Friday 11 December 2015

Where blue poppies bloom-- Hemkund Sahib

"Ay kuddi kee kurdee payee hai?" 
What's this girl doing?

" Fotuan khich dee payee hai." 
She's takings photos.

"Fotuan? Ithey? 
Photos? Here?

" Aaho, phullan dee." 
Yes, she's clicking the flowers.

I hear these words crouched between a rock and ground, trying to get a good shot of the blue poppies I had spotted. Flattered by being referred to as 'kuddi' (girl), I decide to move my body out of its contorted knots, turn and face the two conversationalists. The glaring sun hurts my eyes as I try to look up.

"Phullan dee fotu kyon kud rahe ho, saadi fotu kuddo." 
Why are you clicking the flowers? Take our photo.

Even before I can straighten up and face them, the two pilgrims have issued me with their request as if we've known each other for years. Maybe we have.

I try to explain why I was clicking the flowers and impress them with how rare the Blue Poppy is and how lucky we are to see it growing here. They are not impressed.

They straighten up and get close to each other to strike a pose.

"But I won't be able to send you the photo!" I tell them as they pat their kurtas down and stand stiff as sticks to indicate that they are ready.

"Koyi gul na puttar, twanu phullan de naal naal saadi we tasveer mil javegi". 
No worries, child. You'll get our photo along with your flowers.

So I click and show them the screen afterwards.

They beam like the sun.

They are pilgrims who come to Hemkund Sahib every year. They don't need any climbing gear or fancy hiking boots. Their faith is enough.

They don't understand my flower photography, but they are curious. We speak. I share my love of flowers. They share their faith in Wahe Guruji. We exchange nods and smiles and carry on our paths.

The cold mountain breeze carries their words towards me as they walk away from me,
"Phullan dee fotu...?"
Pictures of flowers...? 

The blue poppies I was clicking ...

The second day of our trek started early. We had been warned of the long arduous climb and the effects of high altitude (after 13000 ft). Hemkund Sahib is located at an elevation of more that 15000 ft. I decided to take a second helping of the hot breakfast that morning to be prepared! BIG MISTAKE!
 Shabad kirtan (hymns and religious songs) rang out in the crisp morning air. The first kilometer killed me. I was out of breath and panting hard. Would I be able to carry on?
'One step at a time.' I told myself. 'One step at a time.' encouraged Yashpal.
One step, one step...and five hours later, I was there:)
Reminder from mother nature on the only as much as you need.

The mountains echoed "Bole So Nihal- Sat Sri Akal.

I loved it when our guide (who is from Garhwal) said it in a typical Punjabi accent --you know when the 'hal' is elongated to 'haal' --the 'aa' sound dips deep and comes up again for air as the 'L' is formed and then there is that Punjabi stress on the 'L'.

Bole So Nihaal kept me going. The sun scorched. The climb killed. The thin air forced me to gasp for breath often. Snippets of kirtan from the Gurudwara wafted down every now and then, boosting me on.

The long, long, path...
At last...Hemkund Sahib ji...

In the Gurudwara...

At first, the tears hang on-
aware that we are not alone.
The first drop escapes 
ashamed at
such public display of weakness.

What will Arshia think?

Guru ki baani floats on cold air.
Tiny puffs of smoke escape the kada prasad
as I extend my two hands forward.

Warm prasad waits
for my fingers to hook a bite
and pass it through my trembling lips.
Sweet, sweet prasad...
I taste all the Gurudwaras of my childhood.

The tears come thick and fast-

The words of the kirtan enter my pores with such meaning,
that I can't remember a single syllable now.

I stifle a sob, but it escapes anyway.

The trickle turns into a torrent
the tears come-

Why am I crying?
Is it the thin air?
Am I mourning the past?
Or worrying about the future?

None of the above. None of the above.
I hear a whisper.
You're just being-
being in the moment,
being human.

I'm in the moment so completely.
with all my senses
that I've forgotten the rules and the norms.
I'm just being me.

It is time for us to leave.
So I leave.
 Downstairs, I put my shoes back on.

Then something pulls inside of me.
I take my shoes off,
run back up
and sit down again.
The crying continues.
The tears tumble.

The heart sings with the Granthis who are putting Guru Granth Sahib Ji in Sukhasan

Satnam, Satnam, Wahe Guru ji ...

I scrunch up my cold toes on the carpet to warm up.

My time to be-
at peace with me.

"Sometimes, it's just time to wash away all that has build up inside."

says Yashpal when I finally join the rest of my group to take a dip in the glacial cold water of the sarovar (lake).

After the dip, we sat in the sun to dry our hair.
Langar prasad was kichhdi and sweet tea; not hot, but I was grateful.

These photos are of the area behind the Gurudwara. Our group seemed to be the only ones here. We posed and clicked and just soaked in the crisp blue skies.

Can you see a beak in this peak?
We did it!
On our way back, my camera and I explored a bit more of the surroundings.

'A.' said one.
'B.' the next.
'C.' the third.
And they carried on. They had obviously heard us chattering in English and decided to either review their letters of the English alphabet or just show us that they knew the language, too.
Reluctantly, we headed back to Ghangaria. My camera always delays me. 
I end up being the last person to join my waiting group. I don't mind;)
That sunny day, on my way back from Hemkund Sahib ji, for almost an hour, I was the only human among these mountains. 
It felt really really special.

The Blue poppy turns lilac in its old's still stunning, I think.

The Brahma Kamal...

Watering hole for the humans...

I've  added a tint to this shot...
And watering hole for the donkeys who carry pilgrims and supplies to and fro...

The sun was about to set when we reached Ghangaria. 

As I looked back around the last bend before reaching camp, I clicked. I have added a bit of tint to this shot. It reminds me of Japanese poster art. 
A foot massage was waiting for us when we reached camp. Yes, these are the perks of trekking in India, especially, if one happens to be on a pilgrimage route. 

And the lady who makes it possible (No, not the foot massage, the trek.):

If you are curious or interested, here's the wikilink that tells you more about Hemkund Sahib...

I hope to see you soon with a tour of the last Indian village.

Soak in the sun, or sleep in the shade -- have a great weekend. xx