Srinagar, June 25 : The 43-day-long Amarnath Yatra to the 3,880-metre-high holy cave shrine of Amarnath nestled in Himalayas is set to commence on June 30 from two routes – the traditional 48-km Nunwan route in south Kashmir’s Pahalgam and the 14-km shorter Baltal route in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal.
The Jammu and Kashmir government is expecting nearly eight lakh pilgrims to arrive this year as the Pilgrimage remained suspended for two years due to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
The annual Pilgrimage has been a part of pluralistic ethos of Kashmir for the past hundreds of years.According to folklore, the cave was discovered by a shepherd named Buta Malik, who was a Muslim, in 1850.
He had been grazing his cattle in the mountain when a Sufi saint gave him a bag of coal, which turned out to be gold later.He went back to thank the saint but found the cave and the Shiva Linga.
Another story states that it was Bhrigu Muni who discovered the Amarnath Shrine.
The length of the Amarnath cave (inward depth) is 19 meters and the width is 16 meters.
This cave is spread over an area of approximately 150 feet and is about 11 meters high.The significance of this cave was not only by the creation of natural Shivalinga but also here Lord Shiva told the story of immortality to Goddess Parvathi.
Therefore, it is believed that Lord Shiva remains in the Amarnath cave.The holy cave shrine houses a natural lingam made up of snow.
The lingam waxes and wanes with the lunar cycle and its considered as a miracle of nature and the power of Lord Shiva.The cave also has two more ice lingams, each one representing Goddess Parvati and Lord Ganesha.The Shivalinga made of ice in the cave is about 10-12 feet high and is the symbol of people’s faith and trust.
‘Muslims Part And Parcel’
Kashmiri Muslims have been a part and parcel of Amarnath Yatra for the past hundreds of years.They have been facilitating the holy Pilgrimage by ferrying pilgrims to the cave shrine on ponies, providing them with tents and other logistic support.
After the Pakistan sponsored insurgency broke out in the Himalayan region in early 1990s terrorists made many attempts to disrupt the Yatra by targeting the pilgrims but they were always given a befitting reply by the devotees, who despite facing threats and intimidations arrived in Kashmir in large numbers to pay obeisance at the holy cave.
From 1990 to 2017, Amarnath pilgrims were attacked by the Pakistan sponsored terrorists on 36 occasions.In these terror attacks as many as 53 pilgrims were killed.
Terrorists have not succeeded in keeping locals away from the pilgrimage.Kashmir Muslims have never shied away from providing their services to pilgrims to make yatrasuccessful.
Amarnath Yatra is an auspicious Pilgrimage for Hindus but it’s managed by Muslims in Kashmir.It’s the Muslims who make it possible for Hindus from across the country to reach the holy cave shrine situated in the lap of Himalayas.When the track to holy cave shrine had not been developed locals used to ferry pilgrims to the holy cave shrine in palanquins.Even today the senior citizens and others who cannot travel on ponies are carried by the locals in palanquins.
Kashmiri Muslims are strongly connected with Amarnath Yatra.The Pilgrimage is an age old example of Kashmiri’s strong composite and inclusive culture.
The strong bond of local people with the annual Pilgrimage describes the Kashmiri way of life, their ethos and culture.Positive feelings like love and affection.
Amarnath Yatra is probably the only Pilgrimage in the world which binds Hindus and Muslims so strongly.Devotees are Hindus and organisers are Muslims.The Pilgrimage reflects the core human values of the gentle and peace-loving people of Kashmir and their resolve to accept every religion and culture.
Kashmir’s culture is based on love, compassion, common identity, and submission to God regardless of caste and financial position.
Locals associated with Yatra every year wait for the Pilgrimage to commence as it provides them with a chance to earn their livelihood.
This year’s Amarnath Yatra is significant in many ways.It’s expected to be a mega event.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has chaired three high level meetings in the recent past to ensure that no security breach takes place and the pilgrims don’t face any problems.The government has decided to insure every pilgrim for Rs.5 lakh and give all of them unique Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.Earlier RFIDs were given to vehicles only.The RIFD tagging of vehicles will be done at Lakhanpur while individual tagging will be done at Jammu.
Incase of heavy rush or stoppage of Yatra due to any reason more than 32 lodgement centres having capacity of 15000 people have been set up.Nearly 20 to 22 langar facilities including 12 at Bhagwati Nagar and other at different locations of Jammu district have been put in place.Similarly, Kathua has 31 lodgementcentres having capacity of more than thousand people, Samba has 22 lodgement centres with 8000 people capacity, Udhampur has 36 lodgement centres with 9000 persons capacity and Ramban has 13 lodgementcentres having capacity of 8000 people for accommodation.
The Centre has deployed additional 15000 paramilitary men along the Pilgrimage route from Lakhanpur to holy cave shrine.
The entire route will be monitored by drones.
Elaborate arrangements have been put in place.
Tented cities have been created and Wi-Fi hotspots have been set up along the Yatra route.Eight base hospitals have been set up on the Baltal route while 20 have been put in place on the Pahalgam route.Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has also installed free-of-cost battery car service for pilgrims on the 2.75 km-long Baltal-Domel stretch.The government has also made arrangements for online, live telecasts of the morning and evening Aartiat the holy Amarnath Cave, besides organisingreligious and cultural programs at the base camp.
For the first time in pilgrims can directly fly to from Srinagar to Panchtarni, which is the last drop off point, about 6 km from the shrine.
As of now, helicopter services were available for the pilgrims from Baltal and Pahalgam to Panchtarni .Pilgrims either walk or ride a pony to the Amarnath shrine from this point.Both Baltal and Pahalgam are about 90 km from Srinagar.This year, a new route is being added – from Budgam (near the Srinagar airport) to Panchtarni.
The National Disaster Response Force and the State Disaster Response Force have undergone specialisedtraining to be a part of the Mountain Rescue Teams of J&K Police.The checkpoint functioning has been enhanced and traffic control has been given special impetus so it does not interfere with general public’s convenience.
With just a few days left for Amarnath Yatra to commence people in Jammu and Kashmir are waiting eagerly for pilgrims to arrive.Their arrival will add to the number of tourists visiting J&K as the pilgrims after performing Darshan at the holy cave usually stay back as tourists, which gives boost to the economy.
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