We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; the trip takes us. -John Steinbeck
It was a cool January dawn when we started on a journey to Shravanbengola. My parents and I are heritage freaks and were super-excited to visit 'quaint nooks ’ of Karnataka.
We boarded a Volvo along with 30 other people. After a couple of hours, I saw a barren granite hill. A tiny flight of stairs carved on it. People climbing upon it like ants. I thought to myself “What on earth ! Fools ! Why climb mountains !” Simultaneously, my mother thought, “This is the place. There must be some other road around to take us. Tourists don’t climb hills, devotees do.” My father was thinking to himself, “Will they be able to climb this ?”
The bus came to a gradual halt. The tour guide announced “This is Vindhyagiri hill. Gomateshwar statue is located on the top. You have to climb 620 steps, see the statue and come back in an hour.” I was surprised. I never ever thought a sweet “off-beat” idea would be this – climbing a hill to see a statue. As I came out of the bus, I looked around. It was the middle of nowhere. A tiny village selling agarbattis and flowers. The sound of people asking you to buy socks. The subtle smell of flowers. Breeze that touch you slightly. There was nothing one could do besides climbing the hill. We braced ourselves and took the first step.
The stairs were carved from the hill itself and had been polished smooth by millions of feet walking on them. They weren’t steep as well. The only problem – it was a queue. Like most south Indian religious places. After a 100 stairs or so, many people got tired. The crowd thinned out. But we continued. I looked around. It was beautiful ! The blueness of the skies met the brown little village on the horizon. It felt better. We cheered up and climbed further.
I had a bird’s eye view of the entire region. It felt like I was on the top of the world. We entered the enclosure. Most of the people inside were Jains – saying their prayers. The 42 feet statue appeared. I had my looking around and came out.
The downhill march begun. It felt less dizzying. I could feel my breath as I climbed down. And this time, I took to feeling the vision – it looked grand – the tiny houses, the lake, the trees and a cloudless sky overhead. I realized it was probably “once in a lifetime” experience I had wished for.
My father was happy to see three of us fit as a fiddle after the climb. But more than that, it was a sense of accomplishment that I saw in his eyes that day – none of us expected to climb a hill someday and come back without injuries. Happily we were proven wrong and continued our journey to the next destination on our itinerary.