sikh langar serving free drinks (free community kitchen) - amarnath yatra (pilgrimage) - kashmir


Langar (free community kitchen) - Amarnath Yatra (pilgrimage) - Kashmir

Langar manned by Sikh people offer free vegetarian food and Chai (tea) to all pilgrims along the road between Srinagar and Amarnath.­

drinking drinks kashmir kitchen langar men pot sikhism sikhs

Photos of the 2009 Amarnath Yatra - Pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave - Himalaya mountains - Kashmir.­

The Amarnath cave (Hindi: अमरनाथ गुफा, Urdu: امرناتھ گُپھا) is one of the most famous shrine in Hinduism, dedicated to the god Shiva, and located in Indian-administered Kashmir.­ The shrine is claimed to be over 5,000 years old and forms an important part of ancient Hindu mythology.­

Inside the Amarnath cave lies an ice stalagmite resembling a Shiva Linga, which waxes during May to August and gradually wanes thereafter.­ This lingam is said to grow and shrink with the phases of the moon, reaching its height during the summer festival.­

Reaching the Amarnath cave is not an easy trek due to the (possibly) difficult weather conditions and the steep climb up along the Himalayas.­ Porters, Ponies and Dholis /­ Dandis (Chairs carried by 4 porters) are available along the route.­

There are several routes to reach the cave, starting from different villages.­ The trail from Baltal is about 12 Km (that's the one i took), and the more traditional trail from Pahalgam is about 42 Km and takes several days each way.­

With the Baltal trail, the elevation gain is about 1,200 m (4,000 ft).­ the trail climbs from 3,000 m (10,000 ft) to about 4,200 m (14,000 ft) in only 5 Km (3 miles), which is a pretty steep climb.­

Note that the Baltal trailhead closes at 8am every morning, and soldiers are unlikely to let you go up after that time.­ That's because Indian pilgrims often take the entire day to reach the cave, and the military do not want people stranded on the trail at night.­

I went up one day (5-hour strenuous hike from Baltal), spent one night in a local tent near the cave, and went down back to Baltal the next day.­ It is possible to go up and down in one day (10-hour stenuous walk), but i would not recommend it.­ The trail is very dusty up to the midway camp, because it is shared by ponies, so many people wear face mask to breath a bit less dust.­

At one point the Baltal trail has a fork (after the midway camp).­ People traveling by foot usually take the left fork, which is much shorter (but narrower, steeper and more slippery) and does not have ponies (no dust!).­

A sleeping space in a shared tent near the cave is 100 roupies (in 2009), and includes a warm comforter, but even with that, is it very cold at night, with sub-freezing temperatures.­

Drinking water is available from several streams on the trail, so no need to carry more than a 1-litter bottle.­ Langar (community kitchen) manned by Sikh people offer free vegetarian food and free Chai (tea) to all pilgrims.­

The line to visit the cave and see the ice blob (Shiva Linga) can be several hours long, and the cave closes at sunset.­

Security at the cave is now very high (multiple body searches and metal detectors), and they do not allow any camera or cellphone in the cave, so it is currently impossible to take photos of the holy ice stalagmite (Shiva lingam).­ But you can see many older photos of the Amarnath Shiva Lingam on the web.­

Because I had expensive camera equipment that I did not want to leave behind, I had to negotiate with the military commander, and they finally allowed me to keep the camera in the cave after I left them the batteries.­

For more information about this place, visit the websites:
- www.­amarnathyatra.­org/­
- en.­wikipedia.­org/­wiki/­Amarnath_­temple

Photos taken during a 7-week, 7000 Km motorcycle tour across parts of India (Delhi, Rajasthan, Ladakh, Kashmir, Jammu and more) in May-June 2009.­

Photos of Sikh people (India)

For more information about the Sikh faith, go to en.­wikipedia.­org/­wiki/­Sikh

Sikhs traditionally allow their hair to grow naturally as a symbol of respect for the perfection of God's creation.­ Their long hair is covered by a turban.­ For more information, go to en.­wikipedia.­org/­wiki/­Kesh_­(Sikhism)

I must say that all the Sikh people I met in India were among the nicest and most helpful folks I met there.­

On a few occasion my motorcycle broke-down in remote areas or small villages, at night, and I needed help to fix it.­ And very often Sikh people would help me a lot.­ One even insisted on giving me a free clutch cable, another one brought me warm food at 3am when my Royal Enfield motorcycle would not start and I was gonna spend the night in the street waiting for a motorcycle shop to open in the morning.­ And in remote army check-points high in the Himalaya mountains, Sikh Indian soldiers always insisted on giving me and my friends hot chai, nuts and biscuits.­

Not to mention that it is the Sikhs that provide free vegetarian food and hot drinks to the thousands of Hindu people who participate in the Amarnath Yatra pilgrimage.

Sikhs are sometimes confused with Muslims by poorly educated people in western countries, because of theirs tradition of wearing a turban.­ They are neither Muslims nor Hindu.­ Sikhism is a unique religion and faith.­