The end-June to August, popular annual Hindu pilgrimage, undertaken by up to 600,000 or more pilgrims to 130 feet high glacial Amarnath cave shrine of iced stalagmite Shiv linga at 12,756 feet in Himalayas, is called Amarnath Yatra. It begins with a 43 kilometres mountainous trek from the Nunwan and Chandanwari base camps at Pahalgam and reaches cave-shrine after night halts at Sheshnag Lake and Panchtarni camps. Shri Amarnath Yatra is organised in the month of Shravan and commences from Pahalgam & Baltal on specified dates. The dates are notified through press advertisements. As per rules no Yatri is allowed to proceed on the journey without a Registration Card/ Permit. Registration of pilgrims are undertaken usually a month ahead of the date fixed for commencement of Yatra. These days Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) conducts and coordinates all the pilgrimage related activities.
The yatra is both a way of earning revenue by the state government by imposing tax on pilgrims and making a living by the local Shia Muslim Bakarwal-Gujjars by taking a portion of revenue and by offering their services to the Hindu pilgrims. Conducting the yatra is a gigantic task, for which the Jammu & Kashmir State Government takes the assistance of the security departments for providing security and helping to keep the route open.
Amarnathji is considered to be one of the major Hindu Dhams. The holy cave is the abode of Lord Shiva. The guardian of the absolute, Lord Shiva, the destroyer, is enshrined in the form of an ice-lingam in this cave. The beginning of the annual pilgrimage, called Amarnath Yatra is marked by ‘pratham pujan’ to invoke the blessings of Shri Amarnathji. Devotees travel on foot, either from Srinagar or from Pahalgam.
Considered to be a sacred Hindu pilgrimage, Amarnath is famed for the natural formation of Shiva Linga from the snow. This lingam is believed to wax and wane with the moon. A large number of devotees throng Amarnath during the months of June and August. This pious journey, which is dubbed the holy Amarnath Yatra, begins from Chandanwadi (16kms from Pahalgam) and via Pissu, Sheshnag and Panchtarni, it concludes at Amarnath Cave situated on the Amarnath mountain. There is also another route for the Yatra starting from Jammu and via Udhampur, Patnitop, Kud, Ramban, Banihal, QaziGund, Anantnag, Srinagar and Baltal, the journey finally concludes at the holy cave.
Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati, his consort, the secret of creation in the Amarnathji cave. Unknown to them, a pair of mating pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode.
This yatra is not just any ordinary trek. Because of the difficult route and tough weather conditions, the yatris (trekkers) are advised to follow and abide by certain rules and regulations, some of which are as follows :
Do’s And Don’ts for the Yatris :
It is important to observe discipline on the trek and keep moving slowly and steadily. Yatris should adhere to the instructions issued by the Yatra Officer from time to time. Officials of the State Government from various concerned Departments are deployed on duty to help the pilgrims.
Yatris must also ensure that they are physically fit for the journey, and have themselves medically examined. Remember that you have to cross Mahagunus pass which is at an altitude of 14,000 feet above sea level. It is now essential for the applicant Yatri to submit Compulsory Health Certificate while seeking registration for the Shri Amarnathji Yatra.
Yatris also have to ensure that ponies carrying their luggage and eatables remain with them at all times. Also ensure that the Ponywalla, labourer or Dandiwalla is properly registered and carries a token. You can get these allotted at fixed rates at the base camps.
Besides the above, the yatris have been advised to take a few precautions :
Persons under the age of 13 years or above the age of 75 years, and women who are more than six weeks pregnant are advised not to register for the yatra as confirmed by PK Tripathi, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SASB.
Dress – Pilgrims are advised to carry sufficient woollens such as sweaters, thermal underclothes, monkey cap, gloves etc. Other items could include wind cheaters, rain coat, sleeping bag or blankets, umbrella, waterproof boots/shoes, walking stick, torch etc. Ladies are advised not to go on the trek in saris, instead Salwar suits should be used.
Medical Assistance – Medical posts manned by qualified doctors and nursing staff are established enroute to cater to the needs of the pilgrims, free of cost. However, pilgrims are advised to carry along any medicines specifically prescribed for them.
Provisions – Essential rations are available at fair price rates from the specially established Govt. Depots at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtami, Numerous wayside tea-shops and small restaurants are set up by private parties. However, pilgrims are advised to carry with them biscuits, tinned food etc. to cater to their immediate needs. Firewood or gas can be obtained at Chandanwari, Sheshnag , Panchtarni and near the Cave.
Insurance – In view of the hazardous nature, pilgrims are advised to insure themselves before proceeding on the Yatra.
Good tented accommodation with allied facilities are available and set-up during the Yatra period. These are provided on the basis of payment of rates fixed by the authorities manning the Yatra.
Picture Credit : Economic Times , Sangeeta Ojha India Today , DNA India