Had to leave for Lourdes early in the morning, so didn't sleep the whole night. Later, in a li'l more than slightly sleepy state, took the train which was supposed to cover the distance from Bordeaux to Lourdes in 2 hrs and 45 minutes. As soon as I settled down, sleep overtook me and there I was lost in my dreams while at the same time, taing care of my bag. Suddenly at one point in time my eyes open, and what lay in front of me was one of the most amazing scenes I have ever scene.
The skies were overcast with clouds.. dark ones above and what looked like slightly lighter ones below and the sunlight peeking out from somewhere in between. I blinked my eyes as I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was almost like a layer of snow floating in the air with clouds above. The sunlight looked like some kind of a light coming from beneath the snow. The first word that came to my mind when I saw that was.. "Heaven". Well then added to the existing beauty were mountains and lush greenery. Well the initial scenery changed but it was still beautiful.
Approaching Lourdes,I could see a river/stream running parallel to (but at some distance) the train line. Amazingly clear water. At some points you could make out whats beneath the surface of the water even from the train.Finally at the station, I go out and see this huge board of 'Office de tourisme' which had a touch based information system. while just looking at it, a sweet old lady came along and asked me "Do you want to go to the Grotto?", I smiled and said "yes". Then that sweet ol' french lady gave me two alternate directions to reach the grotto. So sweet of her considering she was struggling a bit with english.
Thus started my walk towards the Grotto. The one thing that I notice in Lourdes was that it was perhaps the only french city that I had seen till now which had sign posts at every crossing and gave extremely clear directions. Thus leaving no scope for you to get lost without a map. To add to the whole experience of walking to a pilgrimage site was the fact that it had got cold and I was not as equipped for it as I would have liked to be and on top of that it was raining continuously (I had no umbrella).
Finally reached the Grotto. in this, there are three separate chapels in the same building. The top floor is the chapel of mother Mary. Once you get inside, a distinct feeling of peace and calm just sweeps over you, encompassing you in a wrap of warmth and such emotion which I'm unable to describe in words. I have felt a similar feeling eve in Notre Dame and Sacre Couer in Paris and various temples and other religious places in India but the strength and intensity was different here.
Visited all the three chapels and sat for a long time on the top floor.. there I just lost track of time. This Grotto is supposed to be a place where many sick and old people of all religions, castes and races come. Although mainly a catholic place, it is equally good for anyone. I later realised that I spent almost 3 hours just in the three chapels and not seeing the paintings, etc but just being there.
After this went to 'la grotto'.. which is basically a cave like structure where Mary was supposed to have made an appearance. The walls of the cave are always wet. water just seeps in.. from where I couldn't figure out. And lit a long candle. There are candles of different thicknesses available to light for your prayer. Each of these candles are generally 6-8 feet long. And yes I also got some holy water which is supposed to have healing powers, just like Ganga.
Well my visit, although am not a Christian, I touched the holy water at the church and prayed. I kneeled. I dunno the traditions or the prayers.. but I talked with God (thats my way of praying). I thanked God for what I have and prayed for everyone, my family and friends. And yes I also asked for a wish. This place is supposed to be one where people say that any wish that you ask for is granted.. your wish always comes true. One of my friends, who didn't believe in all this when came here wished for something.. and against all odds, it did come true. Lets see if my wish comes true or not.
But irrespective, the place and the visit has had such an effect that I'm sitting here writing this blog. Even though I have just returned from Lourdes, tired, cold, extremely sleepy with eyes hurting and hands frozen.
So this is for God.. I don't know the form, gender, religion of God and I don't believe in either of these concepts. God is just a concept to me. But I believe in its presence (using 'it' to avoid any gender or form). And hope my wish comes true.. Amen!