Amarnath Yatra Begins; 2,750 Pilgrims Leave For Cave Shrine

KO Photo By Abid Bhat

Nunwan (J-K)- The annual Amarnath Yatra began on Thursday as a batch of about 2,750 pilgrims left the base camp here for the cave shrine housing the naturally formed ice-lingam in the south Kashmir Himalayas.

The pilgrimage was flagged off by Deputy Commissioner Piyush Singla at the Nunwan base camp in the Anantnag district’s Pahalgam.

The journey — most of it on foot — takes about three days with night halts at Sheeshnag and Panchtarni along the route.

All arrangements have been made to ensure smooth conduct of the 43-day pilgrimage, Singla said, adding, “The endeavour is to make sure that the pilgrims feel secure and visit the shrine peacefully.”

Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Wednesday flagged off the first batch of 4,890 pilgrims from the Jammu base camp.

Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has also made a provision for online ‘darshan’ of the naturally formed ice lingam, officials said.

They said this year, the pilgrimage is expected to see higher-than-usual attendance as it is being held after a gap of three years.

In 2019, the Yatra was cancelled midway ahead of the Centre abrogating Article 370 provisions of the Constitution. The pilgrimage did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A senior army officer recently said the threat perception to the pilgrimage was more this year.

A large number of security personnel have been deployed for the pilgrimage. Security along the Baltal and Pahalgam routes has been beefed up. New security pickets have been set up to ensure that subversive elements do not succeed in disrupting the pilgrimage, officials said.

Besides, drone surveillance and RFID chips are also a part of the three-tier security arrangements for pilgrims.

To ensure only bona fide people attend the yatra, the SASB has asked all intending pilgrims to carry Aadhaar cards or any other biometric verified document with them.

Security personnel have been posted on the peaks leading to the holy cave shrine, the officials said, adding round-the-clock vigil is being maintained along the routes.

The pilgrimage will culminate on August 11, coinciding with Raksha Bandhan.

Ecstatic pilgrims begin journey to Amarnath cave shrine

Chants of Bam Bam Bhole’ and Har Har Mahadev’ reverberated the air at daybreak as ecstatic pilgrims began an arduous journey of faith to the Amarnath Cave Shrine housed among the mighty Himalaya peaks at an elevation of 3880 metres.

The first batch of about 2750 pilgrims left the Nunwan base camp here on the Pahalgam-Chandanwari route after being flagged off by Deputy Commissioner Anantnag, Piyush Singla, and secretary Tribal Affairs, Shahid Choudhary early in the morning.

Wearing their faith on their sleeves, the pilgrims men, including sadhus, women, old, young and children freshened by an early morning cool breeze of the famous tourist resort, assembled at the gates of the base camp after reaching here on Wednesday.

As the first light of the day broke out, their chants filled the air with fervour something which they hope to carry along the pilgrimage, to the naturally formed ice-lingam at the cave shrine, which usually takes three days on foot via this route with night halts at Sheeshnag and Panchtarni.

The pilgrims expressed happiness over the resumption of the annual pilgrimage this year after a gap of almost three years. In 2019, the Yatra was curtailed days ahead of the abrogation of Article 370. The pilgrimage did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are so excited, it is a matter of immense happiness that the Yatra is taking place this year and we will be able to have darshan, Ravina Chowdhary, a pilgrim from Rajasthan, said.

She said it was her first time in Kashmir and their family feels the atmosphere in the valley is very good.

We came here for the first time. We never expected such a good atmosphere. We feel so happy. We pray that everything remains well, that people do not face any problems and there is no untoward incident, she said.

The joy of Avantika, a young, first-time, pilgrim from Delhi, knew no bounds as she set on the journey she had been longing to go on having heard about it from her family members.

It is like a dream come true for me. I had heard about the yatra from my relatives but being on it myself gives me so much of joy, she said.

I have come here many times. Though the journey is arduous, we are hopeful that Bhole Baba will be with us. I want the Lord to keep everyone safe and the situation to remain peaceful here, another pilgrim said.

Most of the pilgrims expressed happiness over the arrangements made by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and the J-K administration.

This is a moment of happiness. The arrangements are very good. We are satisfied and have no complaints, Kavita, a pilgrim from Delhi, said.

However, some like Vijay Kumar from Gujarat, said the arrangements, including registration-related, at the base camp were not up to the mark.

The vehicle-bound pilgrims then proceeded towards Chandanwari, from where the journey on foot or ponies or ‘palkis’ begins.

At Chandanwari, the pilgrims were let through the access control gates after verifying their credentials.

Locals of the area also made it to Chandanwari early in the morning and provide gear like trekking poles made of wood, caps, gloves, raincoats etc.

Many locals have also set up stalls inside the Nunwan base camp, selling a wide variety of merchandise for the pilgrims.

Elaborate security arrangements were put in place for the smooth conduct of the Yatra. Security forces conducted another round of sanitisation along the route in the wee hours of the day shortly before the commencement of the pilgrimage.

New bunkers, within short distances, have come up along the route, while as security forces personnel have been deployed in strength to avoid any untoward incident.

Security agencies have apprehended a higher threat perception to the Yatra this year, even as security personnel have been deployed three to four times more in strength for the pilgrimage this year.

To ensure only bona fide pilgrims are present at the pilgrimage, the SASB has asked all intending pilgrims to carry Aadhaar cards or any other biometric verified document with them.

Apart from the deployment, drone surveillance and RFID chips are also a part of the three-tier security arrangements for pilgrims.

The peaks leading to the holy cave have been covered by the security forces and a round-the-clock vigil is being maintained.

The pilgrimage is being monitored with the help of CCTV cameras and drones on both routes.

Amid tight security, 2nd batch of 5,700 pilgrims leave for Amarnath from Jammu

Second batch of 5,700 pilgrims left from here in a secured convoy to perform pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Amarnath in south of Himalayas amid tight security arrangements.

Chanting ‘Bam Bam Bhole’, the pilgrims left the Bhagwati Nagar base camp in a cavalcade of 230 vehicles early Thursday morning.

The 43-day pilgrimage to the cave shrine will conclude on August 11 on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan.

With the 2nd batch, the total number of pilgrims, who have left for the Amarnath cave shrine from Jammu goes up to 10,700, officials said.

Over 5,000 to 6,000 fresh pilgrims have arrived in Jammu from various places across the country for their onward journey to Amarnath, they said.

After on-the spot registeration at three counters and supply of tokens at two counters, they have been lodged in 32 lodging centres and basecamps here, they said.

The annual Amarnath Yatra is being organised after a gap of two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shrine is situated 3,888 metres above the sea level in Himalayas in Kashmir. It houses an ice stalagmite structure called the Lingam’ that wanes and waxes with the phases of the moon. Devotees believe the Lingam’ symbolises mythical powers of Lord Shiva.

The Yatra commenced on Thursday from the traditional 48-km Nunwan route in south Kashmir’s Pahalgam and the 14-km Baltal route in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal.

Over 3.42 lakh pilgrims had paid obeisance at the shrine from July 1 to August 1, 2019, before the government cancelled the pilgrimage midway ahead of the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories.

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