This post is written for the theme “26 Places, 26 Memories” for the #AtoZChallenge.
H FOR HEMKUND SAHIB:
This Gurdwara or temple of the Sikh religion is located in Uttarakhand in India. At an elevation of over 4000 metres, the pilgrimage site comprises a glacial lake surrounded by seven mountain peaks. The place is closed from October to April due to weather conditions.
I visited Gurdwara Shri Hemkund Sahib Ji in the summer of 2002. We were a large group consisting of my maternal grandfather, my paternal aunt with her husband and two daughters, my parents, brother and I. Receiving blessings at this faraway mystical place was wonderful, but what really stands out was the journey there and back.
HELPED BY A HIGHER POWER AT HEMKUND SAHIB:
We began our trek early in the morning. My brother at age 12 was the youngest, and my grandfather at 71, the oldest. It was Sangrand, the first day of the new month in the Punjabi calendar, which made it a popular and crowded day to visit. It took us nearly 18 hours to trek the 6 km stretch to the temple, break for lunch and blessings, and walk back to the village of Govinddham.
Our group faced many hurdles. I slipped on some glacial ice, poised to fall to my death if my cousin hadn’t firmly caught my arm.
Mules were scarce, so my aunt and cousin, who found the climb difficult, sat in baskets attached to the backs of men who transported them to the top. They were separated from us early on.
My uncle and I suffered from Altitude Mountain Sickness, due to the sudden lowering of oxygen levels. We kept stopping to throw up, slowing our ascent further. Upon reaching, we rushed through blessings and langar (community meal), to return before sunset.
On the way down, we finally found mules for my grandfather and uncle, who’d bravely withstood the journey till then; and our group was divided once again. For a time, my brother and I were separated from our parents, but were thankfully reunited soon.
The last leg, however, was the toughest. Darkness had swiftly fallen, and we had one last glacier to cross before reaching Govinddham. My father took charge of me, and held me through the glacial crossing, while my mother was responsible for herself and my brother. She wasn’t strong enough to manoeuvre him and herself and was losing hope when he kept slipping. Terrified for his safety, she looked up to the skies and prayed for a miracle- and it came. A man appeared as if from thin air, and asked her, “ki hoya, behenji?” (what’s the matter, sister?). Quickly assessing the situation, he held my brother and her firmly, and carried them through the slippery ice. Before long, he’d dropped the four of us to safe ground. As we stopped to drink water from the stream, he disappeared as quietly as he’d come. We never saw him again.
On the way up, we had complained incessantly about the harsh climb, and the futility of undertaking this difficult exercise. Later, tucked into our comfortable beds, we realised the journey had been a test of faith. Whether we passed or not, our belief in a higher power was definitely restored 😉
Come back tomorrow for the letter I and another story!
Dead-tired after a gruelling trek to Hemkund Sahib, circa 2002.
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