Amarnath pilgrims court risks for a glimpse of ShivaJuly 4th, 2011 - 11:54 am ICT by IANS
Jammu, July 4 (IANS) It’s a journey of faith, a test of the body and soul, almost symbolic of the devotion a god demands from his worshipper. But the trek to Lord Shiva’s cave shrine of Shri Amarnath in north Kashmir, situated at a height of 13,500 feet, is made even more difficult by the huge number of pilgrims who insist on undertaking the journey despite the narrow, snowy paths not being equipped to handle the rush.
In the first four days since the pilgrimage began June 29, around 85,000 devotees have visited the shrine that houses an icon of Lord Shiva, one of the Hindu Trinity. This is four times the permissible number, say officials of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB).
“There are definite dos and donts for the pilgrims, but they refuse to listen to anyone,” said a shrine board official.
After the tragedy of 1996, when 243 pilgrims and porters were killed because of unseasonal snowfall and rains, a panel was constituted to suggest remedial measures.
It had recommended that not more than 5,000 pilgrims be allowed for the pilgrimage each day and that the duration of the pilgrimage should not be more than one month.
Both the recommendations have been honoured more in their breach than observance.
This year, the pilgrimage will last till Aug 13.
Last year, nearly half a million pilgrims visited the shrine despite the summer unrest in the Kashmir Valley that left 110 people dead in clashes between mobs and the security forces.
There are two tracks leading to the shrine, one from Pahalgam, 100 km south of Srinagar, and another from Baltal, 110 km north.
Officially, only those pilgrims who have registered with the board are allowed for the pilgrimage. But the ground situation is that all the devotees who come to the base camps at Pahalgam and Baltal proceed towards the shrine, independent of the shrine’s supervision.
With weather playing truant, the pilgrimage from Baltal was suspended July 1. The next day, over a dozen out of hundreds of pilgrims protesting against inadequate facilities were injured in a cane charge by Jammu and Kashmir police to disperse them at Patnitop on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway.
Despite such incidents, the shrine board is trying to put up a brave face.
“The safety of the pilgrims is of foremost concern to the board. That’s why, keeping in view the past behaviour of weather and the track conditions, the pilgrimage schedule has been drawn in such a manner that the pilgrims don’t face any problems,” said R.K. Goyal, chief executive officer of the board.
Pilgrims too are aware of the conditions but are driven by faith.
“The arrangements are poor as compared to previous years. No one is giving us proper information and guidance. But despite all the harassment, our group is determined to carry on,” Vivek Sidana from Kaithal in Haryana told IANS.
Vijay Pal from Faridabad, who is on his 10th Amarnath pilgrimage, said: “This time the arrangements for pilgrims are worst. We come with limited budget, most of which is exhausted on accommodation as the Shrine Board has not made proper arrangements.”
The shrine board and state government are worried that the rush of the pilgrims can pose serious dangers, but are hesitant to take harsh steps due to the religious sentiments involved.
“All I can say is that the pilgrims are simply courting risks,” an official told IANS, not wishing to be identified.
Meanwhile, the rush of pilgrims and the resultant body heat generated by the crowd have even started melting the cave’s ice stalagmite, or ‘Shivlingam’, revered as an icon of Shiva.
(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at email@example.com)
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Tags: amarnath pilgrims, base camps, devotees, dos and donts, god demands, ground situation, half a million, hindu trinity, jammu, journey of faith, kashmir valley, lord shiva, pahalgam, pilgrimage, porters, remedial measures, sasb, shrine board, srinagar, worshipper