I have always been fascinated by the stories of Lord Shiva, the supreme deity of Hinduism, who is worshiped as the destroyer of evil and the transformer of life. I have heard that he resides in the Himalayas, in a cave where he revealed the secret of immortality to his consort Parvati. This cave is known as Amarnath, and every year, millions of devotees undertake a pilgrimage to this holy shrine, braving the harsh weather and terrain.
I recently received a posting to the Kashmir Valley. My squad is in charge of making security arrangements for the Amarnath yatra during this posting. For this Baltal is our base camp, where I stayed overnight at the camp. The next morning, I boarded the helicopter and flew over the majestic mountains and valleys of Kashmir. The view was breathtaking and I felt a surge of excitement and devotion. I landed at Panchtarni after about 15 minutes and then started my trek to the cave, which was about 6 km away.
The trek was not easy, as the path was steep and slippery. There were many other pilgrims on the way, chanting "Har Har Mahadev" and "Bam Bam Bhole". Some of them were carrying carts with images of Shiva and Parvati. I also saw many sadhus who had renounced worldly pleasures and dedicated their lives to Shiva. They were wearing saffron robes and had ash smeared on their bodies. They were carrying tridents and water pots, symbols of Shiva.
As I walked along, I felt a sense of awe and gratitude for being able to undertake this sacred journey. I also felt a connection with nature, as I admired the beauty and diversity of the flora and fauna around me. I saw wild flowers, herbs, berries, birds, squirrels, marmots, and even bears. I also saw many glaciers and streams that fed the Lidder river, which flows through the valley.
I reached the cave after about three hours of trekking. The cave was situated at an altitude of 12,756 feet and was surrounded by snow-capped peaks. There was a long queue outside the cave, as pilgrims waited patiently for their turn to enter. There were security personnel from the Indian Army and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) who were guarding the cave and maintaining order. They were also providing medical aid, food, water, blankets, tents, and other facilities to the pilgrims. I was impressed by their dedication and service.
I finally entered the cave after about an hour of waiting. The cave was dark and cold, but there was a divine aura inside. There were three ice formations in the cave, which were considered as manifestations of Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesha. The largest one was in the shape of a lingam, which represented Shiva. It was about 12 feet high and was formed by the freezing of water droplets that fell from the roof of the cave onto the floor. The lingam was believed to grow and shrink with the phases of the moon. It was also believed that this was where Shiva revealed the secret of life and eternity to Parvati.
I bowed down before the deity and offered my prayers I felt a sure of energy and, bliss in my body and mind. I felt as if Shiva himself was blessing me with his grace and love. I thanked him for giving me this opportunity to witness his glory and power. I also asked him for forgiveness for my sins and mistakes. I asked him for guidance and protection in my life. I asked him for peace and harmony in the world.
I stayed in the cave for about 10 minutes and then came out. I felt a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in my heart. I had completed my Yatra successfully which was spiritually enlightening experience. I had seen Lord Shiva in his magnificent and had experienced his presence in my soul. The Yatra was over, but its memories and lessons would stay with me forever.