Why do we enjoy climbing mountains? Often, it is a taxing exercise that requires high levels of fitness and endurance. There is also a risk of hurting ourselves–even fatally–if we consider steep mountains. And yet, we derive pleasure and satisfaction from it. Perhaps, we like the challenge of physical and mental exertion. Trudging through tricky terrains in extreme climatic conditions, we come to terms with human limitations. When faced with the wild side of nature, even the staunchly rational ones among us might begin to ponder about a higher power.
Needless to say, an arduous journey to a mountain top can be a humbling experience. Perhaps, this is why quite a few places of worship are located atop hills and mountains. They give pilgrims a chance to find their way uphill on foot and get in touch with their inner selves in the process. Soulveda explores a few such pilgrimage centres across the world.
Amarnath Cave Temple, India
The Amarnath Cave Temple is located in the Himalayas at an altitude of 3,888 metres. Every year, thousands of pilgrims set out on a difficult journey through the steep slopes of the Himalayas to reach this temple. Inside the cave is a stalagmite formation that resembles a lingam, a representation of Lord Shiva. According to legend, this is the place where Lord Shiva told his consort Goddess Parvati about the secret of immortality.
It is believed that Shiva chose this remote cave to ensure that nobody heard the secret. On their way to the place, he left his ride Nandi (the bull) at Pahalgam; the moon, which resides at the top of his head, at Chandanwari; the panchabhootas (five elements – earth, sky, water, fire, air) at Panjtarni; his snake at Seshnag and his son Lord Ganesh at Mahagunas Parvat. He created his own manifestation, Kalagni Rudra, to burn down every living thing around the cave, just to make sure they weren’t overheard. And then, he revealed the secret to Parvati.
However, under the deer’s skin–which the duo sat on–lay a couple of pigeon eggs. It is believed that the tiny birds inside the eggs heard the whole thing and in turn became immortal. Some pilgrims even claim to have seen the immortal pigeons near the temple.
Lake Manasarovar, the highest freshwater lake in the world, is also located on Mount Kailash. Hindus believe that drinking the holy water from the lake will help one attain moksha.
Croagh Patrick in Ireland attracts a large number of pilgrims on the last Sunday of July, which is known as the Reek Sunday.