Thousands reach Kashmir base camps for Amarnath Yatra (Second Lead)

June 28th, 2011 - 10:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Amarnath Shrine Srinagar, June 28 (IANS) Over 5,000 pilgrims Tuesday reached the Baltal base camp in north Kashmir and another 2,000 poured into south Kashmir’s Nunwan base camp Pahalgam resort town as the annual Amarnath pilgrimage was flagged off from Jammu in the morning amid religious fervour.

Using various modes of transport, the pilgrims from different parts of the country reached the base camps Tuesday evening, ahead of the formal start of the pilgrimage to the cave shrine, located at a height of 13,500 feet above sea level.

“Another 1,000 pilgrims taking the north Kashmir route for tomorrow’s (Wednesday’s) yatra are camped at Manigam transit camp,” Syed Imtiyaz Hussain, superintendent of police of north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district, told IANS here.

Authorities have started arrangements for the pilgrims’ night halt at Manigam base camp, from where they would be allowed to proceed to Baltal Wednesday morning.

“Travel during night from Manigam to Baltal is hazardous because of the accident prone areas along the way. Moreover, already a good number of pilgrims have reached Baltal and allowing more to reach there this evening would only create confusion at the camp,” Hussain said.

“We will be allowing the pilgrims to move to Baltal from Manigam transit early tomorrow (Wednesday) morning,” he added.

Deputy Inspector General of Police (South Kashmir) Shafqat Ahmad Watali said a batch of around 2,000 pilgrims reached Nunwan (Pahalgam) base camp in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district Tuesday evening.

The first batch of pilgrims will start trekking up the 14-km-long treacherous mountain trail from Baltal early Wednesday to reach the cave shrine, where a natural stalagmite of ice forms every year.

Special prayers are being organised by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) to mark the beginning of this year’s Yatra.

The weather office has forecast cloudy sky with rain and thunder at isolated places both along the Baltal and the Pahalgam routes to the cave shrine Wednesday.

Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora gave the green signal to the yatra (pilgrimage) from Jammu as the first batch of 2,096 pilgrims set out in 73 vehicles from Jammu’s Bhagwati Nagar.

Officials said the number of pilgrims this year will be an all-time high because of “peace in the Kashmir Valley”.

Two airlines, Pawan Hans and Himalayan Airlines, are Wednesday starting helicopter sorties for the pilgrims from Baltal and from Panjtarni on the Pahalgam route.

Tastefully decorated food stalls displaying pictures of Lord Shiva and electric illuminations have come up all along the 84-km-long Srinagar-Baltal route.

Kiosks have also been built by the locals outside the Manigam transit camp in Ganderbal district and at the Baltal base camp.

The SASB has issued special permission to the locals to erect tents inside the Manigam transit camp for the convenience of the pilgrims.

So far, 250,000 pilgrims have registered themselves with the SASB for the Himalayan pilgrimage.

An on-the-spot registration too has been opened for pilgrims arriving in Jammu or in Srinagar without prior registration.

Pilgrims are enthusiastic about the pilgrimage for two reasons - pleasant weather and greater sense of security along the route.

“It’s great weather in the Kashmir Valley, and this is a blessing of Lord Shiva. These are signs of a successful yatra,” said Shalini Meena from Sikar in Rajasthan.

Vehicles of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Jammu and Kashmir Police would escort the pilgrims’ convoys from Jammu to the two base camps. Nearly 30,000 personnel have been deployed all the way to the cave shrine.

At some places, pilgrims trek through the mountainous passes, some as narrow as only one foot wide.

Hundreds of pony owners at Baltal eagerly look forward to the pilgrimage. “I have kept my pair of ponies in good shape,” said Bashir Khatana, 37.

Last year, nearly half a million pilgrims visited the shrine despite the summer unrest in the Kashmir Valley that left over 110 people dead in clashes between mobs and the security forces.

Locals are credited with the success of the Amarnath pilgrimage.

“It is because of the cooperation and assistance of the locals that the yatris feel secure and comfortable,” said Bashir Ahmad, a retired veterinarian in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.

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