SRINAGAR: The annual pilgrimage to Amarnath officially began on Monday with 8,403 devotees paying obeisance at the cave-shine on the first day of the yatra.
The first batch of 6,884 pilgrims had earlier left for the revered place of worship from Baltal base camp and 1,241 from Pahalgam base camp, undertaking the arduous journey through rugged mountains.
Every year, the cave-shrine tucked away in the Kashmir Himalayas at a height of 12,729 feet draws devotees for the darshan of fully formed natural Shivling or ice-lingam of Lord Shiva inside the revered place of Hindu worship.
The first convoy of 93 vehicles carrying the pilgrims had reached Baltal and Pahalgam from Jammu’s Bhagwati Nagar base-camp on Sunday evening. Already, thousands of pilgrims were camping at Baltal and Nunwan, Chandanwari and others places in Pahalgam area to embark on the “journey of faith and devotion”.
Officials said that the second batch of 4,417 pilgrims left the winter capital for Baltal and Pahalgam on Monday morning. Over 150,000 pilgrims from across the country have so far registered themselves for this year’s yatra.
The Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) is expecting three to five lakh pilgrims during the 46-day-long yatra to be concluded on August 15, coinciding with Shravan Purnima (Raksha Bandhan). Tight security arrangements have been made for the yatra. The officials said that apart from the deployments, a robust security cover has been put in place which includes satellite and chip-based tracking of vehicles and pilgrims along the yatra route, base-camps and halting stations to ensure a smooth and incident-free pilgrimage. Also drones, mobile bunker vehicles and road opening parties (ROPs) have been pressed into service for the purpose. The authorities said that the tight security arrangement has been necessitated by the prevailing law and order situation in Kashmir and past attacks carried out allegedly by militants against the pilgrims or the security forces.
But prominent separatist leaders Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani termed it a “false alarm”. They reiterated on Monday that the Amarnath pilgrims were “most welcome” in Kashmir....