The veil sundered

The early part of this year was marked by a trek to Har-Ki -Doon, the western part of Himalayas in Uttarakhand. It was a trek in the true sense of the word, walking across difficult terrain away from the humdrum existence. One who accompanied me held a doctorate from a university in the UK. He would not acknowledge any religion in its normal connotation, though, would often chant Isopanishad with a spellbinding profusion of Sufi kalams and Kabir dohas. The Tonse river, a tributary of the Yamuna, surrounded by the towering mountains on all sides and the distant snow clad Har-Ki-Doon kept us in a state of reverie. Religious significance was no part of it.

But a recent trip to Amarnath was a different experience and in a way an eye-opener for me. This time, I had joined another friend for whom the religious aspect was the crux though the grandeur and majesty of these mountains may not have been far from his mind. I had essentially undertaken the journey to trek these inaccessible mountains during the annual yatra which at other times remain closed. I wanted to use the occasion to savour their magnificence. The religious aspect of the journey as a pilgrimage was distant from my mind although the spiritual significance was not entirely absent.

The Amarnath journey was undertaken on the traditional route of Sheshnag. We reached a height of 14,500 feet, opening into an interminable expanse of the snowy mountains. An incomprehensible force was beckoning. I could not contain myself. But as I walked along came the realisation that it was a precipitous mass of dangerous ice. I was ill-equipped. While negotiating one such cavernous curve I rolled and hurt myself.

Thereafter, every step I trudged along was intense pain. Overnight, at Panchatharani, I prayed to the Gods instinctively to help me overcome the pain and keep me moving the next day. Suddenly, my feelings had changed!

I desperately wanted to reach the Amarnath shrine. The beauty around me had receded for the moment. Had I metamorphosed from being a child of nature into a state of euphoria, oblivious of the Gods, into a religious person recalling the Gods for aid or were these two seemingly different aspects one and the same with a thin veil of difference?

Along the journey on the steeply ascending mountain path, the old and the infirm plodded along in inhospitable conditions chanting the Lord’s name. They appeared to be deriving strength from the very nature around them and the Lord in the Amarnath shrine.

This made me speculate on the differences between the Har-ki-Doon trek and the Amarnath yatra. Perhaps, in the former, unknowingly I was in communion with a fundamental force through the medium of nature though my mind, steeped in logic, would not give it a name; where as in the latter I was in communion with the very same force while now naming it as God and shorn of all logic. The thin veil of difference had sundered.

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