watching the panorama or clicking the photographs!).
We stretched ourselves till we got up to the half way mark which is called as Adhkuwari. It was 11 AM, and we were hungry as hell! The restaurant chain by the MVD trust had some awesome Chole, sans Bhature! A friendly Dhaba owner right in front of this restaurant was happy to sell us ONLY Bhature.. The crisp Bhature (direct from the hot oil) were simply heavenly when we had them with the tasty Chole! After a hot cuppa chai, we were off to the final destination: Bhawan!
At this point there is a comparatively simpler road which has NO stairs. It is also free from the horses, ponies, and the mules. We decided to take this route, and began our walk for the final lap of 8 KMs. The road is full of unique things! Firstly, you are surprised to find clean toilets every 500 meters. You also find a medical booth ready with an ambulance, stretcher, and medical officers (in clean white aprons). Clean (ultra filtered) waer in multiple forms are available: normal temperature, chilled, and warm! In addition there are monkeys to keep you alert, and watchful! We also met locals, who will offer a leg massage (the moment your face gives up your tired situation!). The most bizarre experience was when a local chap put his firm hand on to my back and asked, “Sir, support du kya?”. He literally WALKS with the person who avails his services, by providing support to the aching back, all the way to the top!! I was sure that I did not need it, therefore suggested him to find another client!
(To be continued)