Over 7,500 Amarnath pilgrims on way to cave shrine

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Jammu: Over 7,500 pilgrims are headed to the Himalayan cave shrine to perform the annual Amarnath Yatra as it began on Monday amid tightened security, police said.

A second batch of 4,417 pilgrims left Jammu for the cave after a first batch of over 2,000 pilgrims had left for the Kashmir Valley on Sunday.

No traffic will be allowed from Srinagar to Jammu till the convoy of yatris cross the Jawahar Tunnel, an officer said. No vehicle carrying Amarnath pilgrims will be allowed to move on the Mughal Road that connects Poonch and Rajouri districts.

From the Baltal base camp in north Kashmir's Ganderbal district 7,500 yatris left to perform the Yatra on Monday. The remaining have already travelled with the Chhari Mubarak via the Pahalgam route and reached the shrine.

The 45-day long annual Yatra to the Himalayan Cave Shrine situated 3,888 metres above the sea-level will end on August 15 coinciding with the Shravan Purnima festival.

According to the devotees, the shrine houses an ice stalagmite structure that symbolises the mythical powers of Lord Shiva.

Using the uphill trek of 14-km from Baltal allows the pilgrims 'darshan' inside the cave and return to the base camp the same day. Helicopter services have also been made available for the pilgrims from Baltal.

"On Monday, the yatris comprising 3,543 men, 843 women besides 31 children left the Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas in an escorted convoy of 142 vehicles.

"Of these, 1,617 pilgrims will reach the Baltal base camp and 2,800 the Pahalgam one. Authorities have decided not to allow any traffic in the opposite direction on the Jammu-Srinagar highway till 3.30 pm in order to ensure smooth passage to the yatris towards the valley," an officer added.

Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik, who is also the chairman of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) will attend the special puja at the shrine that traditionally begins with the arrival of the 'Chhari Mubarak' (the Holy Mace of Lord Shiva) at Amarnath on the morning of the first day.

The SASB manages all affairs of the annual Hindu pilgrimage with the assistance of the state and the central governments.

Extraordinary security arrangements have been made to ensure a smooth and violence-free yatra this year.

How to reach

Nearest railway station is Jammu, at a distance of 178 kms from Amarnath. From Jammu, one can hire cabs to reach either Baltal or Pahalgam. From Baltal, it is a 14 km trek (1 to 2 days) to reach Amarnath.

The Pahalgam route is relatively longer and takes around 3-5 days (36-48 km).

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