I was waiting for my head to settle before I devoted writing time to VoF. A chronology of the trip seemed too mundane. It was similar to other trips in one sense – the anticipation, the pleasure gained from plugging in (however temporarily) into another way of living, breathtakingly beautiful scenery, good company, new tales to tell at family dinners and the final sigh of comfort when returning to the familiarity of home – they were all there. So recounting them in neat ‘day 1, day 2 posts’ would not have anything new to offer.
The trip provided fresh fodder for contemplation on my two favourite subjects – the nature of faith and the nature of happiness.
This is the standard profile of pilgrims that make the grueling trek up to Hemkund Sahib. There are several who take pithus or ponies making one appreciate the hardy pilgrim even more. No trekking shoes for this lot – normal footwear, hawai chappals or in some extreme cases, naked feet are the order of the day. A stick for support of the body and a chant of ‘wahe guru’ to keep the mind going. I felt rather jealous of the strength this faith gives. Especially on the final 3 kms where I was stopping every few minutes to catch my breath!
On the way back Neha, Ash and I were at loose ends in the evening at Joshimath. So we decided to visit the Shankar Math. Maths and temples in the north are decidedly less impressive than their southern counterparts. Abutting the Jyothirmath is a house with a sign on the ground floor for tailoring, fall, beeding etc. You get to peek at the flowerpots, comment on clotheslines (with ganjee!) and get barked at by the dog of the house as you climb the stairs to see the math. The story goes that Shankara meditated under the Mulberry tree and gained ‘enlightenment’. A 1200 years ago the place would have been empty of the tailor shop next door. The ramshackle town of Joshimath itself would not have existed. As it was when I raised my eyes to the sky and the mountains it was easy to feel intoxicated. With no unruly arrangement of roofs getting in the way, sitting quietly under a tree for days at a place like that – the feeling of being drunk with nature – is that what enlightenment is?
At Hardwar, we decided to wait and catch the evening aarthi at Har ki Pauri. Six in the evening , just when we were heading back to the river after a spot of wandering about the market, the heavens opened up. For the next 45 minutes it rained and it rained and it rained. Hundreds of people still lined the ghats, the pujas still happened, the aarti with all the clashing cymbals was still done and fragile leaf boats with flowers and lamps that went out under the weight of the downpour were still set afloat. Standing there with the rest of my mad country, I was laugh out loud happy. Getting wet in the pouring rain, saying ‘aah’ with the crowd at a clap of thunder were obvious causes. But seeing all those people earnestly praying to the river, I didn’t know whether to feel pity at such irrational faith or jealousy at the simplicity it lends life.
Faith to me is still a spectator sport. Sigh.