Before embarking on this journey, I wouldn’t usually consider a trip that revolved around religion and worship. I believe that the higher power resides within each one of us and there’s no such thing as worshiping only one particular deity. But, after having finished this journey, I wouldn’t mind another trip that’s basically a pilgrimage. Not because it changed my belief system, but because these journeys are filled with stories that have origins in our ancestors and mythology and they are very interesting to discover by yourself. It would take me years to delve into these stories and figure out the role of each of the gods and goddesses worshiped by the human race.
For now, I would like to talk about my experiences on the Girnar mountain pilgrimage (not in particular order.)
This is a journey of approximately 10,000 steps that have been carved into the mountains for worshipers to reach the summit which holds the footprints of Lord Dattatreya. He was believed to have three heads and six hands and he is said to have meditated here and attained Nirvana.
It’s not just Lord Dattatreya that people come for. The stairway in the mountains is punctuated by temples dedicated to a bunch of other deities that fall at various pit stops marked by the number of steps completed. An interested devotee goes till the pitstop of his preferred deity and is free to turn back and start his descent.
The main pit stops.
We decided to start the climb at night. Around 10 p.m. This was to avoid the crowd and the heat. Being June, the rainclouds hovered above ready to shower or else hide the moon stating the importance of carrying torchlight. The trail is dark with no lights. After a couple of hundred steps each, there is a lamp post or not. After another couple of hundred steps each there is a refreshment stall or not. There are no refreshment stalls after a particular point. So, we stocked up whatever we needed at the last one to last us till we reached the summit and back to the last stall.
The dark trail leaves you with views of shadowy trees that stand out in the moonlight.
After crossing the 2000 steps mark, there came a rock on which was painted an arrow that pointed towards a small cave. A flight of 4-5 steps led us to a dwelling. It was a tiny dwelling where a sadhu sat on a platform. The platform led to a tiny room. At the end of the cave was a door which was closed and had ‘NO ENTRY’ written over it. The walls of the cave displayed pictures of various deities. The sadhu was appropriately dressed. With a pipe of weed (probably) in his hand, he played cards with a few other normally dressed men. The cave-room was hazy and the toxic odour filled up my nostrils. They offered us some tea which we refused as we wanted to continue our ascent.
As we exited the cave, we came across a middle aged lady, suffering from nausea, lying down on the cool rock for some rest.
I wondered what this cave was all about as we left it behind.
Walking In The Stormy Rain
The terminal part of the journey was made of tall, steep steps carved into the almost vertical mountain. For us, in addition, was the really heavy rain, strong winds, darkness and mist. This part was initially a descent of approximately 800-1000 steps and then an ascent of 1000 steps approximately, till the summit. Each step was around a foot tall and some part of the stairway had no sidewall. We were directly exposed to the valley. However, the joy of battling the rain, the winds and the slippery rock was a joy of another kind.
There were old men and women and young ones on the same journey. They were all pilgrims. It was a full moon night and an auspicious day to summit the peak of the Girnar mountain. The rain gods decided to make it more interesting. On any other day, they say, the ‘pilgrimage’ is usually secluded and very few people come here. If you’re lucky, you could share your path with a lion or a leopard. Well, you never know, one could be lurking near you somewhere in the hills. The noise made by humans keeps them away.
We have always been intruders of their territory and they are forced to hide. Shouldn’t it be the other way?
The pilgrimage is not literally a trek but a well carved stairway making it doable for pilgrims of all ages.
For oldies who cannot climb all the way, there’s this option. The Doli. Two men will carry you up the mountain.
“Digambara! Digambara! Sripad Vallabh Digambara! Digambara! Digambara! Sripad Vallabh Digambara!”
Upon hearing this chant in chorus, I realised that I was at the last bit of the summit, which itself is just a pinnacle and has space for us humans only if we arrange ourselves in a single file.
The top of the summit has a tiny temple which houses the footprints of Lord Dattatreya. People go through the tedious climb to reach this sacred dwelling only to get a glimpse of these footprints and quickly utter their prayer or wish which is believed to be granted if you make it here.
I had reached the summit two hours before the opening time of the temple for its morning rituals. It was 3 a.m. I sat on the steps alongside hundreds of devotees who were also waiting for the temple to open.
Before I went on this trip, I had no idea who Lord Dattatreya was. I hadn’t done much research either. I went along with my family only because it involved climbing a mountain during the night time in the rains. It was a mountain in the region of the Gir forest, which meant possibilities of spotting some wildlife.
Rain-soaked, I waited with everybody else, when a couple of monks dressed in dhotis passed us and went directly up to the temple. They opened the doors and everybody was made to queue up.
There were different types of people. Patient and impatient, kind and unkind, calm and irritable. I don’t talk quickly with new people but I like observing people around me and contemplating and wondering about human nature. This does not necessarily amount to judging. I avoid judging.
It was my turn now to enter this small, pious dwelling at the summit of this mountain we had all climbed. As I entered, I saw what we all had come for, the footprints embossed on a stone tablet.
Each one of us was given less than a few moments to look, observe, pray, seek blessings, wonder, look around and get going. Nobody was allowed to hang around and take in the vibes and just sit there and wonder about life like how I would usually be inside a temple. It felt like only a second had passed as I got out and the next person entered. A continuous flow of people was maintained.
I was left a little perplexed with all the haste but I soon looked around and saw the mountains and the birdsong filled up my ears. I was happy with the new experience that just got added to my trunk.
The summit engulfed in clouds and the footprints of the Lord.
The next day we decided to pay a visit to Kashmiri Baba. An hour’s walk into the forest is an ashram which houses this famous man. He is apparently not from Kashmir. However, nobody around me was aware of the reason why he is so called. It is believed that if one takes the trouble to walk to his ashram and silently pray to him, one’s wish would be granted.
When we reached his ashram, we were told that we would have to wait for a couple of hours till babaji was ready to greet his audience. There was an open space on the first floor where we all sat and waited. It was some sort of a meditation hall although, I was unable to meditate. I am generally unable to meditate.
I observed the ashram cat who was roaming the place and was allowed to do so unrestricted. She was busy doing her own thing, stretching, posing, rubbing herself on the walls and so on. On a wall in the center, was a blown up picture of the Kashmiri baba, probably taken while he was much younger. That picture helped me picturise who I was about to meet.
While I was busy with my observations and pondering, we were suddenly asked to get ready for the meeting. A queue was formed and each of us was given a minute or two to sit before the baba and say silently to him what we had come for. After that, we were directed to a lady in orange robes. She was beautiful, fair and had those African tribal, matted hair tied up in a huge bun over her head. She looked foreign. We were supposed to do the silent talk with her too.
Done with the telecommunication, we were taken to the dining hall. Here, we were made to sit in rows in a disciplined manner and served lunch. It was a wholesome Indian meal of chapati, dal, vegetable, rice and jalebi. They apparently do this on a daily basis for the devotees who come to visit the baba. It was more like prasad. After finishing the meal, we had to go outside and wash our own plates with powdered ash and return the washed plates.
You’ll find sadhus like this all over Girnar.