National Geographic : 1956 Oct
522 Sam Tata, Black Star Devotees Chant Scriptures Beneath a Tent Housing the Silver Mace Hindus believe the scepter once belonged to Siva himself. It precedes the pilgrims on their way to Amarnath. he still lives there. The pilgrims who make the journey come from every corner of India and beyond.* Our party included photographer Sam Tata; my 16-year-old twins, Dick and Mary; and several Kashmiri guides and servants. We found a place away from the crowd, where a cold mountain stream came roar ing down through boulders, flashing in the sun. Beyond it the valley wall rose abruptly, clad in dark-green pines; behind our tents spread the meadow, green and closely grazed, covered by the tents of Indian pilgrims. The motor road ends at Pahalgam. Beyond stretches the wild high country of Kashmir, famed as a summer paradise for campers.t The holy cave of Amarnath lies deep in this wilderness, at an altitude of more than 12,000 feet and distant about 25 miles from our camp (map, page 525). The pilgrims had gathered to walk and ride there, timing their journey to see the place itself at dawn on the full-moon day of August. They were to set out from Pahalgam the next morning; the Kashmiri police, who were supervising the trip, would let no one start beforehand. Already, several thousand pil grims had gathered, and the authorities wished to keep them together in case of a storm or other emergency. Sadhus Wander with Few Belongings After lunch we wandered through the camp, watching the pilgrims cook, or rest, or pitch their tents. They were of all ages. I was struck especially by the great number of in fants and old women. Here and there we came on sadhus, as the Hindu ascetics who roam India are called. Some traveled alone, but most were in groups. They belong to various religious orders, a pilgrim told me. Some of them wore long saffron-colored gowns; others were almost naked. Most had no tents, but merely spread * See "A Pilgrimage to Amernath, Himalayan Shrine of the Hindu Faith," by Louise Ahl Jessop, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1921. t See "The Idyllic Vale of Kashmir," by Volkmar Wentzel, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1948.