Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Indian realities and travel: "A spiritual plane"

I did this article after a trip to one of India's most popular spiritual destinations. In view of the recurring Indo-Pak Peace theme it is relevant, and a certain nostalgia compelled me to revisit the article.

A spiritual plane
TIMES NEWS NETWORK[ SUNDAY, MARCH 17, 2002 02:47:56 AM] The serenity of the Jammu Valley and its natural beauty captivated Ishani Duttagupta . The mind played games in trying to make the crossover between pragmatism and faith as the early morning mists cleared over the spread-eagled Jammu Valley. The dramatic Tawi gorge had fallen away and the road to Katra wound up towards the tri-peaked Trikuta hills, the legendary abode of goddess Vaishno Devi. For first-time visitors, the Valley, with promises of distant snowy mountains, can be overwhelming. It’s rugged, rocky and extreme country, without the lushness of the eastern Himalayas. I missed the Rhododendron blooms. But in early March, the pines are green with soft and sweet smelling cones. Along the 13 km trek, on a tryst with the goddess, we were often frisked by young Kashmiri police women, many of them strikingly beautiful. They are probably hardened by circumstances, but the poignancy of young women standing guard over the mother goddess' route does not fail to strike a chord. The route to the cave shrine is paved with tranquility despite the heavy security blanket. The Vaishno Devi Shrine Board provides top class facilities along the way. This is among the best maintained pilgrim routes in the country with 50 lakh people visiting annually. Visitors of all caste, creed, religion and race are welcome. Lilting strains of bhajans help assuage the fatigue of the journey. Music, soft drink and beverage companies are very visible along the way. Private players are required to lease out space from the trust which runs its own establishments as well. But the hint of terror lurks in the background and on our return we read about the shooting down of Lashkar militants in the hills behind the shrine and retaliatory bomb blasts enroute. There is only a trickle of pilgrims despite sparkling blue skies, warm days and pleasant evenings. There was the dark shadow of disturbances in Gujarat and Ayodhya, the general manager of Carlson's Country Inns and Suites told us. A majority of his guests are Gujrati business people, and occupancy is unusually low for the season.
Read the full article at,prtpage-1.cms

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