Pilgrims Progress. Muslim Palanquin Bearers of Vaishno Devi

The Muslim Palanquin bearers of Vaishno Devi,. The Hindu pilgrims go up to Vaishno Devi literally on the shoulders of these Muslim Palanquin bearers. They greet you with ‘Jai Mata Di’ and stop to take breath only three or four times on the steep 12 kilometer mountain ascent. (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

The Hindu pilgrims go up to Vaishno Devi literally on the shoulders of these Muslim Palanquin bearers.

By Pooja Chaturvedi in Mint, Aug 2014

New Delhi-based photographer Sanjay Austa has always been fascinated by people who have faith, because he has none. Last year, Austa visited Vaishno Devi in Katra, Jammu and Kashmir, to document the pilgrims and their progress up the Trikuta mountain to visit the Hindu shrine situated at 5,200ft.

“I wanted to photograph these people who brave the steep climb and difficult weather to reach the top for my larger series: Among the Believers,” he says. As the project progressed, he decided to highlight a different aspect of the pilgrimage: how faith brings different communities together and is a source of livelihood for some.

He spoke to the pony owners and the palanquin bearers who carry devotees up the mountain and found that most of them were Muslim. “They even shout ‘Jai Mata Di’ through the journey,” says Austa. Austa photographed these porters, mostly young Kashmiri men, as they carried pilgrims or took breaks during the steep 12km journey up the mountain side. He took several such trips up and down the mountain with the porters and the result was over 250 photographs.

After a brief rest the palanquin bearers are ready to transport the pilgrims back to Katra (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

After a brief rest the palanquin bearers are ready to transport the pilgrims back to Katra

On 4 July, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the 25km train service between Udhampur and Katra, enabling pilgrims to take a direct train from Delhi to the base camp of Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra, 50km from Jammu. This train will make it easier for people to travel to the shrine and is likely to translate into more work for the porters.

A round trip on a pony costs around Rs.1,200, while for a palanquin ride, where four bearers are employed, it is Rs.3,400. “This work provides year-round employment for these men, and that is what matters,” he says. “I wanted to show their movement against the still mountain side. Movement conveys their effort,” he says. The focus remains on the people, and not on the scenic beauty. “It isn’t about the beauty of the place; the idea was to show religious harmony in the times of conflict and ghettoization,” says Austa.

Austa now plans to visit other pilgrimage sites for his ongoing project Among the Believers.

Read more at: http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/l5sqouIYSRnerqWJohshgI/Photo-Essay–Pilgrims-progress.html?utm_source=copy

 

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

It takes four men to carry one person up and down the hill.

 

Katra the small untidy town the starting point of the Vaisno Devi pilgrimage is where the palanquin bearers and the pony owners wait for the pilgrims each morning. (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

The palanquin bearers  wait for the pilgrims at Katra

 

One round is all they can do in one day at Vaishno Devi (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

One round is all they can do in one day at Vaishno Devi

 

A palanquin bearer rests on the road side at Vaishno Devi after a punishing 12 kilometer hike. (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

A palanquin bearer rests on the road side at Vaishno Devi after a punishing 12 kilometer hike.

 

And sometimes these bearers get on the wrong side of the cops who thrash them or punish them like this in full view of the Vaishno Devi pilgrims. The cop who told me to delete this picture said they had punished this guy for overcharging. (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

The cop who told me to delete this picture said they had punished him for overcharging.

 

The palanquin bearers reach katra after the 24 kilometer trek (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

The palanquin bearers reach katra after the 24 kilometer trek

 

After reaching the shrine the pony riders and palanquin bears wait for their customers. (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

After reaching the shrine the pony riders and palanquin bears wait for their customers.

 

The hillside is steep. Ponies likes these are suitable to take the pilgrims up the paved slopes. (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

The hillside is steep. Ponies like these are suitable to take the pilgrims up the paved slopes.

 

 

 

3 Responses to “Pilgrims Progress. Muslim Palanquin Bearers of Vaishno Devi”

  1. Maheen says:

    However so interesting!

  2. Shabana says:

    interesting….

  3. Cindy Brown says:

    I love the willingness of the people of differing faiths to work together. I wonder what kinds of conversations they have during the long trek.

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