Pahalgam: Chants of Bam Bam Bhole’ and Har Har Mahadev’ reverberated the air at daybreak as ecstatic pilgrims began an arduous journey of faith to the Amarnath Cave Shrine housed among the mighty Himalaya peaks at an elevation of 3880 metres.
The first batch of about 2750 pilgrims left the Nunwan base camp here on the Pahalgam-Chandanwari route after being flagged off by Deputy Commissioner Anantnag, Piyush Singla, and secretary Tribal Affairs, Shahid Choudhary early in the morning.
Wearing their faith on their sleeves, the pilgrims men, including sadhus, women, old, young and children freshened by an early morning cool breeze of the famous tourist resort, assembled at the gates of the base camp after reaching here on Wednesday.
As the first light of the day broke out, their chants filled the air with fervour something which they hope to carry along the pilgrimage, to the naturally formed ice-lingam at the cave shrine, which usually takes three days on foot via this route with night halts at Sheeshnag and Panchtarni.
The pilgrims expressed happiness over the resumption of the annual pilgrimage this year after a gap of almost three years. In 2019, the Yatra was curtailed days ahead of the abrogation of Article 370. The pilgrimage did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We are so excited, it is a matter of immense happiness that the Yatra is taking place this year and we will be able to have darshan, Ravina Chowdhary, a pilgrim from Rajasthan, said.
She said it was her first time in Kashmir and their family feels the atmosphere in the valley is very good.
We came here for the first time. We never expected such a good atmosphere. We feel so happy. We pray that everything remains well, that people do not face any problems and there is no untoward incident, she said.
The joy of Avantika, a young, first-time, pilgrim from Delhi, knew no bounds as she set on the journey she had been longing to go on having heard about it from her family members.
It is like a dream come true for me. I had heard about the yatra from my relatives but being on it myself gives me so much of joy, she said.
I have come here many times. Though the journey is arduous, we are hopeful that Bhole Baba will be with us. I want the Lord to keep everyone safe and the situation to remain peaceful here, another pilgrim said.
Most of the pilgrims expressed happiness over the arrangements made by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and the J-K administration.
This is a moment of happiness. The arrangements are very good. We are satisfied and have no complaints, Kavita, a pilgrim from Delhi, said.
However, some like Vijay Kumar from Gujarat, said the arrangements, including registration-related, at the base camp were not up to the mark.
The vehicle-bound pilgrims then proceeded towards Chandanwari, from where the journey on foot or ponies or ‘palkis’ begins.
At Chandanwari, the pilgrims were let through the access control gates after verifying their credentials.
Locals of the area also made it to Chandanwari early in the morning and provide gear like trekking poles made of wood, caps, gloves, raincoats etc.
Many locals have also set up stalls inside the Nunwan base camp, selling a wide variety of merchandise for the pilgrims.
Elaborate security arrangements were put in place for the smooth conduct of the Yatra. Security forces conducted another round of sanitisation along the route in the wee hours of the day shortly before the commencement of the pilgrimage.
New bunkers, within short distances, have come up along the route, while as security forces personnel have been deployed in strength to avoid any untoward incident.
Security agencies have apprehended a higher threat perception to the Yatra this year, even as security personnel have been deployed three to four times more in strength for the pilgrimage this year.
To ensure only bona fide pilgrims are present at the pilgrimage, the SASB has asked all intending pilgrims to carry Aadhaar cards or any other biometric verified document with them.
Apart from the deployment, drone surveillance and RFID chips are also a part of the three-tier security arrangements for pilgrims.
The peaks leading to the holy cave have been covered by the security forces and a round-the-clock vigil is being maintained.
The pilgrimage is being monitored with the help of CCTV cameras and drones on both routes.