AT SRI. HEMKUND SAHIB
While enjoying the scenic beauty of nature all around us, we reached the Sarovar and sat near another Nishan Sahib. PARAMJEET rested while I readied for dips. The weather was clear. There were no clouds above in the sky at that time. The air was prickly cold. Before taking a dip, I held some water in my hands. I felt as if a ball of snow was in my hands. Truly, it was snow water. Praying to the Lord, immediately I enjoyed taking one dip. Really, it felt different. Within seconds I took the second dip. Quickly I came back and dressed up briskly. PARAMJEET went to the ladies chamber for bathing. She returned after sometime. The changed clothes were packed in a plastic bag. Although wet, those were not to be rinsed in the holy Sarovar, called ‘Amrit Sarovar’.
Two sides of the Sarovar were used for bathing purposes. The number of dips one wished to take depended on the health and the will of the person. Small children screamed at the touch of cold water, whereas healthy children enjoyed bathing. To our right was a tin shed built for the yatris to sit under or change clothes during bad weather. People sat, chatted and roamed about to enjoy the maximum in the minimum available time, as after the third Ardas, the devotees were required to leave the premises, at the earliest.
Despite the best of our efforts, we could not participate in the second Ardas, which was over by 11: 15 a.m. Actually, Bhai ji had started giving Sermons from the Gurbani by 11 a.m. when we had just crossed the last stair and were moving towards the Sarovar. We listened to the whole of the Sermons and Ardas while we were busy taking the bath. Before having "Snaan" in the holy Sarovar, we were not to pay obeisance in the Gurudwara. Enticed by the beauty of the Sarovar and its surroundings, we took some photographs.
Now, our first aim was to go inside the Gurudwara and offer prayers. After arranging clothes etc., we proceeded towards the Gurudwara.
The Gurudwara was a wooden-cum-concrete structure having many ground compartments and an upper floor. The roof had been designed hunch back and sloppy to speed down the snowflakes and keep it free of weight. We were facing that unique Gurudwara, about which volumes had been heard and which had been seen only in books and on photo charts.
We entered the Gurudwara from the Sarovar side. The ground floor had a surface made of wooden planks. Over it were spread many jute mattresses. A portion housed shoe racks. It had four doors-one each facing the main direction.
We moved on to the upper floor and entered the main hall. In our sight now was the highly decorated Guru Granth Sahib. The entire floor was covered with durries.
Blankets were available for use by the yatris to enable them sit comfortably inside the Gurudwara. A number of windows were there. One could see far off, when the sky was clear of clouds. We prayed before the Darbar Sahib and retreated to take rest and enjoy the grandeur of the Gurudwara. Many of our companions were already sitting there in the warmth of blankets. We took some photographs with our camera. Our group donated a brass KHANDA with an imposing EAGLE fixed on top of it. Two large iron trunks were also offered for safe keeping of blankets in the Gurudwara. All that could be done due to the selfless service of the chief organizer of the Yatra. He is so blessed by the Lord that he has so far made 25 visits to Hemkund Sahib. He was well conversant with the details of route, Gurudwara staff en-route and at Gobind Ghat, Gobind Dham and at Hemkund Sahib.
After a brief rest, we proceeded towards the langar hall along with some other friends. Khichri and tea were served as langar. Both these items were energy agents, as nothing equivalent had been taken en-route. Normal langar items i.e. Chapatti, dal, rice etc. were not prepared there, as due arrangement couldn’t be made nor that was necessary due to short stay of the yatris and the nature of the journey. PARAMJEET utilized some minutes in the service of utensils. Meanwhile I scanned the skies and the fugitive clouds with rampant attention. Some clouds were hovering inside the valleys like cotton fiber while some were passing over the high mountain peaks.
Again, we went over to the Sarovar to take some more photographs. Being at an altitude of 15210 ft. above sea level and surrounded by hill cradle glaciers, cloud formation in the Hemkund Sahib area was brisk. In minutes black clouds or sunshine could appear. Quickly some snaps of the area were taken to transfer ground facts onto paper. Some yatris pointed out the location of seven Nishan Sahibs planted at seven different peaks, by the daredevils. Our eyes could not detect the position of each Nishan Sahib so easily.
Just adjacent was a small mandir named after Laxman. We had a desire to visit the mandir. We walked few-yards and after crossing a small bridge reached the mandir. We paid our respects in the mandir. The pujari in attendance gave us parshad.
We returned towards the Gurudwara enjoying an ever-fresh view of the expanses of the Sarovar and of the towering Himalayan mountains. Time was ticking away in our minds. We wanted to enjoy every moment of our stay there. We entered the Gurudwara at 5 minutes to 1 p.m. We were to sit and pray inside the Gurudwara for as much time as possible. Third and final Ardas was also to be over by 1:15 p.m. So, the devotees were present quite in strength inside the Gurudwara. Everybody felt blessed to pass these moments at the holy place. It was the cherished dream of the devotees to attend an Ardas, as the Lord only knew, as to who would be fortunate to visit that place again. The pervading belief was that no body would think to visit Hemkund Sahib, unless there was a call from Guruji.
Now, the Granthi was there in attendance. He respectfully repositioned the Granth Sahib and started reciting hymns. He also cited some events from Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji’s life. Briefly he enlightened us about Sri Hemkund Sahib-The Tap-Asthan-where Sri Guru Gobind Singh ji, in his Absolute Tapasya in some gone by Yugas was one and the same in GOD. This revelation is embellished in the Guruji's holy Dasam Granth together with the couplet: "Hem Kunt Parbat Hai Jahan, Sapat Sring Sobhit Hai Tahan". To pay obeisance, the devotees, pilgrims and visitors, throng the unique holy place, which is so piously related to Guru ji before he was blessed to this world. After assuming the human form at Patna Sahib in the parental warmth of Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib, Guru ji, as ordained by the Almighty, later on created the Khalsa and the Khalsa Panth at Anandpur Sahib. At 1:15 p.m. he started the Ardas-(prayer)-in the name of God. He prayed for the betterment of all mankind. He singled out the fact that whosoever reached there from anywhere over the earth, was lucky; as otherwise, he won't have been there. He blessed the congregation with the Guru's Grace. In the end, he requested the Sangat to return to Gobind Dham after the Ardas, as the weather there remained uncertain and variation in temperature was unpredictable. So, for a safe journey, an early return was advisable and necessary.
After the Ardas and 'Mahawak' the whole of the Sangat got parshad. Since our next move was to set out on the return journey, we desired to stay on in the Gurudwara for sometime more. Our desire was not so far satiated. Such was also the mood of many a yatri.
Up to 2 p.m., we stayed on inside the Gurudwara and visited its interiors again. A reinforced concrete and wooden structure, designed and built, was perfectly in consonance with the requirements of situation of the place. Over the passage of a number of years, the structure got that shape. Modifications and requisite additions would continue to cope with the requirements of devotees.
The pilgrims were thinning out. It was just a few minutes past 2 p.m. that we paid our respectful obeisance before leaving the Gurudwara. We stepped down to the ground floor and walked towards the Sarovar. Three plastic bottles were got filled with Amrit (holy water) from the Sarovar. This Holy water was in essence a Gift of Guruji that all devotees cherished to carry with them.
With the Amrit bottles stacked in our bags, we moved towards the gate from where we had come in. The punch of weight felt during the upward journey was still fresh in our minds. Some addition was there by way of the Amrit bottles. We already had our clothes and raincoats with us. Although feeling weary, yet, we had all courage to undertake the return journey happily. We had seen yatris, who undertook upward journey on horses but returned on foot. We did not take note of the reason behind the change of mode in up and down travelling.
We had a lurking idea that because of weight with us-two bags each- a porter will be worth up to Gobind Dham. Before this idea could be discussed in detail, a horse keeper came galloping to us and proposed that he would charge Rs. 100/- each upto Gobind Dham. That was a usual hire charge for return journey, as for upward journey the charge was double. PARAMJEET opined that as compared to a porter charge of Rs. 100/-, it would he better to shell out Rs. 200/- to hire two animals to reach our destination without escalation of weariness. Despite pleadings the horseman did not agree for a bit lesser hire charges. These horsemen prefer to go down without passengers than to slash the hire charges. We agreed to the proposal. We were not aware whether we were right or wrong. Only the fact of weight weighed heavy on us, otherwise, we were in favour of descending down the hill on foot.
The horseman escorted us to his animals. The stable was a bit away but adjacent to the exit gate which we were to pass to take to stairs. The animals, white mares were quite sturdy and tamed to obey the commands of the master. The stable was an open-air dirty place as the animals defecated there with perhaps scant attention of the keepers for cleanliness. The animals neighed. The master positioned them for clients. As told, we climbed the make shift platform to perch in the saddles with ease. It was a strange feeling to ride a horse back for the first time. The saddle was too hard, slippery and uneven. There was no cushion underneath. Anyway, we were now open to bear the effects of journey on horseback.
While the horseman was placing our bags on horse backs, setting foot rests and adjusting reins, I was surveying the horizon in the back drop of imposing high peaks, glaciers and the deep valleys having glistening water falls and gushing rivulets. These moments marked the fulfillment of our dreams. A sense of blissful happiness prevailed over us. Our feelings begged for expression, as we were surprised for the unique moments passing in speed which were to become history for us. Mentally absorbed and physically busy, we were to leave within a few seconds through approximately 1/4th open space of the circular valley bounded by high mountains.