Pilgrimage in INDIA - 2006 February by Jayant DoshiAny holiday to India has to have an element of pilgrimage in it; any place of interest inIndia always has some religious significance attached to it, otherwise it is not worth visiting. But the latest Bhagini trip had an important pilgrimage attached to its itinerary, and as such the interest and enthusiasm of the group was different from other trips. Fifty three passengers and the manager were at the airport at six on the evening on 23rd February at the start of the tour. Health had taken toll of three other passengers who had to cancel their trip at the last moment. Just like at the start of every trip, the President of Navnat and other committee members of Bhagini were at the airport to wish everyone a good trip. Each passenger was given a lunch box totide them over till meal was served on the flight.We arrived at lunch time next day to the city of joy – Kolkatta. We just had a passingglance at the city on our way to the hotel. What we saw were dilapidated, derelict,colonial dusty buildings, hut type shops, crowded narrow streets and foot paths thatbadly needed attention in this city of Joy. This is the city where the British firstestablished their trading post and then slowly entered rest of the country. This is thecity of Rabindranath Tagore, the Noble prize winner for literature; this is where MotherTheresa took the street children into care and received world acclaim for her wonderfulwork. The economic miracle and regeneration being seen in other parts of the countryseemed to have bypassed Kolkatta. Poverty seemed rampant in the city. But ouritinerary was such that we were not to see any of the important sites in the city. Westarted our tour with a visit to Kali temple. In this part of India, Goddess Kali hashighest regard and importance in their religious lives.We left Kolkatta next morning to go to Samet Sikhar. We had lunch en-route atDurgapur. When we reached our destination, we passed through desolate, poor and littledeveloped villages of Parsavnath and Madhuban where the sacred mountain of SametSikhar is situated. We reached our destination after a long tiring day of bumpy ride oncoaches that were not that comfortable.Our coaches were parked outside thedharamshalas (rest houses for pilgrims)where we were staying for the next twonights. There were road works goingnearby and we had little space in whichto unload the baggage. With a generousweight allowance, and with the desire togive their old clothing to poor people, thevolume and quantity of baggage was farin excess of what is comfortable for suchcoach trips. All the pleas and warningsby organisers seemed to have beenignored by all. To make our problemworse, there was a throng of people (atleast fifty) who flocked our coaches expecting some work. We had to ensure that no baggot stolen and had to tackle the problem with care. We downloaded few bags at a time,
and ensured that each porter was accompanied by our member. We accomplished thetask without any loss, and that was an achievement under the circumstances. As Vatican in Rome is for Cathloics, Mansarovar and Kailas is for Hindus, Mecca is for Muslims, Jerusalem is for Christians and Jews, in the same way Samet Sikhar is for the Jains. The mountain has the foot steps of twenty two of the twenty four Tirthankars; each pair of steps has been enshrined in small temples. Every Jain has the desire to do the pilgrimage to this place once in their life time; and for all the tour members, this was the most important purpose of their joining this tour. After a delicious dinner, everyone retiredearly. We had to wake up before 3.30 in the morning, and start the pilgrimage by 4.00.There was so much joy and happiness all around that all members of the tour wereready well before time. The street outside our residence was packed with pilgrims andpeople offering their services with dolly. As the walk up the mountain was consideredvery steep and difficult, almost all the members of the tour booked a dolly, some bookingone between the couple. Dolly is a chair tied to two poles, and carried by four men. Thisallows the person to sit on the chair with ease, while other type of dolly required aperson to sit in cross legged position which is quite uncomfortable for most. While all themembers of our group were grappling with getting a dolly, I decided to make a move andstart walking.At the end of the street, where we started our pilgrimage, is the temple of Bhomiyaji.There is a lot of myth on which the temple has achieved its popularity and importance.Bhomiyaji implies a guide who will direct one in the right direction, and will stop onefrom getting lost or going astray. The belief goes that everyone must go and worship atthis temple before starting the pilgrimage. It was said that if one did that, then somedogs come from no where and keep walking in front of the pilgrim, and perhaps guidingthe pilgrim. I did not wish to offend any feelings and followed the ritual without actuallyputting much faith in it. I did see some dogs, but they were actually looking for foodrather then guiding me, and they kept coming and disappearing rather then being theremost of the way. I was right. The myth was built up to create that faith and suspicion inthe pilgrims. I knew there was no truth init. Over the centuries, Brahmins dependon religion for their livelihood, and theycreate such myths and temples to keeptheir livelihood secure. This was so true inthis case, and this can be seen in everycorner of the country.I was not taking the dolly, and I wasconfident that I would be able to walk. Istarted while others were still arrangingtheir dollies, and with my speed ofwalking, I was soon far ahead of most ofthe crowd in front. It was cool in themorning and the mountain had proper steps built so walking was quite easy and I couldwalk at a fast pace. The breaking of the dawn, with light rays showing through the trees
and over the hills gave a wonderful sighting. Then the golden rays of the sun peepedfrom behind the hills, and throwing their rays on other hills, and one could see the glow on those hills. The beauty of nature was astounding, and walking alone in that nature, my mind began to wonder; I began to think of the creator, the nature and religion. God created this wonderful earth of ours; the mountains and the valleys, the rivers and oceans, forests and greenery – and the endless mysteries of our universe. He created life, and put all types of life on this planet from tiny insect like ant to huge animals like dinosaurs; and gave us this wonderful life and body. Man imagined Him in his own image, and created His idols; and then put those idols in temples, and elevated Him to position of esteem and respect by building temples on high hills and mountains. We travel long distances to visit those man made places of pilgrimage. But He is everywhere. We worship Him, but ignore His creations. We perform all sorts of rites and rituals, but fail to take care of the nature and beauty He has created. We go toworship in far away places, but we do not have time to admire and take care of Hiscreations which He has endowed to us in the form of natural beauty.While walking alone, I was pondering over all these thoughts. Dawn was just breakingthrough, and we could see the glow in the east horizon. It was calm and peaceful. Thejoy of walking on these mountains is immeasurable; it has to be experienced, it cannotbe described. With dawn, life seemed to come to earth. Birds were flying in the sky. Windwas blowing the tree leaves in unison and creating a musical sound.He has given us this wonderful body; we have time to pray to Him but we do not havetime to take care of the same body given to us by Him. I should be grateful to Him forgiving me this life and for giving me a healthy body. It is my supreme duty to take care ofwhat he has given to me. Instead of thinking of myself and my future in lives to come, Ishould use the gift given by Him to help others – to help those who are not thatfortunate, and need my help. If I take good care of this body then I will be able to offerhelp and not be a burden on others. To me, this is what He intended of us. To me, this isthe supreme religion. We are told that Heis every where; He is within us also andyet we go out looking for Him, but do notlook where He is. We do not take care ofwhat He has created and given to us. Mymind was awash with all these ideas andthoughts and I could not come to anyanswer.We remember and build monuments inmemory of great men of history. Wepraise and recite their wise teachings. Wecelebrate their birth days, and we buildstatutes and temples in their memory.We learn their teachings, but we fail toadopt those teachings in our lives. We give more importance to their teachings, and
build rites and rituals around those teachings; but when it comes to understanding and implementing those teachings in our lives then we totally fail. We recite the religious sayings, but we do not take time to understand and adopt what those sayings are telling us. Religion teaches us good way of living, provided we put those teachings into practice. But if religion is just practicing the rituals, and believing in the myths built around it over the centuries, then it just becomes a religion. We create a religion, but we forget the creation of the creator whom we believe to be following in that religion. Religion teaches us to love others; we resort to violence just to protect that religion. Religion teaches usto be truthful in life, and we resort to lies as and when it suits us. Religion teaches us toforgive; we claim to follow that, but in reality we do not practice it in life. We spend moretime in following the rituals of religion and little time to understand and practice thesame religion.The sun just appeared over the horizon, and the peak on the opposite side was glowingwith golden rays. It was so wonderful to look at. I walked at speed and I was nearGautam temple before seven. I decided to finish one of the highest peaks before going toJal Mandir where every one was going to meet. I walked to the Chandrapraphu peak.The path was steep in places, and difficult to tackle. It is believed that there are footsteps of twenty two tirthankars on this mountain, and I could see small templesscattered on the various small peaks on the way. After visiting the highest peak, Iwalked down to Jal Mandir where many of my colleagues had already reached. This iswhere the main pooja was to take place and partaking people took a bath before startingthe ceremony. I could see smiles and pleasure on all faces. This was the ultimate step intheir pilgrimage, and there was joy that they completed the pilgrimage without anyhindrance or obstacle. The pooja took place in the temple. After pooja we were servedwith our breakfast cum lunch. Just after noon, we started walking back, but taking theroute that would take us to the third peak where the temple of Parsavanath was located.The actual temple was high up, with some steep daunting steps deterring many fromclimbing those steps.We were back by five in the evening. I didnot feel any tiredness, but I took a goodmassage, and then a bath refreshed me.Just when we had finished dinner, one ofthe members tripped and injured hisforehead. He was taken for first aidacross from our hotel. Later we spentquite some time trying to find somemedical help but without much success.There was hospital in town which did notdeal with emergencies and was closed.The local doctor was away, and weneeded to travel some distance to go toanother town. As the patient seemed tobe fine, we decided to wait till morning for any further action.
Everyone was happy that the pilgrimage had been completed successfully. The joy andsmiles were distinctly visible. Our trip has just started, but it appeared as if we had successfully completed it. One of the group members fell sick; he had fever and bad throat. While he suffered from it for days, or weeks, the same ailment slowly afflicted literally every member of the group, picking up one by one. Through out the trip, there was not a day gone by when one or other member was not affected; and many members suffered from the symptoms long after coming back home. Like almost all days, it was an early morning wake up at five, and we left for Rajgir at nine. On the way we visitedRajuvatika where Lord Mahvir achieved Keval Gyan (ultimate knowledge), and where hisfoot prints are preserved in a temple. We reached after dark to Veerayatan in Rajgir. Itwas a long tiring day for every one and after reaching and sorting out the baggage, ittook even longer time. It was dark and we had to wait around the coaches and bags tillall bags were sorted out and taken to our rooms.Rajgir, or Rajagriha as it was known originally, is situated in the State of Bihar, and is65 miles south-east of Patna, the capital city of Bihar. Rajagriha, which literally meansthe residence of the King, has been associated from time immemorial with mightyempires, which once held sway over the entire length and breadth of India and beyond.It had also the privilege of association with great and mighty men, who though longdead, are even today influencing the mind and spirit of a fairly large portion ofhumanity, spread over the entire civilised world. Amongst these are the names of LordMahavira and Buddha, who are associated with the two great religions of Jainism andBuddhism respectively. Rajagriha remained the capital of the great Magadha Empire forcenturies.Rajgir has five hills and Veerayatan is situated atthe foot hills of these hills. It is said that LordMahavira, and thirty years later Lord Buddha,came to these hills and spent years in meditation,and that is where they achieved ultimateknowledge. It was because of this importancethat a Jain muni some thirty years backestablished Veerayatan. The idea was to establisha hospital for the local people and offer them eyeoperations. Now some sadhvis run this hospital,and have expanded their activities to other partsof the country and in other fields.We had our own cooks who prepared our eveningmeal, and we had dinner after settling down inour rooms. After dinner we were called to themeditation centre where one of the sadhvis gave asermon followed by prayers. After the prayerssome of us went and saw an exhibition on the lifeof Mahavir which is housed in one of the otherbuildings. Next day the plan was to go to
Kshatrayakund and Lachhavad, birth place of Lord Mahavir, but we were told scarestories by our manager and the sadhviji, and most members of the group decided not to go there. While regretting that change of plan, it turned out for the good as we visited Budh Gaya which was much more fascinating and worth a visit. We travelled to Budh Gaya. A guide said that the Budh Gaya, which literally means Budh has gone, has been named as such when Buddha left the town where he achieved the ultimate knowledge. However, we did not leave till 9.00 and by the time we reached there it was 11.15 when we were told that all the eight Buddhist temples close at noon. While others were thinking about it Itook a riksha and visited all the temples. Each temple was built by one of the overseasBuddhist country like Japan, Thailand, Vietnam etc. Each temple had class of its own.Money has been spent lavishly, and the temples are well maintained. I took somewonderful photos of the temples and the giant Buddha statutes in gold in each of thesetemples. I had to rush on each temple and did not get time to appreciate any of thetemples.I visited the main Budh Gaya temple where Buddha sat under the papal tree for the firstweek. While the original tree is long gone, it is claimed that a branch of the original treewas taken to Sri Lanka and from there a branch was brought here and tree replanted.After that he spent a few weeks in the same area but in different places and differentpositions. One week he spent on a red stone throne where he achieved enlightenmentand got the name Buddha. He spent one week in standing posture and gazing at thepapal tree. A shrine has been built here. One week he spent walking up and down apath, and where stone steps shaped like lotus were constructed. When the British came,those steps were badly damaged and they rebuilt those steps. He spent another week ina place which is now a lake. It is believed that when he was in meditation, it rainedheavily and formed that lake. He spent a few more weeks under different trees, and eachplace has a monument built to remember those weeks of meditation. His foot steps havealso been preserved in concrete. In the evening some of us went to hot water springsnearby, and refreshed ourselves in hot sulphur spring waters.Next day we visited some of the nearbytemples .We used horse carts to do thetravelling. First we visited Kundalpur.The Digambara believe that Lord Mahavirwas born here, though some historianssay that he was born in Vaishali.Pawapuri is where Lord Mahavir attainedNirvana in 490 B.C. and as such is animportant site of Jain pilgrimage. It washere that Lord Mahavir gave his very firstand his very last sermon to his disciples.A white marble temple called Jal Mandirhas been constructed on an island in thecentre of a large lotus lake tocommemorate the spot where he wascremated. North of the lake lies an old temple built over the spot where Lord Mahavir
died. It is believed that originally the lake did not exist but crowds of people taking apinch of the sacred soil from the holy spot to make the usual Tikka on the forehead,created a great hollow which later formed the lake. We visited the ruins of Nalanda University, which is the second oldest university in the world. It is said that Lord Mahavir spent fourteen rainy seasons at Nalanda, and Buddhist literature also have references to Buddha visiting this place. It was in late seventeenth century that the ruins of Nalanda were located and identified. Excavations have taken place over the centuries and still continuing. From details supplied by a Chinese visitor, the university was residential and had accommodation for over four thousandstudents. It was famous for its disciplined life and strict Buddhist code. Students camefrom all over India, and other countries, and the entrance tests were hard. It is said thatseven out of ten entrants failed to enter the university. The University was first built infifth century B.C., and improvised over the centuries. The ruins are spread over a vastarea. The fact such an institution of education existed in those days made me proud ofmy ancestry and of Indian civilisation and at the same time it saddened me that thegreat institution had died without passing its greatness to the posterity.But the highlight of the day’s sightseeing were two Buddhist temples, the mostimpressive of all the temples we had visited. Compared with the other temples, they wereall well built, spacious, well maintained and impressive to visit and worship or meditate,or walk around in the temple and surrounding gardens. They were in complete contrastto the other temples I visited. One Buddhist temple is on top of a hill, and it is connectedby an aerial ropeway, which is the chief attraction of present day Rajgir. The Buddhatemple, called the Vishva Shanti Stupa (World Peace Memorial) was constructed at acost of over Rupees 22 Lakhs by Rev. Fiji Guruji of Japan. After destruction ofHiroshima and Nagasaki by atom bombs, Guruji, in his anxiety to prevent a recurrenceof such disaster, decided to propagate the Buddhist Philosophy of world peace and hestarted constructing Vishwa Shanti Stupas in different countries, and the one in Rajgirwas 22nd in the series.Our last day at Veerayatan was spent byvisiting the patients in the hospital, andobserving the working of the hospital.Navnat Vanik Bhagini Samaj sponsoredan eye camp and photos for the samewere taken to commemorate the event.We had a long journey ahead and soonafter an early lunch we left for the city ofPatna. To night we were travelling on atrain, and those who have travelled inIndia would understand the problemsand difficulties we face on such ajourney, especially when there are fiftythree passengers and their luggage totake care of. We reached quite early to allow us plenty of time to transfer the luggagesafely to the right platform. All the women members were taken to a waiting room. Each
male member accompanied the porter with the baggage which was piled on the platformwhere our train was coming. It took us a long time to carry out this process, and when we had brought our luggage on the right platform, we had another hour or more to spend before the train was due. The train stops for a limited time only. We just about managed to get all the luggage and passengers on train when it arrived at 10.40 at night, but it was mid night by the time each passenger located their luggage. For many, this was their first ever train journey in India, and for some it was their first ever train journey in their lives. But all is well that ends well. We all settled down, and soon were fast asleep. Some slept very well with the rollicking of the coaches, and the musicalsound that is made when train moves along the track, but some found it too difficultand could not manage any sleep.We reached our destination at New Jalpaiguri at 1.30. We left for Silguri once luggagewas on board and we had delicious lunch ready at destination. Our extra luggage wasleft at Silguri, and we started our long, arduous journey to Gangtok, the capital ofSikkim. Because of the mountainous terrain, smaller coaches were used. While eachcoach had 25 seats, and we were only 18 in each coach, still the space was so little andit was so difficult for two passengers to share a seat. For tall persons, it was impossibleeven to sit on those seats. These uncomfortable seats made our journey even moretiring. The route was along winding roads along the valleys and mountains of the region.Scenery and greenery outside were breathtaking.Sikkim, once an independent Kingdom, and sandwiched between India and China,decided to join Indian Union in 1976. Located on the slopes of the Himalayas, thecountry has the natural beauty of the Himalayan region. Being a Hindu country, andwith strong cultural and language ties with India, this was the obvious choice. It lookedquite prosperous with hardly any beggars to be seen any where. In Rajgir we had theproblem of keeping a flock of porters away from our bags, while in Sikkim we couldhardly find any porters. After the hotweather of the plains of India, we foundGangtok very damp and cold. With noheating facilities, everyone was wrappedin warm clothes, and asked for extrablankets at night. Next morning, taxiswere arranged to take us all on sightseeing. These included some beautyspots, a flower show and views from highpoints on the peaks surrounding the city.We visited some temples and museums.Previous day’s journey had knockedeveryone out, and most of the membersof the group decided to sleep in theafternoon which was free time for us. Ihad sore throat for some days, and a badcough also, and I felt feverish on this day and remained in bed for the rest of the day.
Next morning we drove to Pelling, a mountain holiday resort, and the drive was throughsome of the beautiful parts of the country. We had lunch in open grounds along a river. We reached the resort where we were staying at about 3.30. It was very cold here too. Most members of the group were well prepared with winter coats so the effects were not much felt. After dinner we had a huge bon fire, and lot of singing and enjoying for the first time on this trip. The hectic schedule, and tiring journeys, hardly allowed any time of mingling and enjoying, but here we had the perfect opportunity and everyone took advantage of it. We rode in mountain jeeps as the terrain made it difficult for our coaches to driveon those roads. We visited the Khecheopalri Lake. Local people believe that whatever onewishes in front of the lake will come true, and their wish will be fulfilled. Naturally,human mind accepts such beliefs, and many members of our group threw coins in thelake and made wishes. We visited Rimbi Falls, and Kanchenjunga Falls. At the falls,every one walked down to the falls as near as possible to the waters coming down thesteep cliff. We visited a Buddhist monastery on the way also. Afternoon was free for usand most members of the group took a rest. One member of the group was taken tohospital accompanied by his close relatives.Next morning we drove from Pelling to Darjeeling, the hill capital of summer time createdby the British. With its hills, and inundating valleys, and a pleasant cool climate, it wasideal for the British who could not bear the searing heat of the Indian plains. And now ithas become an important holiday resort for the Indians, and especially for the newlyweds. With its undulating hills, it has ideal conditions for growing tea, and Darjeelingtea is world famous, and unsurpassed in its position as the best tea grown any where. Itwas a full days driving through the mountainous terrain, and very tiring in the not socomfortable coaches. The high light of the day was a lunch on the route along a river.Darjeeling was pretty damp and cold at this time of the year. The whole city is built onthe hills, and quite a challenge for the best walkers.Next morning, we went for sight seeing, and the sight seeing included visiting GangaMaya and the Rock Garden. Sandwiched between two hills, the valley in between hasbeen used to create a wonderful garden with paths and steps winding along the slopes ofthe valley, planted with some beautiful flowers. Many of the group had enchanting walkin the garden. We were entertained tosome local dances by some youths in anarena in the garden. Later we visited amuseum, mountain institute wheremountaineers are trained, and a zoo withsome exotic wild life in quite spaciousand spread out cages. Most of themembers spent the afternoon shopping.While walking down to the shops seemedeasy, the thought of climbing back thosesteep hills deterred many from venturingtoo far from the hotel.
Next morning we were visiting Tiger Hill which is 11 kms from Darjeeling at an altitudeof 2555 metres, and the site provides a fine view of the Everest and Kanchenjunga peaks, and a lovely sight of sun rising from the horizon. We were woken at 3.30 in the morning and taken to the Tiger hill. There is a restaurant with an upper floor with glass windows all round where every one sits in the freezing cold, to view the rising sun, and a possible sighting of the two mountains. However, the large crowds were disappointed due to mist and clouds obscuring the view of the mountain peaks, and the rise of the sun. Our early morning wake up was in vain; and to add to that disappointment, when we came back tohotel we found that power supply in the area was disrupted due a tree falling over powersupplies. We were supplied with buckets of hot water and had to take our baths withthat.Some of us went to visit the famous botanical gardens. It was a nice walk down thesteep slopes of the town, and gave us an in sight into the life style of the city. Whileoriginally we had planned to take a taxi back on the steep slopes, we actually walked upthose slopes and it was interesting and satisfying walk for us all. At lunch time we tookthe world famous Darjeeling narrow trek small train round the town. The slow movingtrain was an experience in itself.Next morning we left early to visit Mirik Lake. The huge lake had a path around it andsome of us had a wonderful walk in that serene beautiful setting. We visited two templesduring our walk. Some members did horse riding while others just relaxed and enjoyedthe beauty of the place. We had hot lunch served on the shores of the lake. After that weleft to visit a very impressive monastery. To top it all, we went to the border of Nepal,called Pashupati Fatak, and had the satisfaction of crossing into Nepal. After paying thevisa fees, and hoping to see Nepal and do some shopping, we were disappointed as therewere limited number of shops, and most were closed.As this was the last but one night in India, and as the cooks were leaving us from thispoint, at dinner time some emotionalspeeches were made. The cooks werepraised for some wonderful selection ofcuisine in all the meals on our trip, andwere given awards. Words of praise weresaid from all, and there was satisfactionthat the tour had been good, and thatover all everyone had enjoyed the trip. Acake, with decorations on the table, wasmade to celebrate the birthday of one ofthe group members.Next morning, we drove to Bagdogra fromwhere we were to take our flight toKolkatta. On arrival in Kolkatta, we weretaken to hotel. Our baggage was to be kept in the coaches, but the drivers refused totake responsibility and all the baggage was taken out and put in the lobby. We were
given few rooms for freshening up. Everyone had prepared themselves with special clothes for the gala night, but in view of the circumstances few bothered to change into them. The gala night was not as grand an affair as it normally is or should be. Instead of live music or disc jockey, we had to accept a tape recorder. Instead of sit down dinner with service, we had to sit on chairs in a circle, and help ourselves to the dinner. However, everyone enjoyed the evening with some lively talks and photo sessions. But this was our last night, andeveryone was more worried about the departure and their next destination. After beingtogether for seventeen days, a bond had been built between all the members of the groupand there was sadness in saying farewells. Final good byes were said, some tears shed,promises of keeping in touch were made, and the good moments of the trip wererecounted. Final speeches were made, and after final good byes, we departed for theairport. Some left for Mumbai while others joined in to take their flight to London fromMumbai. The difficulties of the trip were forgotten, and everyone talked of the good timeswe had. The sickness and virus that seemed to have affected most of the members, andthe hardship on poor coaches and the long journeys were memory of the past; the goodfood, the satisfying completion of the pilgrimage and the good times we had were uppermost in all minds.By midnight we were at Kolkatta airport; and soon we were on the flight taking us toMumbai for some, and to London for others. In spite of it all, a group holiday is alwaysenjoyable, and this was no worse in that respect.Your comments to : firstname.lastname@example.orgFor trip photos ask and I will send invitation to see photos on Ofoto web site.