A few hundred Hindu devotees are gathered at about 1.5 miles above the plain land on some point of the Chandranath Hill, Sitakunda, Chattogram. Of those hundreds, a group was heard chanting religious verses out loud, while some others were trying to climb above through whatever thin space was left for performing that near impossible task at the point at that time and some others, that included myself, were terribly angry at the stuck-up situation for it was killing our precious time & ruining our determination to climb up till the top and take a usually rare glance, that is available at this time of the year, of Mahadeva Shiva.
A few fellow trekkers have already shown keen interest in me for being there with them despite being a Muslim, and to add to that- traveling solo. One of them, took it to a few steps farther by spontaneously posing with me in a picture that was supposed to be a full-body portrait of myself on that trip and made himself the main attraction with his weird posing. Welcome to the world of ‘Solo Female Traveling’! Instead of being upset, the open-minded me was actually ‘happy’ at that undesirable incident, for that was the happiest encounter I came across throughout my journey as a budding-traveler.
Bangladesh is blessed with some of the most colorful festivals throughout the year and despite being hugged by India on all three sides, these festivals do get enough footage. One such festival is the “Mahashivratri” aka “Shiva Chaturdashi” that is observed by the devotees of Hinduism through massive festivity and glamor. Last year it was held on 14th February i.e. the Valentine’s Day. On the morning of 11th, I came upon this post on ‘Travelers of Bangladesh’ on Facebook that showed how colorful the event of Shiva Chaturdashi can be to a person with the heart of an explorer. I knew that very moment, how I was going to celebrate my Valentine’s Day.
On 13th February- I spent a usual day including celebrating the Spring Festival at TSC, Dhaka University in complete traditional attire. Just at 11 pm, however, my life embarked on a whole new stage. For someone like myself who considers traveling as ‘oxygen’, a solo trip inside my country was due yet and it was, therefore, a brave move too. The festival is celebrated at the premise of Chandranath Hill at Sitakunda, Chattogram. I started my journey perfectly at the stated time with lots of butterflies in my tummy. I didn’t know what to expect and what would come in my way to stop me or worse, make me regret my decision. But, one thing I was sure of- I was not going to step back for the world.
The family of 3, sitting right in front of me in the bus, was going to the festival for they needed Mahadeva’s blessing for the only child of 5 years who had speaking problems. Hindu mythology says that Mahadeva Shiva got really mad at the death of his wife who committed suicide for her father cursed her husband. Out of anger, at that moment, Shiva performed tandava nritya with his dead wife on his shoulder and the corpse got torn into pieces. One of those pieces fell onto the top of Chandranath hill and turned it into one of the major pilgrimages of Hindu religion. Again, Ramayana says that when Rama was sent to Vanavasa by his father, Devi Sita used to bathe at the pond at this premise. That very pond and the area around are known as ‘Byas Kunda’ where the pilgrims perform many rituals like shaving their head, different pujas and take a dip into the pond to purify their body before embarking on the trek ahead- to the Shiva Mandir at the top of the hill.
Millions of followers of the religion flock to this place from around the world to celebrate this big day. The event lasts for 2 days. The followers can stay at many of the temporary rentals at the premise as well as at the Ram-Krishna Mission guest house. The mission also provides free medical treatment to the devotees and visitors. The defense team of the fair is very strict and efficient. There were many temporary restaurants selling vegetarian food for the devotees that includes vegetables, daal, luchi, rice, different fried snacks and sweets. It is to be noted here that throughout the time of this trek, the pilgrims observe fasting and eat only vegetarian food, when they eat that is.
Throughout the fair premise there were plenty of shops selling items like various equipment required for performing puja at home, color powders, miniature sculptures of various deities, locally made sweets & varieties of other food items including pickles! The sellers present there were from all places of the country situated at many distant corners. Some of the dry food sellers also allowed me to taste for free, regardless of making a purchase. That presentation only reminds one of how rich our culture & heritage are which most of us have no idea about. At one of the Shiva temples on the plain land I encountered a group of very producers of weed induces cigarettes along with clay built beautifully crafted holders. This is actually a common sight at the Shiva temples around the world and for that even the police present there were not stopping either the producers or the smokers.
The best adventure for me comes in the forms of ‘knowing the unknown’ & ‘people watching’. I had more than enough exposure to sample both these activities during this trip. But the best thing I experienced was re-discovering myself. I would never know, otherwise, how much I love & enjoy my own company, how soulful & peaceful it is to be able to take charge of a trip, how serene it becomes inside myself to contemplate over the whole experience- even though, my legs were dying to rest for some time. I did rest at the Rama-Krishna Mission premise and realized, I had never felt the urge to check out my phone, even for once, throughout the day!
After wasting about an hour at the aforementioned stuck-up situation, I decided to continue my journey through exploring the fair, or else, I had to spend the night at the fair premise and that was way beyond my schedule. But before embarking on that return bus at about 2 pm, with about 20 successful & happy pilgrims, I took a short hike to the Sitakunda Railway Station, adjacent to the fair premise and the locality around- to know more about the place. Honestly, the station felt like it was taken out of a page from a fairy tale storybook or a classic movie.
The return journey presented me with one of the loveliest sunsets I witnessed thus far, or perhaps, it felt so beautiful for the experience I was still living on my mind. I reached home at 9:00 pm after spending the best 22 hours of my life. The only question on my mind was “When next?”
Writer is a freelance contributor.