Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh: It's 9:30 in the morning and almost 50 men have queued up at the first checkpoint for pilgrims visiting the make-shift temple at Janmsthan or the birth place of Hindu deity Ram.
A few yards away, women are waiting for their turn to be frisked before they are allowed to cross the perimeter security.
"Mobile phones, accessories, cameras, medicines, food items, liquid of any kind, belts, wallet, pen, hearing-aid instruments, car key remotes are not allowed beyond this point," reads a signboard at the checkpoint. On the left is an x-ray screening machine and a locker room for visitors.
Welcome to Ground Zero of Ayodhya where a dispute between Hindus and Muslims over a piece of land has resulted in violent riots across the country.
Beyond the security checkpoints is the spot where the Mughal-era 16th century Babri Masjid stood till December 1992 when it was demolished by a mob of Hindu extremists.
Today, a make-shift temple stands at the spot and worshipers are allowed to have a peek at the deities under heavy security.
Two days after the Supreme Court ordered the disputed 2.77 acre land to be handed over to Hindus and asked the government to allot five acres of land to Muslims, Gulf News visited the flash-point site on Monday to get a first hand account of what it takes to do the "Darshan" of the deities.
"If this is an expensive pen then please keep it in the locker... if I allow it the pen will be seized at D2 gate," police officer Sanjeev Kumar tells a visitor at the perimeter checkpoint. Here, entire focus is on frisking, IDs are not demanded and names are not asked.
The visitors reach the perimetre checkpoint of Janmsthan after crossing several police barricades, each one manned by at least two dozen armed policemen.
Soon after Babri mosque was demolished, the disputed site of 2.77 acres and the adjoining land of 67.7 acres was acquired under a new law — Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act 1993.
This land has now a perimetre fence, a 12-foot-high iron grill with barbed wire running across the acquired land which has uneven topography, thick vegetation and a large population of monkeys.
The entire site is protected by 1,000 Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) "jawans", 70 sub-inspectors and 200 constables.
The "Red Zone", the area surrounding the make-shift temple is guarded by three companies of Central Reserve Police commandos.
Each company has 100 men and women, always on alert in riot gear and armed with automatic assault rifles. The heavy security blanket makes Janmsthan arguably be one of the most protected religious site in the world.
On regular days, around 5,000 people visit the make-shift temple.
This number swells to tens of thousands during festivals.
Frisking, frisking and more frisking
Under the watchful eyes of these men and women, worshipers are guided through a 12-feet-high metal zigzag pathway, barely three feet wide.
Once you are cleared to cross the perimeter checkpoint, the visitors begin a long walk to enter the site. Inside, a second round of frisking takes place inside separate booths for men and women before they continue walking.
The pathway, covered with a sturdy iron mesh from three sides, passes by wells, tall trees, grass mounds and paved ground.
Security is tight and repeated frisking can be intrusive, but visitors don't seem to mind. Umesh Pandey is a government employee and visiting the site with his wife. "I have been coming here for the last nine years," says Pandey. "Security is good for us," says his wife, dressed in a pink sari.
Who gets the land
When the land was acquired, the Ayodhya Act of 1993 made specific provisions for the land usage after the dispute is settled.
"Under the Act, the 67.7 acres of land was acquired and it was clearly mentioned that the winning party will get 2.77 acres on which the mosque stood and the party that loses will get the same size of land from within the 67.7 acres," says Arshad Ahmed Khan, a journalist who has been covering the dispute for decades.
"Muslims are unlikely to accept any allotment that is outside the acquired land," says Khan, hinting that the land allotment may become a contentious issue.
Unending zigzag pathway
Pandey and his wife are familiar with the security protocol and the topography. They stop at another frisking point, manned by more policemen than the previous one. Beeps of the metal detectors are the only audible sound as visitors silently pass through the booth.
After being frisked at the two previous checkpoints, a chew-able tablet is found in my pocket. The policemen looks at me and I promptly swallowed the tablet saying it was for my sour throat.
The walking continues. At the next checkpoint a hundred or so yards away, another object was found in my pocket -- a packet of Extra chewing gums.
The policeman angrily complains to his superior. "See this, Sir, and these guys have been frisked earlier," he says, signalling me keep walking.
The make-shift temple
After the final round of frisking, visitors walk again to reach the make-shift temple, a white tent on top of a mound surrounded by heavily armed commandos.
"Look right to see Ramlala," reads a sign in red. "Keep walking and look right," instructs a police officer. Visitors get barely a few seconds to look at Ram Lala or the child avatar of deity Ram whose statue and of his three brothers -- Lakshman, Bharat and Shatrughan -- are kept on a platform under the tent.
"Next to the platform is a statue of Hanuman," points out a young priest before handing over prasad to the visitors. After the Darshan is over, the visitors no longer have to worry about heavy security. On their way out, they face demanding monkeys trying to snatch the prasad from their hands.
The makeshift temple on the mound is located at the very spot where Babri Masjid stood and 27 years after the demolition, there is no sign of the mosque or debris or stones.
In the coming months, when the site is turned into a grand temple and an alternate land is allotted to Muslims, the memory of the mosque may also fade away as the nation moves forward, leaving this 134 -year-old bitter dispute behind.