Srinagar: Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Jammu and Kashmir Governor N N Vohra on Saturday joined a group of devotees to offer prayers at the cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas, marking the beginning of the annual pilgrimage.
The Governor, who is also Chairman of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) which manages the 48-day-long pilgrimage, participated in 'Pratham Puja' and paid obeisance at the 3,880-metre high cave shrine housing the naturally-formed ice-shivlingam, officials said.
The Home Minister was among the first devotees to pay obeisance at the shrine. Singh had visited the Amarnath shrine on the first day of the pilgrimage last year as well.
Singh arrived on Friday and reviewed the security situation at a high-level meeting in view of the recent spurt in militant attacks in the Valley. The security for the pilgrimage, which is being held in the shadow of recent terror attacks in the state, was also discussed in detail at the meeting.
Amid a multi-tier security ring, comprising police, CRPF, BSF and Army, the yatra commenced from the twin routes, 42-km traditional Pahalgam route in Anantnag district in south Kashmir and shorter 12-km Baltal route in Ganderbal district of central Kashmir as per schedule this morning. The Baltal route is preferred by pilgrims who want to complete the yatra in a day's time.
As many as 12,576 pilgrims left the base camps at Nunwan along Pahalgam route and Baltal in the wee hours on Saturday chanting religious slogans and by noon, 2,430 pilgrims offered their prayers to the Shivlingam at the cave shrine, the officials said.
They said while 7,486 pilgrims, including 1,130 women, 71 children and 18 sadhus, left Baltal before dawn, the first batch comprising 5,090 pilgrims including dozens of sadhus left Nunwan to offer their prayers at the cave shrine.
The authorities have made unprecedented security arrangements to foil any bid to sabotage the yatra and to ensure peaceful pilgrimage, the officials said.
They said special rescue teams have also been deployed at vulnerable spots along the tracks to meet any eventuality. Meanwhile, a 53-year-old pilgrim from Delhi was found dead inside a camp at Dumail in Baltal area this morning.
The pilgrim, Vinod Kumar, had reached the Baltal base camp on Friday to join the first batch of pilgrims to offer prayers at the cave shrine but had apparently suffered heart attack and died, the officials said.
The yatra is scheduled to end on August 18, coinciding with 'Shravan Purnima' and 'Raksha Bandhan' festivals.