The CRPF personnel apart from performing route duties have been deployed for area domination during the pilgrimage, the officials said.
Srinagar: The annual pilgrimage to Amarnath will officially begin on Thursday when the first batch of devotees are being allowed to take the arduous journey through rugged mountains both from shorter Baltal and traditional Pahalgam routes.
On Wednesday morning, 2,280 pilgrims left winter capital Jammu in a convoy of 72 vehicles being protected by security forces en route. Already, thousands of pilgrims are camping at Baltal and Chandanwari near Pahalgam to embark on the “journey of faith and devotion”.
The 40-day pilgrimage will begin with “prathan darshan” and “pooja” rituals at the 12,729-foot-high cave shrine in Kashmir Himalayas, said an official of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB). It will conclude on Shravan Purnima (Raksha Bandhan) on August 7.
Also, the SASB will organise a special pooja ritual at Chandanwari, a base-camp of the yatra near Kashmir’s premier resort of Pahalgam, on the day of Jyesth Purnima, which falls on June 9 this year, “to invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva for the smooth and safe conduct of the pilgrimage”.
The cave-shrine, the holiest of Hindu places of worship in north India, is at a one-day trek (14-km) from the base-camp of Baltal, 96-km north of summer capital Srinagar, and at three-day trek (34-km) from Chandanwari. Pahalgam, the premier resort of the Valley, is 94-km south-east of Srinagar and 280-km east of Jammu.
In view of the security situation in the Valley, a multi-layered security arrangement manned by the Army, CRPF, SSB and the Jammu and Kashmir police has been provided for the safe passage of the pilgrims right from their entry into the State at Lakhanpur in Kathua district to Amarnath and back, the officials said.
To partake in the ‘foolproof’ security for the pilgrims and the organisers and volunteers, the additional 54 companies of the CRPF brought to the Valley for the Anantnag Lok Sabha bypoll which was to be held on April 12 but was rescinded in view of the hostile law and order situation and all-time low turnout recorded in the by-poll to the Srinagar seat earlier were asked to stay put. The CRPF personnel apart from performing route duties have been deployed for area domination during the pilgrimage, the officials said.
They added that no vehicle carrying pilgrims would be allowed to cross the Jawahar Tunnel which connects the State’s Jammu region with Kashmir Valley after 3.30 pm. “This has been done so that the yatris reach the Baltal base camp within seven hours from the tunnel. They don’t have to make a night halt midway,” said a police official. He added, “This will ensure that they don’t travel after nightfall.”
Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani recently said that the Amarnath pilgrims were “most welcome” in Kashmir and that they would be treated as “honoured guests” by local Muslims. He rejected the talk of ‘militant threat’ to the yatra as being “imaginary” and alleged that deliberate attempt was being made to mislead the majority community of India on ground reality in Kashmir and put the State’s majority (Muslim) community in bad light for political reasons.
As many as 212,000 devotees have secured advance registration to be part of the annual pilgrimage, the SASB said here. Its CEO Umang Narula said that these pilgrims have secured registration through the designated bank branches, Group Registration Facility (GRF) and booking of helicopter tickets for the yatra. The process started on March 1 through 437 designated bank branches of the Punjab National Bank, J&K Bank and YES Bank located in 32 states and union territories across the country.
The trend of registration shows that about 1,200 persons were being registered every day with maximum numbers coming from Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and West Bengal, in the same order. It has also been noted that the advance registration via the traditional Pahalgam route is slightly more preferred than the shorter Baltal route via Srinagar. “This conforms to the traditional pattern of the yatra,” Narula said earlier.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor, Narendra Nath Vohra, who is also the chairman of the SASB has had a series of meetings with the concerned government and security forces officials and also visited the base-camps and other important locations of the yatra to ensure “infallible” arrangement is put in place for the event.
Narula said that this year the helicopter ticket fare for yatra is cheaper as compared to previous years and the same has attracted pilgrims in larger numbers to book tickets in advance of the pilgrimage. He said that per passenger one-way heli-fare for the Yatra 2017 is Rs. 1,715 (inclusive of all taxes) for Neelgrath-Panjtarni (Baltal route) and Rs. 2,950 (inclusive of all taxes) for Pahalgam-Panjtarni (Pahalgam route).
He, once again, urged the intending pilgrims to secure their registration only from the branches of the authorized banks and not from any other person(s) or agent(s) “who may try to cheat and sell fake Yatra Permits to them”. The list of all authorized bank branches for providing advance registration for the yatra along with the authorized doctors and medical institutions competent to issue compulsory health certificates is available on the website of the SASB at http://www.shriamarnathjishrine.com.
Last year 220,000 devotees paid obeisance at Amarnath. This was the lowest number of pilgrims to have visited Amarnath since 2004 and the decrease in numbers was attributed to the post Burhan Wani killing unrest in the Valley and also because the naturally formed ice lingam of Lord Shiva at the cave-shrine completely melted in just first 13 days of the yatra owing to the rise in temperature. In 2015, as many as 352,000 pilgrims had visited Amarnath during the yatra period whereas in 2011 and 2012 the figure stood at 6.21 lakh and 6.30 lakh, respectively. After 2012, it started declining.