Joining the Pilgrims – Part 1

 

Located in the state of Gujarat in the west of India, Junagadh was a pilgrim town with a difference.

A few kilometres outside of town, on top of a high ridge, were famous temples.

But to reach the temples, the pilgrim had to climb stone steps: 10, 000 of them.

That was a lot of steps.

I didn’t have a problem with the idea of ascending all those steps. A pilgrimage, as far as I was concerned, wasn’t meant to be easy. My conviction on this point emerged after previous visits to the famous pilgrim towns on the coast of Gujarat: Dwarka and Somnath.

In Dwarka and Somnath there were temples which were famous all over India and which every year were visited by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims – and their number was increasing rapidly. It was in these sacred towns that I got to see the contemporary Hindu pilgrimage industry first hand.  The pilgrims came in luxury coaches or cars, stayed in luxury hotels, dined out and bought souvenirs – and in between visited the temples. They were a part of a corporate pilgrimage industry.

Vendors did a brisk trade selling trinkets and souvenirs and in the temples, the priests had thoughtfully installed ATM’s to facilitate the donation cash flow.  The spirit of consumerism had scored a complete triumph in India – supposedly a ‘spiritual’ land. 

At the outskirts of Dwarka and Somnath, armies of peons worked like ants to build new luxury hotels and kitsch parks full of statues, avenues, ponds, swings and rides.

The Holy Site converted into a theme park.

In the past, pilgrims who went to sacred towns like Dwarka and Somnath had to endure great hardships to get there. More than a few of them would have perished on the way.

Of course, climbing ten thousand steps wasn’t the same as experiencing the ancient pilgrim’s uncertain, primordial world, but it did at least put more emphasis on the notion of the pilgrimage involving physical effort; of the means of getting to the end destination being at least as important as the end destination itself…….. 

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The Slum Girl

 

I was on my way back to my hotel, when she ran up behind me, yelling.

It was a high pitched sound, bird like.

Before I knew it, she was standing in front of me and pointing at my camera.

It was a young girl wrapped in a blanket and all too obviously from a poor, lower caste family. She was sleeping on the streets, along with so many others……..

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Joining the Pilgrims – Part 2

In the cold and dark I joined the pilgrims as they began their ascent over the 10, 000 steps at Junagadh, but for a while, I couldn’t see them and was struggling to see the steps in front of me.

Then dawn broke and there was light and the show began.   

The forms and faces of the other pilgrims became visible and what a truly eclectic mix it was: young couples, elderly couples, family groups and larger groups belonging to a sect – one lot clad in saffron and chanting, another dressed in pure white cotton and carrying small brass pots of water.

Everyone was on the move towards some unseen goal, some destination ahead which no one knew…….

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Supermoon! Part 2

 

The supermoon was due to arrive on the night of April 7, 2019.

Early that evening, Anya and I were sitting in plastic chairs with the astronomical binoculars between us, waiting for the moon to rise.

Above the hills on the distant horizon were clouds and I wondered how much we would see.

On the lawn in front of us was the dome tent we had erected a few days before. The idea was to practice setting it up so that when the lock down was over, we could travel to far deserts and camp out – and at nights, do a bit of stargazing. But once the tent was up, Anya had insisted on leaving it there to remind us of past adventures and the promise of future ones.

A symbol.

Then the supermoon appeared…….

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