Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Amarnath yatra begins

Around 5,000 paramilitary CRPF have been positioned for security of the pilgrims along the old Pahalgam way and the shorter Baltal way, according to the officials. Security personnel have also been positioned all along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and between Khanabal and Pahalgam in Anantnag district and Srinagar and Baltal in Ganderbal district. The first batch of almost 2,000 pilgrims from Jammu will be travelling to the holy cave shrine from Pahalgam and Baltal from tomorrow. The yatra will concludes on August 13 2011 coinciding with Raksha Bandhan festival.

The temple is a popular yatra destination for Hindus – about 400,000 people visit during the 45-day season around the festival of Shravani Mela in July–August, coinciding with the Hindu holy month of Shraavana. The beginning of the annual pilgrimage, called Amarnath Yatra, to the Himalayan cave shrine is marked by ‘pratham pujan’ to invoke the blessings of Shri Amarnathji. Devotees generally take the 42 km (26 mi) pilgrimage on foot from the town of Pahalgam, about 96 km (60 mi) from Srinagar, and cover the journey in four to five days. There are two alternate routes to the temple: the longer and more traditional path from Srinagar, and the shorter route from the town of Baltal. Some devotees, particularly the elderly, also ride on horse-back to make the journey. Those who so wish and have the money can now make the journey by helicopter.

Along the winding road from Srinagar to Baltal, locals have established tea stalls, dhabas and fruit shops for the pilgrims.

Hundreds of pony owners at Baltal are eagerly looking forward to the pilgrimage.

"I have kept my pair of ponies in good shape," said Bashir Khatana, 37, at the Baltal base camp.

Last year, nearly half-a-million pilgrims visited the shrine despite the summer unrest in the Kashmir Valley. The unrest left 110 people dead in clashes between mobs and security forces.

Locals are credited with the success of the Amarnath pilgrimage.

"It is not because of any security that the yatra without a hiccup. It is because of the cooperation and assistance of the locals that the yatris feel secure and comfortable," said Bashir Ahmad, a retired veterinarian in north Kashmir's Ganderbal district.

The cave shrine is located at a height of 13,500 feet above sea level.

A natural stalagmite of ice, called with reverence the Shivling, forms here. Its first darshan will take place Wednesday.

The pilgrimage is to last until Aug 13, when Hindus celebrate Raksha Bandhan.

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