The first group of pilgrims left for the Amarnath Yatra in Jammu and Kashmir in the early hours of Wednesday, under heavy security cover.
Intelligence reports have warned about the threat of militants disrupting the Yatra, which has prompted the security agencies to put in place more stringent measures than ever before this year.
This has, however, done little to deter the enthusiasm of the devotees; more than two lakh pilgrims have registered for the annual pilgrimage to reach the 3,880 metre high cave shrine.
Amarnath Yatra Begins
Amarnath, a 3,880-metre high cave shrine, is a pilgrimage site in south Kashmir, where the Hindu deity Shiva appears in the form of an Ice Lingam. Every year, thousands of devotees trek through the daunting mountains to the Shri Amarnath Shrine.
The first batch of pilgrims left the base camp in Jammu’s Bhagwati Nagar at 4.40 am on Wednesday, with 971 travellers set out to go via the Baltal route. The second batch left at 5.40 am with 1,904 travellers, to go via the Pahalgam route.
All About The Amarnath Yatra
As the annual pilgrimage starts its journey, let’s look at what is so special about Amarnath.
The Amarnath Cave Temple, situated in a gorge of the Lidder valley, belongs to the Hindu deity, Shiva, whose abstract representation is the lingam. A stalagmite formed inside the cave from falling water droplets takes the shape of a lingam every year, which Hindus consider to be a representation of Shiva.
According to folklore, Shiva and his divine consort, Parvati, had retired to the cave where Shiva would then tell Parvati the secret behind life and immortality. It is for this reason that the Cave is considered so sacred in Hindu beliefs.
According to popular narrative, the Holy Cave was discovered by a shepherd named Buta Malik.
The Amarnath Cave is covered in snow for most of the year. However, in the late summer months of June, July, and August, the ice melts enough for pilgrims to reach the Cave and pray to their God.
Every year, hundreds and thousands of Hindus trek the mountainous terrain to reach the Amarnath shrine. This voyage is usually organized by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, though there are many other vendors providing smaller services during the voyage.
There are two routes for the Amarnath Yatra, the Pahalgam route and the Baltal route. The route through Pahalgam is the longer one at 46 km, and goes through Chandanwari, Pissu Top, Sheshnag and Panchtarni.
The 14-km Baltal route goes through Domail and Barari. Helicopters are also available for hire to take pilgrims to the cave. Both Pahalgam and Baltal can be approached by road via Srinagar.
Security Blanket For Amarnath Yatra
This year there have been threats of militant attacks on the people who are taking up the journey. It is not uncharacteristic of the Yatra being threatened; having happened several times in 1990s, including the massacre of 2000 where Kashmiri separatists shot and killed unarmed civilians.
In response, the security has been tightened all over to allow for a safe journey. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat had recently reviewed the security arrangements at the Baltal Base Camp.
Moreover, cars have electromagnetic plates, and convoys made up of bulletproof cars and bikes will accompany the batches of pilgrims who leave from these base camps.
Though there are heavy security arrangements made, a Whatsapp audio clip has been unofficially circulated all over Srinagar. The speaker of the audio is allegedly Riyaz Naikoo, the commander of the militant group Hizbul-Mujahideen, who are Kashmiri Separatists.
According to this clip, the Hizbul-Mujahideen do not want to attack the pilgrims, who are guests in Kashmir. Their fight is with the Indian state and not its people.