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25th March '2013
Protecting the “Abode of the Gods”!

From the ancient times the spiritual people have been meditating in the heights of the mighty Himalaya popularly called the “Abode of the Gods”. High places in the remotest parts of the mighty Himalaya with the serenity, calmness and the clean air have not only been a spiritual experience to the saints but exhilarating to the adventure lovers trekking and climbing there. Nathaniel Hawthorne has said, “Mountains are the Earth’s undecaying monuments”. People have not only been climbing up mountains to renew their faith but even prophets have received divination on mountain tops. Every religion in the world points to the existence of the ultimate reality. Only the names, forms and ways to experience and reach that reality differ.

Kashmir is locally known as the Resh-e-Weur or the bowl of saints. Most of the shrines of saints in Kashmir are situated on hill tops where they had spent their lifetime in prayer and meditation. We respect every faith and have been helping people of other faiths on their pilgrimages to holy places. In fact, Kashmir has been home to many faiths from the earliest times. The most important fourth Buddhist Council was held in Kashmir. This gathering of the Buddhist scholars was responsible for affecting a revolutionary change in the religion from the Hinayana School to Mahayana School which was then spread by the participants in many parts of the world. A host of other religious scholars have been visiting Kashmir for learning as well as meditation from ancient times.

Earlier people would travel to the high and remote places in the Himalaya on foot through difficult terrain and in extreme conditions. The arduous journey would not only strengthen their faith but bring them closer to the divinity. The same holds good for the Muslims visiting their holy places like the centre of Islam in Makkah. A Haj pilgrimage on horses, camels or even on foot would take months. The person returning from the pilgrimage after a tough journey would be a completely changed person. Not now! These days the entire pilgrimage can be performed in just a week’s time by flying in most modern and supersonic jets and staying in air-conditioned five star comforts. This change from a hard and trying travel to quick and comfortable journey to strengthen one’s belief in the Almighty and to be near the God has happened in all faiths.

The 150 year old Amarnath Pilgrimage in earlier times was truly a journey of faith. It would take almost a week to climb through very difficult mountainous trail to reach the cave. The people performing the hard journey would reflect aura of holiness on their return. However, now not only has the traditional route been given an alternate short cut through Sonamarg and Baltal but one can fly by choppers to visit the holy cave in minutes. In addition, the routes have been widened and the journey made more easy and smooth to complete the pilgrimage in few days. This has been done to allow more people to visit the holy cave and also to make the journey of older people easier and comfortable. These are really commendable steps taken by the all concerned. However, the main attraction of this remote journey into the Himalaya like other such pilgrimages is the travel of the pilgrims along the beautiful and divinely environment. It is the duty of every pilgrim to protect this God gifted environment. It can only be done if the number of faith loving pilgrims is controlled and regulated and the duration of the pilgrimage is curtailed to the manageable limits.

Most unfortunately, the reverse is happening. The duration of the pilgrimage is being extended every year and the daily number of pilgrims for a period of one month has gone up from 5,000 (recommended by Dr. Nitish Sengupta after the inquiry into the 1996 disaster which claimed the lives of hundreds of pilgrims due to a snow blizzard), to 16,500. The duration of the pilgrimage has also been extended to 55 days. One can imagine the fate of the delicate environment after such a large number of human beings visit the area and litter every place with plastics, tins, bottles and other rubbish. Over and above there are legal directions to widen and pave the road for larger number of pilgrims. It is imperative that all concerned think coolly and take positive steps not only to control and regulate the pilgrimage but to clean up the environment after each pilgrimage. The cleaning process itself can generate sufficient employment for the local people. The porters and ponies used during the pilgrimage can be re-employed to go up and bring all the non-biodegradable rubbish down for final disposal. Perishable garbage can be destroyed on spot as is usually done by conscientious mountaineers visiting the Himalaya.Both the Shrine Board and the Environment and Ecology Departments of the government can take upon themselves the entire job. The security personnel who are usually the last persons to come down can also lend a helping hand. One hopes that everyone connected with the pilgrimage as well as the members of the civil society will pursue the project to keep the “Abode of the Gods” as clean and serene as God created it!

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