Nagendra Singh Jamwal
A pilgrimage is often a human being’s longing to experience the spiritual journey away from the material world. Arduous the pilgrimage, greater is the atonement of the sins.
A pilgrimage to Kailash Kund starts from the beautiful Valley of Bhaderwah. One cannot stop admiring the lush green meadows, the alpine forests, the craggy mountains and ultimately the ultramarine lakes at the culmination of pilgrimage atop Seoj Dhar Range.
Kailash Kund is a glacier fed alpine lake accessible only in late summers when warm, moist monsoon clouds make their way through the narrow valleys to the mountain meadows and glaciers thawing the snows for a short period of time, before the withdrawing monsoons dump their precipitation as hail, sleet and ultimately as snow, to shut this pristine lake for next eight months.
As one moves along Batote-Doda road along the mighty Chenab River transformed into a long lake by the Baghliar dam, one can hardly imagine an idyllic vale like Bhaderwah awaits him. As one reaches Bhaderwah, the base camp of pilgrimage, the locals welcome the visitors with typical warmth and enthusiasm knowing full well that visitors at this time of the year congregate to participate in the ancient yatra from Vasuki Nag temple to Kailash Kund lake.
The first glimpse of the Seoj Dhar and majestic Soan Bain Dhar on the left is enough to fill a visitor from the plains with a sense of awe and adventure. Simultaneously people undertake the yatra from Bhaderwah-Bhalessa, Bani-Sarthal, Dudu-Basantgarh and Chamba in Himachal. For centuries the people of the region have congregated at Kailash Kund. The pilgrimage is the epitome of the Naga Cult whose presiding deity is Vasuki Nagaraja. The Naga Cult prevalent in Middle Himalayas is closely linked with the Shaivite Hinduism of Kashmir valley.
Paucity of time to follow the traditional Kailash Kund Pilgrimage which generally takes two days including the night stay at the lake site led to a suggestion of going on a vehicle to Chattergala – a beautiful mountain pass on Bhaderwah – Bani Road and then climbing the mountain.
The trip on this road painstakingly carved through the thick coniferous forest is breathtaking to say the least. One is mesmerised by the close up of Seoj Dhar and Soan Bain mountains offered at number of viewpoints strategically created on the road. It is said that thick forest of Fir, Spruce, Deodars reminded late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of the Black Forest of Germany during her visit to Bhaderwah. Chattergala is a saddle shaped mountains pass. On the one side is the Bhaderwah valley and on the other side is the Sarthal area of Bani Sub-Division. From here the hike to the Kailash Kund commences. A pilgrim is welcomed by a mountain meadow blooming with wild flowers in shades of yellow and white as if the green canvas has been splashed with a myriad of colours. Constant buzzing of honey bees collecting nectar reminds one of the short window of bounty being harnessed before the late summers give way to winters.
Windswept trees start thinning as one climbs further. Once altitude is gained one is treated to the panoramic views of the Bhaderwah valley enclosed by heavily forested mountains on all sides. Clouds and mist rolling up on the mountain sides gather at the top of the mountain and it is difficult to judge the distance to the holy lake. The army battalion tasked with the securing Chattergala has been kind enough to paint arrow marks on the giant boulders on the way to ensure that the pilgrims do not wander away from the path.
After a few kilometers of the arduous trek, a nomadic hut made of stones and thatched with local vegetation is there to keep at bay the natural elements which are unpredictable and ruthless in these parts. Deep gullies made by snow and ice have carved the mountain side and represent a constant danger. However yearly pilgrimage to the Kailash Kund has led to the creation of a hiking track with comparatively gentle gradient and least impediments. Instead of steep ascent one has to go around the mountain in numerous ascents and descents.
Such is the steep gain of altitude that a few meters of descent on the continuous hike is welcomed with great enthusiasm. At some places receding snow remains hidden away from sunlight and warmth of the summer sun. Pilgrims who are out of their water supplies can replenish from such glaciers in the absence of piped water. Just before the final ascent, one encounters a massive field of rocks and boulders with small tufts of grass here and there. Large moss covered boulders show the destructive tone of nature. While negotiating the rocks one’s stamina is tested to the hilt. Having gained an altitude of over 14,000 feet it is here that breathlessness, fatigue and sometimes altitude sickness takes its toll. However nearness to the holy destination and deep faith propels a person to exert and accomplish the journey. The thrill of almost reaching the destination lifts up the mood, though the body continues to complain and groan. For a man from plains every pound of extra flab loaded on the body is cursed.
Once the ascent is complete one is awestruck by the sight of a collection of lakes big and small at such an altitude. Instead of a plateau one has to go down as if he is descending into a crater. The lakes in their azure glory beacon the pilgrim to this rare spectacle. One is witness to permanent snow fields even in peak summers nurturing the Kailash Kund lake.
A dip into the icy water is all it takes to make a person realize the futility of the material life and for a few hours he is immersed in ethereal world. Even a little stay in the cold water numbs the body but it is the deep devotion and faith of the pilgrims that they feel atoned of their sins. A warm cup of tea offered by Sahstra Seema Bal SSB Jawans from their mess or from the Langer lifts up the spirits. The joy of accomplishing the arduous journey cannot be described in words and can only be felt. The yatra marks the culmination of pilgrimage which is as old as the mankind inhabiting the region. One world of caution for an outsider not accustomed to the hardships of the mountain folk – never compete with the locals who are as hardy as the mountains themselves.
Nagendra Singh Jamwal