Monday, April 13, 2009

The 'right' road to Maran - Part 1

Sometimes we can be at the right place, on the right time and miracles happen. Other times we might find ourselves at the wrong place, at the wrong time and everything else seemed so wrong! Well, sometimes lucky and at times, not so.

KL - Maran Walk ( 5th – 7th April)
I believe it was the right time and not by chance when I made up my mind to walk this ritual walk from Batu Caves to Maran with my friends Julie, Amelia & Lim Pueh Tian. It was Julie who introduced us to this event which she has been participating for the last 4 years. She provided us with a detailed programme so as to equip us for the event.

The walk from Batu Caves to Maran covers 204km in 3 days. This event has been happening for the last 32 years and rather popular amongst the Hindus. And all these years I never knew that non Hindus are allowed to participate. The purpose of the walk is to celebrate the birthday of Lord Muruga. It is believed that devotees who make a pledge during this pilgrimage journey will receive blessings from Lord Muruga and have their wishes fulfilled. Many came to seek blessings.

Upon arrival at Batu Caves at 12 midnight, we were welcomed by some fellow “walkers” to join them. This year, there are more than 250 participants from all over Malaysia. As it was not a race, there were no specific rules. I was there to experience a different event and respect the Hindu culture and I decided to have fun and enjoy myself.

Day One : The Walker walketh
We loaded our bags onto the Police Truck and only carried with us some basic belongings eg. raincoat, torch, slipper and water bottle. After a light supper and prayer, the walk was flag-off at 3.15 am. I was informed that Day One is the toughest and longest and indeed it was.
After walking 30km or so, the first blister visited me. I managed to meet Julie at the stop near Genting Sempah and got some Vaseline from her. We then continued our journey to our next stop which was another 20km at Hutan Lipur Lintang. We stopped here to refresh ourselves and had lunch. Our meals were all vegetarian throughout the entire 3 days. Being a prescatarian, I have no problem with that at all. In fact, our Hindu friends seemed happy when they observed that we followed their culture – eating with our hands.
After lunch, we continued walking on the tar roads on the highway with the blazing sun right on top of our heads. In between, we had tea, fruits and jelly aplenty. The support was good : 2 Police trucks, 2 St. John’s Ambulance, 20 Rela members, a Midnight Express Van (to entertain us with Indian songs) and a host of dedicated volunteers escorting us throughout and at various spots.
About more than 10km before reaching our final pit-stop, the heavens suddenly opened up and poured. It was a heavy downpour and so sudden that I wasn’t given time to put on my rain coat. The winds were so strong that it almost blew my rain coat away! I ran and took shelter at a nearby stop. Here, I met Amelia and several other walkers. I was drenched! We waited for the rain to subside and then, 2 other guys asked Amelia and I to walk together with them to complete the walk of the day. By now, we had already walked 71km – what is another 10km? So I thought and I was so wrong! When you are so physically spent, the last 10km were nothing but an absolute torture and a never-ending journey (for me).

As it was still drizzling, my shoes were all soaked making my legs heavy and the walk became more and more unbearable. My blisters were hurting too. However, those 2 guys kept encouraging me, “We are actually getting closer already. The temple is just round the corner.” Well, round the corner was actually 2 km away and what seemed like eternity! It was like we were never going to reach there!
My, I was exhausted beyond words but kept motivating myself to be patient…it’s just a matter of time, I will arrive there eventually. When we finally arrived at the Mahamariamman Temple at Karak, we were greeted by Julie and Pueh Tian who had both hopped onto the police truck earlier.
Instead of waiting for dinner to be served at 8pm, we decided to eat at the mamak stall nearby. We had a quick bath in the open as bathrooms and toilets were really limited. Our sleeping area was in the temple hall where all slept on the cement floor with either a mat or sleeping bag (depending on which one you bring). With more than 100 ladies, we just had to squeeze ourselves into any space we could find and therefore, Amelia, Julie and I slept separately.
I had the least problem as I can sleep anywhere, anytime and not for long, I succumbed to fatique and slept the sleep of the just.
Today, I walked 81km and the distance is nothing to be so proud of. However, I am proud because I have learned PATIENCE all over again today. As I evaluated myself today, I knew that all the time, I was in a hurry…rushing from one place to another and most times, wanting to be the first to get there. Rushing to talk to people and sometimes, never really listening to them. Many times, I got frustrated especially being caught in a traffic jam or even while waiting for the lift. Yet today – I overcame the sun, the rain, the blister and walked all the way from Batu Caves to Karak. 81km is certainly no easy feat but it was patience and perseverance that got me thus far. If I have the patience to endure such long and hard journey, why can’t I be a little more patient in my everyday life? Why can’t I be a little more patient with people and circumstances?
After the pain is gone, I hope to live never forgetting what today has taught me.

“Often we allow ourselves to be upset by small things we should despise and forget. We lose many irreplaceable hours brooding over grievances that, in a year’s time will be forgotten by us and by everybody. Instead we should devote our life to worthwhile actions and feelings, to great thoughts, real affections and enduring undertakings." - Andre Maurois

Day Two : The Seeker seeketh
Today was another much anticipated “long sunny day”. Temperatures forecasted to be even higher than yesterday.
I slept fairly well last night despite the noises around me. Anyhow, it is impossible to expect peace and quiet in a hall with 100 over ladies…ha!
My shoes are still wet from yesterday’s rain and I knew I made the biggest mistake for not bringing a spare with me.
We were treated with biscuits and hot tea for breakfast before the flag-off at 4.10 am. It was pitch dark. I switched on my torchlight and tried to stay close to a group. I decided to walk slowly and carefully and most of the morning, walking and talking with Julie. Along the way, we met the priest Samy (not his real name) and we walked some distances together with him. He became my inspiration today. Samy is 80 years old and has been walking for the last 32 years without fail! He puts many of us to shame. At his age, I’m amazed that his walking pace is very consistent. He explained to me that the road conditions those days were far worse than current. I also observed that he doesn’t eat much – only enough. Yup, over a meal I sat with him and he reminded that we don’t need to eat a lot – only enough to fill the stomach. And I agree with him.
My walk today was dreadful. My legs felt like lead, only heavier. The blazing sun was so unforgiving especially when you had to go through it for 12 hours in 36C with no breeze or shade (I did put on a cap, though). There was a long stretch of road – a desolate sector where trucks roar through the intersections and the only businesses for miles is a poor petrol station and it’s the only place we could go to ease ourselves.
With another 5km to the next temple stop, the Police caught a few of us and requested us to board the truck as we were behind time for lunch. On board the truck, I saw my friends Julie and Pueh Tian and Samy were there too. Ha! Ha!
Upon arrival at the Mahamariamamman Temple at Mentakab, I went to seek medical attention to treat my blisters which had increased from 2 to 4! I decided to give lunch a miss and rested instead.
The journey to the next temple stop was another 17-20km away. Along the road, some villagers were very kind, they offered us refreshments which they prepared from their heart. An elderly lady treated us ginger tea and some cakes which she made herself. Throughout this journey, I only saw kindness and generosity in the people whom I often discriminated and judged as unreliable. Oh God, I was so wrong!
The next pit stop was at Temerloh. My skin was terribly burnt while my fingers and feet were swollen and sore due to the stagnant blood flow. Furthermore, new blisters had developed adding it to six now, I decided to call it a day. After a short break, Samy told me that he would continue and asked me to catch up with him later. This really puts me to shame because I knew I was not going to walk any further today and I was too embarrassed to tell him that. My mind was determined while my body was protesting wildly.
Therefore, my mileage today was only 46km which is already more than a marathon distance. We set camp at Mahamariamamman Temple at Temerloh. This temple hall is extremely small and again all 100 over ladies had to cramp into whatever space we could find to sleep. Needless to say, we were all like packed sardines! Elsewhere, the guys were getting no better. In fact, their hall could not even accommodate them all. When we got news that the Organizers had decided to transfer 40 of them to a newer temple that is still under renovation, we asked if we could follow the guys. Fortunately, they obliged to our request, “Well, if you don’t mind putting up with 40 guys, you may join them.”
Without hesitation, we quickly moved and packed all our belongings and boarded onto the police truck to transfer there. It was raining again that evening but was glad that this temple is so much spacious compared to the one earlier. We found a spot and without wasting time, took our precious 40 winks!

Today I learned about GRATITUDE for I know what it really feels like to stay in a Refugee Camp. Today, I will appreciate and value the little things in life more than before. I count my blessings and remember to be grateful for whatever I am given.
Back home, I sometimes complained about dirty toilets and bathrooms, here we took our shower in the open.
Back home, once in a while I made fuss over a bed that has lost its bounce and softness, here we slept on cold and hard cement floor.
Back home, I sometimes got annoyed over stain cutlery, here we ate using our own hands.
Somewhere in this world, such are the everyday lives of the poor and the homeless and being able to experience just a small part of it has once again humbled me.
We actually spent so much on things we don't really need when they are people out there who are fighting poverty and hunger and have no idea when their next meal is coming from.
I began to see that everything has a wonder to it. The tiniest of flowers, the lowliest of creatures or perhaps, the faintest of a smile…they all have a purpose, they have a place in this world. It is up to us to discover their reason of being and be inspired by the wonder of it all.

“If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey

Final Day (to be continued)

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