In April each year, thousands of Hindus flock to the cave temple of Hinglaj Mata. The shrine is located in a remote, desolate and hilly area of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, 250km (155 miles) north-west of Karachi. The high point of the four-day pilgrimage comes on the third day when high priests chant mantras, inviting gods to accept the offerings of the devotees and bring them peace and plenty.
ON MY WAY TO HINGLAJ
by Jay Shah
Mr. Khalid Mahmood had invited me that evening for sailing on his boat in the Karachi harbor. Knowing that I had to leave early in the morning for the Pilgrimage I declined and settled for a dinner at his home. I suggested making a light dinner of soup and salad. He laughed heartily and said, “Well, why don’t you tell me that you are vegetarian – we are also vegetarian!” Lo and behold the dinner consisted of a grand feast of Pani Puri, Bhel Puri, Paratha, Sabzi, Ragada Pettis and of course Salad and soup among many other delicious items!
He and his wife Laila (Lali) both had studied at Rutgers University in New Jersey and had met there. She is a great photographer and she was leaving for Bangkok in the night flight. His lovely daughter Ravi and wonderful boss Luna (his dog) were also there along with his two retired friends: Dr. Shaukat was with famous Rand Corporation (R&D lab in California, USA) who was helping the victims of the huge Earthquake that had hit Pakistan a year ago and Dr. Atlaf from World Bank who had started a music academy in Islamabad to revive the classical vocal (Gharana) music. We had a very enchanting evening of wonderful music and intellectual/philosophical/spiritual talks.
The house was really lovely – somewhat like a Hacienda style with fountain and a Koi fish pond and had all windows overlooking the atrium but none facing the outside of the building.
I have to share here how Bollywood works its magic. Somehow we talked about Bollywood and I mentioned that I did not know who Amitab Bacchan was until I saw his movie “Kabhi Khushi, Kabhi Gham.” Laila was shocked to hear that and was upset that I did not know Amitab Bhacchan. She said that she would have to call Mr. Manmohan Singh (Prime Minister of India) right away and tell him not to let me land in Mumbai – how dare I not know Amitab Bhacchan? I was very amused. I had not watched much of Indian movies, though I had heard lot of Indian songs on Binaca Geetmala on my Zenith Trans Oceanic shortwave radio in USA.
Sure I knew the works of great Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Dev Anand, Nargis, Sharmila Tagore, Asha Parekh etc. and of course that of my most favorite – evergreen hero Shammi Kapoor but I did not know anyone who came in Bollywood after 1968. I explained in vain that there are more than six billion people in this world. I am sure that all of Indians in India know him. May be another billion scattered in Middle East, UK, Russia etc. may know him.
Raj Kapoor was very popular in Russia when I landed in USA on 4th July 1968, even my barber in NY, who was a Russian, knew Raj Kappor and was delighted to sing “Awara hoon…!). I am sure that another four billion do not know who is Mr. Big B and I am just one of those four billion. I do not think she liked my feeble explanation of why I did not know Mr. Big B.
Here is a personal appeal to Mr. Amitabh Bacchan that if he ever goes to Pakistan then he must visit Mrs. Laila Mahmood – one of his great fans in Pakistan and help me land in India again!
CRAZY AMERICAN HAS COME FOR HINGLAJ MATA PILGRIMAGE
Next morning Mr. Khalid Omar, son of my host Mr. Hamid Omar came to the hotel to take me to his home to get ready for the Pilgrimage. I collected all the items for the pilgrimage but forgot the coconuts in the room. I knew that there will be a Jeep and 2 people will escort me to the Hinglaj for my yatra. When I reached Mr. Omar’s home I was pleasantly surprised to see not one Jeep but 10 Jeeps/SUVs and some 30 people waiting for me. Supposedly the news spread in the Offroaders Club like a wild fire that some crazy American is coming to go to Hinglaj so everyone joined!
A special vegetarian Aloo Paratha etc. was waiting for my breakfast specially prepared by Hamid’s daughter Mahera. Mahera had studied in Boston and she is an accomplished documentary maker. His son Khalid did his MBA in Australia and younger son Abid studied Textile Engineering in USA and Germany. As we travelled to Hinglaj, Hamid shared his life story and I instantly felt that there was some karmic connection between us. Hamid and his wife Sabiha is a lovely couple and for some reason our chemistry jelled extremely well, later on we decided that we must have been brothers in our past lives and Pujya Annaji wanted us to meet each other in this life. Hamid would like to come to Bijapur to my Guru’s home someday. We still keep in touch on regular basis. Hamid had come to Chicago for his cancer treatment later on and I stayed for two weeks with him in Chicago. Kismet (Fate) works in mysterious way. We both feel very close to each other even more than two real brothers. Sabiha also visited us in USA later on. I am in debt to Pujya Annaji for bringing us together.
Our “Sangh” (group) of 30 people left around 9 AM for Hinglaj. Hinglaj Shrine is located near the banks of River Hingol. I understand that some 24 Rivers empty in Hingol River and it is considered holy to take a bath in it just as it is to take a bath in River Ganges to wipe out your sins. Yes, I did get a chance to take a “dip” in the Hingol River the next day! Hingol also means Sindur (Cinnabar). Hinglaj Shrine is considered as the highest of all 52 Shakti Peethas located in various parts of Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Shri Lanka (all parts of ancient India or old Bharat Desh – Country).
ROAD TO HINGLAJ MATA SHRINE
The Shrine is about 250 Km (150 miles) from Karachi city. A brand new road, recently built with the help of China, connects Karachi to the distant seaport of Gawadar. My host Hamid, as we were traveling with his wife Sabiha, said, “Jay, you will get only half of the Punya (good deed) for doing this pilgrimage.” He explained that. “You have to do Kashtha (hardship on the body) to reach any pilgrimage center to gain Punya. In old days there was no road. It was basically a Desert (Registan) and Rajput Kings and other devotees used to come for the pilgrimage on feet, bullock cart and camels in 40-45 degree Celsius heat and it used to take them many weeks to reach the Shrine. But you are traveling on a brand new road at 80-100 Km/hr in a nice air conditioned SUV and that is no Kastha (difficulty) so how can you get the full credit of doing the Pilgrimage!” He did have a very good point. I have to acknowledge that my Guru made this pilgrimage very easy on me.
Once we left the Karachi border we saw hardly anyone on either side of the road. We did see a group or two of 6-8 nomads with few camels and that’s it. And so called village in this area consists of few huts.
There was no petrol pump either. Before we left the Karachi border we all stopped to get extra petrol. As we were waiting we saw some beautifully decorated lorries (trucks), very colorful indeed. (Want to read further on this fabulous truck art in Pakistan! Click Here).
Colorful Trucks (lorries)
I do recall seeing some colorful lorries in India when I was a child but I think that art is completely lost in India and is replaced by slogans on the back such as “Jai Matadi,” “Horn OK please,” or some humorous ones as “Buri najarwale tera muh kala (those who look at me with bad intension will be rewarded with black face” etc.)
On the way we stopped to see Pakistan Air Force pilots doing practice sorties in their fighter planes. Everyone got out of the car and took picture but I did not dare to take any such picture – I was not ready to go in jail, just in case!
We did not encounter any difficulties even though I was warned by others and saw absolutely no blockade or violence. It was most peaceful travel. On the way we stopped at a roadside tea stall shack (like a run down Dhaba in India). The tea was refreshing. I am sure that the owner must have been delighted to see 10 cars and 30 customers in one swoop!
Nice rest for a tea break at the Dhaba before we take the last leg of the journey to Hinglaj Mata temple
As we approached the Shrine we saw two hillocks (small hills) on left side of the road. More on them later – it has its own legend. The scenery was breathtaking. During some patches we could see the Arabian Sea coast and beaches in distance but we did not have time to stop. We saw rows of ‘mountain” range on both sides of the road. Amazing thing was that one side was made of real rock and the other side was made of pure sand and mud! The wind had made some beautiful carvings in this range of sand and mud “mountains” – absolutely breathtaking. I almost wanted to run out and play in this mud!
The grooves in the hillocks are made by wind on this mud hillock – You have to see this to appreciate the beauty!
It took us about 2.5 – 3 hrs and we reached Aghore (no idea whether this place has any relation to the Navnathas Sect or not, some followers of tantric rituals of Navnathas are called Aghori, but I suspect that there is some linkage).
We saw the Park Ranger at the campsite office to register our plan to do camping. Hingol area is a designated national park and as such it falls under the care of the forest and range services. One has to register if one wants to go camping in the area. This large park is very meticulously maintained. Just like in USA, one cannot leave an open fire pit or debris, no pollution is allowed including noise pollution – meaning no late night loud parties!
Well preserved National Park
Soon we came across a bridge. It was somewhat washed out. I understood that in Monsoon, the Hingol River can reach 50-60 feet or even higher and almost every year some part of the bridge gets washed out and needs to be rebuilt. We turned right on a dirt road after the bridge and soon encountered a sign “Nani Mandir.”
Last few Km dirt road.
My host – new found brother- Hamid Omar on left and the crazy American with the Victory sign, we made it to Nani Mandir!
Muslims (may be Sufi sect?) also revere Hinglaj Mata as “Nani Bibi” (Grandmother), my search so far about the legend of Nani Bibi has been futile. Hopefully someone who reads this article may shed light on it. On the way to the Mandir we came across a little lake (more like large pond) with a wonderful sign of warning to watch out for Crocodiles! This dirt road is about 10 KM and soon we reached the Shrine area.
To my utter surprise and against all what I knew about the lack of people in this area, I saw three Volvo buses standing and as we walked to the Shrine we saw about 20 ladies performing and singing Gujarati Graba (dance by a group forming a circle) in praise of the Hinglaj Mataji! You can imagine my jaws dropping to the floor to see people there as I was told that there is not even a priest there and one cannot stay overnight as tigers and other wild animals roam in the mountains there and they do come to the Shrine. It turns out that there are two annual fairs at the site and several thousand people come for the fair and the prayers. With brand new road many will take advantage and do the pilgrimage but sadly the pristine environment may get spoiled. There was no fair at that time but this little group of three Volvo buses had been there for few days, most had gone to the mountain top leaving these ladies performing Garba.
[As always, click on individual image to see full size].
Next: At the Shrine
1. Hinglaj, the Hindu holy shrine in Hingol, Balochistan 2. Traveling through Pakistan – The Katas Raj Temple 3. KATAS – A Paradise Lost and a Paradise Regained!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ‘Wonders of Pakistan’. The contents of this article too are the sole responsibility of the author(s). WoP will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this post.
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