Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Artful Dodgers

There was a commotion and all hell appeared to have turned loose. There were cries of ‘Thief! Thief!’ as I woke up with a start! It was dark all around and some people were running.

The morning was pleasant when we landed at Katra. It had just rained and everything looked perfect. The roads were washed clean and the hills were inviting with verdant foliage every where. Previous evening, I had fever but I deliberately did not make it known as otherwise it would have upset everyone. I quietly popped in a Disprin tablet prior to sleeping. The train journey was uneventful as next morning we landed at Jammu . The railway station was crowded as a number of trains were departing to different destinations in short intervals of time. We stepped out and boarded a bus headed to Katra. After about an hour’s drive the upward descent started. The wind got cooler and more salubrious surroundings greeted us. Some wild flowers and small streams of water cascading down made the journey an enjoyable one!

After reaching Katra , we relaxed for a while and found a cloak room to leave the extra baggage behind. We immediately started the upward ascent to Vaishno Devi. The trek was around 13 km. After reaching Charan Paduka, a little distance away, I told my wife that I was running fever previous night and even as we climbed our way up , I did not feel too well. She was furious, but then pulled out a Crocin tablet that she as carrying.As the invitation was there from ’Ma Vaishno Devi’ soon things got better and I felt rejuvenated and better. We stopped over for lunch of ‘ rajma and rice at Banganga, which was heavenly. Around afternoon we reached the half way mark, Adhkwari. We relaxed for a while and then continued with the trek. The chants of the people surging upwards to pay obeisance to the goddess grew louder as’ Jai Mata di’ reverberated in the air. The ponies carrying people who were unable to walk, moving just by the edge of the mountains ,left us wondering with their balancing act !

As the climb got steeper the speed reduced being not accustomed to walking this kind of distance. My little daughter still appeared to be full of energy and never did complain once! After reaching Vaishno Devi we refreshed ourselves. There was an air of gaiety and religious fervour everywhere. We visited the shrine and went around for some time and decided to start the descent back. We started our return journey and took a detour to Bhaironath. It is a small temple located about 1.5 km from Vaisno Devi amidst lush green surroundings and snow clad Tirkut hills in the backdrop.It is dedicated to the demon Bhairon who was killed by Mata Durga at this spot according to the legend. It started to rain and we took shelter under thick bushes. Soon it turned into a hailstorms with pellets of frozen ice cascading down furiously. Since there was no use waiting , we continued to walk and visited the shrine. We were totally drenched and the small backpack I carried was also dripping, like rest of us! We headed for ‘ Sanjhi Chat’( A common Terrace) a little distance further in the raging storm. After reaching there we decided to stopover for the night. Dripping from head to toe, it was a solace to get fresh bedding and blankets at the rest house for the travelers There was a big hall and we found a comfortable corner. After changing our clothes and having steaming hot tea and pakoras it felt much better. Outside, the storm was still raging. Slowly more people trickled in till around 9 PM and there was no place left in the hall to accommodate more people

Couple of families were traveling together and were stranded for the night like us . They had small babies in their arm. The milk bottles were empty and the children were crying. A duo appeared and in the act of kindness offered to fetch the milk in the thermos. They readily agreed, and soon brought milk to feed the small children. The duo got friendly with the two families and joined them for a game of cards The merry making continued as the rains refused to relent. After a while we fell asleep as it had been a very long and tiring, eventful day.

Around midnight the shouts of ‘Thief ’ rudely woke us up. We found some people running out of the door.It looked like a melee! After about half an hour the din settled. We came to know the duo who appeared to so helpful were in fact ‘artful dodgers’ who had befriended the two families the previous evening. They had scampered away with the purse of one of the ladies and an expensive camera when everyone had fallen asleep. When one of the small child cried around midnight, the mother woke up to realize that the thermos was empty and also her purse was missing. Her husband too woke up and found that the camera was gone too! One of the man who was awake told them that the duo had left a few minutes earlier . It was a futile chase, and a perfect con was staged by the duo who duped the unwary families and fled.


  1. that is so not done! i haven't been to vaishno devi but my husband has many a times. he too has so many stories to tell :) one time he said when he was on his way, the local muslims would come and help and chant *jai mata di* they say, mata is everything for them :)

  2. That's bad...I think people should leave sacred places, let there be peace. Don't dilute the sanity of such divine places.

  3. @ Chintan-One does come across strange things and that is what makes these places unique

    @ Saru- Agree with you n Chintan that sanctity of such places need to be maintained

  4. mentioned you here

  5. I am humbled with those kind words.A sincere thanks!