Trek to Himalayan shrine turns into a multicultural affair



‘The trek through the narrow paths and icy winds takes over 12 hours,” warned Akram, the guide to the Amarnath Cave, 3,888 metres high in the mountains. The cold wind smashed into our faces like a sheet of ice. We sat in a teashop in a village nestling at the foot of the Himalayan mountains. “That’s fine. We are determined to visit the cave,” I told him. He was taken aback with our passion. That settled it.

I was on an official visit to Srinagar during 1984. My friends advised me to visit the Amarnath Cave. This sacred cave has been a place of worship for time immemorial. In the Hindu scriptures, there are references to King Aryaraja who worshipped a “lingam” formed of ice in Kashmir.

But winter had started and all the trips were suspended due to the perilous travelling conditions in the snow. The trip normally took five days and I could spare just two days. My enquiries revealed another route via Sonamarg village, by which we could complete the trip in a day. We would commence our journey from Baltal and pass through Domial, Barari and Sangam to Amarnath. Though shorter, this route was nevertheless 16-km long and the gradient was steep. Therefore, to climb and descend the massive mountains in a day was indeed a gruelling mission.

We resumed our journey from Srinagar to Sonamarg by car. There, we met Akram and Salim, our guides who provided us with ponies.

Next day, we began our climb at 4am. But within a few kilometres, a group of soldiers stopped us. Sardar Milan Singh counselled us: “This is a dangerous route. There is no human habitation on the route.” Seeing our determination to complete the pilgrimage, he let us proceed with some caution.

The trek was tough, through one barren hill after another. There was pin-drop silence in the mountains. The only sound was that of the hoofs of the ponies clicking on small white stones on the mountainous path.

We rode the two horses while Akram and Salim walked behind. The path frequently narrowed sharply. Then, only one horse could walk on the path and the other would follow in single file. Later, the path widened. We would often see the river Amaravathy, a tributary of the Chenab River. Some water flowed only in the centre of the frozen river.

The all-pervading silence was an eerie experience. Mountains, glistening rivers, trees, grass meadows and low floating fluffy white clouds, surrounded us.

We passed the river again, this time by crossing a wooden bridge. Then we took a short recess. As we neared the cave, Akram told us, “Jenab (Sir), from here onwards you will have to walk to the cave. We will wait here.”

We started walking and saw a pigeon fly out of the cave towards the hills. The sighting of the pigeon gladdened us. Throughout the journey, we had not seen any human being, bird or animal. We climbed the last slope and entered the cave. There was no priest in the cave. Traditionally, no one stays in the cave after the conclusion of the pilgrimage season in August.

We walked around in the cave, which was 45-metre long and 30-metres wide. The cave was part of a large rock, and hence the roof was uneven. Exquisite necklaces of icicles hung from the roof of the cave. Normally, the “Shivlingam” forms in the centre of the cave. There was no “Shivlingam” ice formation, on the day. We felt fulfilled, though. We stayed in the cave for about 30 minutes, savouring the solace.

Then we returned to the waiting horses. This time we had to descend all the slopes we had climbed on the way to the cave. We were perpetually balancing ourselves on the horses, as they nimbly walked down the slippery paths. The return trek was very slow.

It started to snow. We felt as if soft feathers were raining down on us. The snowflakes covered the path, turning it into a white sheet.

Then, we came to the narrowest part of the path. Suddenly, the horses stopped and refused to move. Akram told us that the path ahead was sludgy. We would have to walk. We were told to dismount facing the mountain wall, not the deep valley.

As the sky turned dark, we rode back into the army camp. Sardar Milan Singh greeted us with open arms. He was ecstatic that we had accomplished our mission. Later, we reached Akram and Salim’s village.

Over the years whenever I reminisce my pilgrimage to the Amarnath Cave, I marvel that I was able to complete it in a day at 63 years of age. There was determination and will. But Sardar Milan Singh, Akram and Salim steered the pilgrimage.

When I see relations affected by religion and caste in India, I am pained. For I recall that a Sikh soldier Milan Singh counselled me, and Muslim guides Akram and Salim led me to a Hindu shrine, 3,888 metres high in the snowy Himalayas.

Hari Chand Aneja is a 92-year-old former corporate executive who now keeps busy with charity work

Jeff Buckley: From Hallelujah To The Last Goodbye
By Dave Lory with Jim Irvin

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

'Worse than a prison sentence'

Marie Byrne, a counsellor who volunteers at the UAE government's mental health crisis helpline, said the ordeal the crew had been through would take time to overcome.

“It was worse than a prison sentence, where at least someone can deal with a set amount of time incarcerated," she said.

“They were living in perpetual mystery as to how their futures would pan out, and what that would be.

“Because of coronavirus, the world is very different now to the one they left, that will also have an impact.

“It will not fully register until they are on dry land. Some have not seen their young children grow up while others will have to rebuild relationships.

“It will be a challenge mentally, and to find other work to support their families as they have been out of circulation for so long. Hopefully they will get the care they need when they get home.”

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FIXTURES

All times UAE (+4 GMT)

Saturday
Fiorentina v Torino (8pm)
Hellas Verona v Roma (10.45pm)

Sunday
Parma v Napoli (2.30pm)
Genoa v Crotone (5pm)
Sassuolo v Cagliari (8pm)
Juventus v Sampdoria (10.45pm)

Monday
AC Milan v Bologna (10.45om)

Playing September 30

Benevento v Inter Milan (8pm)
Udinese v Spezia (8pm)
Lazio v Atalanta (10.45pm)

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

Company Profile

Company name: Namara
Started: June 2022
Founder: Mohammed Alnamara
Based: Dubai
Sector: Microfinance
Current number of staff: 16
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Family offices

Non-oil trade

Non-oil trade between the UAE and Japan grew by 34 per cent over the past two years, according to data from the Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Centre. 

In 10 years, it has reached a total of Dh524.4 billion. 

Cars topped the list of the top five commodities re-exported to Japan in 2022, with a value of Dh1.3 billion. 

Jewellery and ornaments amounted to Dh150 million while precious metal scraps amounted to Dh105 million. 

Raw aluminium was ranked first among the top five commodities exported to Japan. 

Top of the list of commodities imported from Japan in 2022 was cars, with a value of Dh20.08 billion.

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

KEY DATES IN AMAZON'S HISTORY

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos founds Cadabra Inc, which would later be renamed to Amazon.com, because his lawyer misheard the name as 'cadaver'. In its earliest days, the bookstore operated out of a rented garage in Bellevue, Washington

July 16, 1995: Amazon formally opens as an online bookseller. Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought becomes the first item sold on Amazon

1997: Amazon goes public at $18 a share, which has grown about 1,000 per cent at present. Its highest closing price was $197.85 on June 27, 2024

1998: Amazon acquires IMDb, its first major acquisition. It also starts selling CDs and DVDs

2000: Amazon Marketplace opens, allowing people to sell items on the website

2002: Amazon forms what would become Amazon Web Services, opening the Amazon.com platform to all developers. The cloud unit would follow in 2006

2003: Amazon turns in an annual profit of $75 million, the first time it ended a year in the black

2005: Amazon Prime is introduced, its first-ever subscription service that offered US customers free two-day shipping for $79 a year

2006: Amazon Unbox is unveiled, the company's video service that would later morph into Amazon Instant Video and, ultimately, Amazon Video

2007: Amazon's first hardware product, the Kindle e-reader, is introduced; the Fire TV and Fire Phone would come in 2014. Grocery service Amazon Fresh is also started

2009: Amazon introduces Amazon Basics, its in-house label for a variety of products

2010: The foundations for Amazon Studios were laid. Its first original streaming content debuted in 2013

2011: The Amazon Appstore for Google's Android is launched. It is still unavailable on Apple's iOS

2014: The Amazon Echo is launched, a speaker that acts as a personal digital assistant powered by Alexa

2017: Amazon acquires Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, its biggest acquisition

2018: Amazon's market cap briefly crosses the $1 trillion mark, making it, at the time, only the third company to achieve that milestone

All The Light We Cannot See

Creator: Steven Knight

Stars: Mark Ruffalo, Hugh Laurie, Aria Mia Loberti

Rating: 1/5 

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Console: PlayStation 2 to 5
Rating: 5/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

How to wear a kandura

Dos

  • Wear the right fabric for the right season and occasion 
  • Always ask for the dress code if you don’t know
  • Wear a white kandura, white ghutra / shemagh (headwear) and black shoes for work 
  • Wear 100 per cent cotton under the kandura as most fabrics are polyester

Don’ts 

  • Wear hamdania for work, always wear a ghutra and agal 
  • Buy a kandura only based on how it feels; ask questions about the fabric and understand what you are buying
ALRAWABI SCHOOL FOR GIRLS

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Starring: Tara Abboud, Kira Yaghnam, Tara Atalla

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COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Almouneer
Started: 2017
Founders: Dr Noha Khater and Rania Kadry
Based: Egypt
Number of staff: 120
Investment: Bootstrapped, with support from Insead and Egyptian government, seed round of
$3.6 million led by Global Ventures

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Price: From Dh4,599

The Intruder

Director: Deon Taylor

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Michael Ealy, Meagan Good

One star

Company profile

Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $2.45 million
Current number of staff: 86
Investment stage: Pre-series B
Investors: Investcorp, Liberty City Ventures, Fatima Gobi Ventures, Primal Capital, Wealthwell Ventures, FHS Capital, VN2 Capital, local family offices