Pilgrims at the Amarnath Yatra
The famed Amarnath Yatra 2017 has begun with the first group of devotees heading from Jammu. Starting today, the Yatra will continue until 7 August, and security has been beefed up quite a bit after terror threats were made. The shorter route via Baltal and the more conventional Pahalgam routes have been opened up, with thousands already in Baltal and in the town of Chandanwari near Pahalgam, ready to begin their religious journey to the historic cave shrine. ALSO READ: Amarnath Yatra: Significance of this Hindu pilgrimage Also Read - We Stand United to Defend Autonomy of J&K, Says Farooq Abdullah After All-party Meet
The Amarnath Yatra takes around five days to complete if you are doing it via the Pahalgam route, and there are plenty of state-owned and private buses and taxis that ply along the roads between Jammu and Pahalgam and Baltal. The shorter route between Baltal and Amarnath is a total distance of 16 km, though it is steeper and of a more difficult grade. The route takes you through Sangam, Barari and Domial before reaching the cave with the icy Shiva Linga inside. The route takes you along the Amarnath Valley and the Amaravati River that originates from the Amarnath Glacier. Also Read - Over 6000 Passengers Travel Out of J&K, Aviation Ministry Asks Airlines to Keep Fares in Check; Railways Waive Off Cancellation Charges
Around 2,280 pilgrims began their journey on the morning of 28 June, in a highly protected convoy of 72 vehicles with security forces throughout the route. Helicopters and even drones will be used for the first time for keep an eagle eye on the proceedings, hovering over the base camps of pilgrims. The 40-day Amarnath Yatra is the only time in the year that the legendary cave is open to access. For the rest of the year, it remains covered in snow. At a height of 3,888 meters above sea level, this is considered one of the toughest pilgrimages in the country. Also Read - Union Home Minister Amit Shah Likely to Visit J&K After August 7: Reports
The Yatra will start with rituals at the shrine, concluding on the day of Shravan Purnima, more commonly celebrated as Raksha Bandhan in the rest of India. There will be a special pooja held at the Chandanwari base camp near Pahalgam as well. From here, Amarnath is a three-day, 34 km trek.
In order to keep security tight, state police is working with the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), a part of the Central Armed Police Forces of India, and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Indian Army. Safe passage is being offered right when pilgrims enter the state of Jammu and Kashmir through Lakhanpur, all the way to Amarnath. Vehicles carrying pilgrims will not be allowed to go through the famous 2.85 km Jawahar Tunnel after 3:30 pm, so that devotees can reach Baltal base within a seven-hour time period after exiting the tunnel, sparing them the need to halt for the night along the way.
Shiva Linga at Amarnath, Photograph courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Around 212,000 devotees have made their advance registrations for the Amarnath Yatra. Bookings were open from 1 March 2017, and pilgrims secured their registrations and booked their helicopter tickets through hundreds of bank branches across India. J&K Bank, YES Bank and Punjab National Bank branches were accepting bookings at select parts of the country. Around 1,200 people were registering for the pilgrimage every day, and the longer Pahalgam route continues to be favored more than the Baltal trail. Cheaper helicopter fares have attracted plenty of devotees this year. The Pahalgam route costs INR 2,950 and the Baltal route costs INR 1,715.
Unrest in the Kashmir Valley after the killing of Burhan Wani had caused a drop in pilgrims last year, when the number of visitors to Amarnath dropped to the lowest number since 2004: 220,000. Higher than usual temperatures also caused the ice stalagmite Linga inside the cave to melt in less than two weeks. NOW READ: Amarnath Yatra: How to go there and travel options for pilgrims from Mumbai
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