Amarnath pilgrimage begins Monday despite bad weather (Lead)

June 14th, 2009 - 10:41 pm ICT by IANS  

Amarnath Shrine Srinagar, June 14 (IANS) A day before the annual Hindu pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Amarnath in Jammu and Kashmir begins, the Indian Army Sunday stepped in to augment the snow clearance efforts as the weather gods turned whimsical, lashing the region with continuous rain and snow.
The entire journey stretch of more than 350 km from Jammu to the cave shrine, located at the height of 13,500 feet above sea level in the Himalayas in south Kashmir, was overcast with rain at many places, raising fears about the safety of the pilgrims.

There are two routes to the shrine - a traditional one involving a 46 km trek from the tourist resort of Pahalgam, 100 km south of here, and a shorter route via Baltal, 105 km north of here.

The pilgrimage is to begin Monday from the steeper and tougher Baltal route that is also prone to landslides.

A decision on opening the Pahalgam route for the pilgrimage would be taken June 22.

The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), which manages the annual pilgrimage, has allowed the pilgrims to proceed from the Baltal route to the shrine devoted to Hindu god Shiva. The attraction at the shrine is an ice stalagmite, reverentially called Shivlingam, an icon of Shiva.

However, the inclement weather is causing worries about the pilgrimage, even as the army was pressed into service to clear the mountainous track.

B.B. Vyas, the chief executive officer of the SASB, Sunday visited the cave shrine along with senior army officers.

Free kitchens have already been set up on the route and near the shrine.

The SASB has erected 15 huts and 85 temporary toilets for the pilgrims.

“Governor N.N. Vohra, who is the chairman of the temple board, is expected to lead the devotees in the pratham puja (initial prayers) at the sanctum sanctorum,” an SASB spokesman said.

“The yatris (pilgrims) would be permitted to proceed beyond (Baltal base camp) point only up to 9 a.m. everyday.

An information centre has been set up at Baltal that would make daily announcements about weather conditions and provide other details of the 14 km track from the base camp to the cave.

The SASB has issued a strict advisory to pilgrims to wear only trousers, not saris or dhotis, during the pilgrimage that involves trekking on the Himalayan heights that are slippery and slushy.

Pilgrims have also been advised to carry with them umbrellas, torches, walking sticks, woollen clothing, and vital medicines. The elderly and children have been asked to “rethink” their journey plans.

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