THE registration for annual pilgrimage of holy Amarnath shrine, which houses the naturally-formed ice Shivlingam at a height of 3,880 metres in the south Kashmir started on June 5 and would be open till Aug 22 for Pahalgam route while Aug 23 is the last date for Baltal route. Every day, 5000 pilgrims, 2500 each for the two tracks will be registered, by the J&K Bank. This year annual pilgrimage to Shri Amarnathji’s shrine is beginning from July 1. The yatra will conclude on August 24 on the occasion of Shravan Purnima and Raksha Bandhan.
The holy cave of Shri Amarnath ji is situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder Valley, Amarnath Shrine stands at 3,888m, 46 km from Pahalgam and 14 kms from Baltal. Though the original pilgrimages subscribes that the yatra (journey) be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin at Chandanwari, and cover the distance to Amarnathji and back in five days. Pahalgam is 96 kms from Srinagar.
The holy cave is the abode of Lord Shiva. The guardian of the absolute, Lord Shiva, the destroyer, is enshrined in the form of an ice-lingam in this cave. This lingam is formed naturally, which is believed to wax and wane with the moon. Shri Amarnathji is considered to be one of the major Dhams.
Behind the discovery of the Holy Shrine lies an interesting story. Centuries ago Maa Parvati asked Shivji to let her know why and when he started wearing the beads of heads (Mund Mala), to which Bhole Shankar replied, “Whenever you are born I add more heads to my bead”. Parvati said, “I die again and again, but you are Immortal. Please tell me the reason behind this”. “Bhole Shankar replied that for this you will have to listen to the Amar Katha”.
Shiv agreed to narrate the detailed story to Maa Parvati. He started for a lonely place where no living being could listen to the immortal secret and ultimately chose Amarnath Cave. In the hush-hush, he left his Nandi (the Bull which He used to ride) at Pahalgam. At Chandanwari, he released Moon (Chand) from his hair (Jataon). At the banks of Lake Sheshnag, he released the snakes. He decided to leave his son Ganesha at Mahagunas Parvat. At Panjtarni, Shivji left the Five Elements behind (earth, water, air, fire and sky) which give birth to life and of which he is the Lord.
After leaving behind all these, Bhole Shankar entered the Holy Amarnath Cave along with Parvati Maa and took his Samadhi. To ensure that no living being is able to hear the Immortal Tale, he created Kalagni and ordered him to spread fire to eliminate every living thing in and around the Holy Cave. After this he started narrating the secret of immortality to Maa Parvati. But as a matter of chance a pair of pigeons overhead the story and became immortal. Many pilgrims report seeing the pair of pigeons at the Holy Shrine even today and are amazed as to how these birds survive in such a cold and high altitude area.
Both the routes, the traditional track via Pahalgam that ascends upto Mahagunus pass touches the myth logically important places Sheeshnag and Panchtarni, and the steeper and shorter climb route via Baltal, would be thrown open for the pilgrim traffic from July 1.
Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has entered into an agreement with Jammu & Kashmir Bank for registration of a maximum of 4.10 lakh pilgrims for this year’s annual pilgrimage to Shri Amarnathji’s shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas beginning July 1. The yatra will conclude on August 24 on the occasion of Shravan Purnima and Raksha Bandhan.
According to the chief executive officer of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board and secretary to the Governor, RK Goyal, Shrine Board was set up in 2001 in the wake of the 1996 disaster in which over 250 people got killed in a snowstorm and the subsequent massacre of pilgrims by unidentified gunmen at Pahalgam in 1999. Whereas security for the pilgrimage remains the responsibility of the State Government, facilities for pilgrims during the Yatra are arranged by the Board with the help of the State Government, the spokesman added.
The registration counters have been established in 121 designated branches of the Jammu & Kashmir Bank, all across the country and shall remain open from 3 PM to 6 PM on all working week days and 1 PM to 4 PM on all working Saturdays during the aforesaid period of registration. The details of these branches are available on the Board’s website (www.shriamarnathjishrine.com). The requisite application form can be collected from any of the designated Jammu & Kashmir Bank branches all over the country or downloaded from the SASB website.
The J&K Bank this year, has printed coloured slips using different colours for all week days which will be issued to the pilgrims after their registration. This has been done to ensure that the pilgrims registered for a particular day undertake their journey the same day. Only the registered pilgrims will be allowed to proceed to holy cave shrine of Shri Amarnathji from Baltal and Pahalgam tracks. No yatri will be allowed to leave for the cave before schedule date of start of yatra i.e. July 1.
Goyal said because of the longer distance and travel time, the registration of pilgrims from the Pahalgam route will not be allowed after August 22 and from the Baltal route the registration will be closed on August 23. He added that the registration will be done on “First-Come-First-Serve Basis”.
Though SASB has made no charges for pilgrims, a significant change has been made. SASB is providing free of cost Yatri Accidental Insurance Cover (ACI) of rupees one lakh to all registered yatris who possess valid yatra permits. The board has entered into an agreement with the New India Assurance Company Limited.
Goyal informed that the helicopter services for the yatris who wish to avail of such facilities would be available on each of the two routes viz. Baltal-Panjtarni-Baltal and Pahalgam-Panjtarni- Pahalgam. Keeping in view the environmental concerns, the Shrine Board has also decided not to allow helicopters to fly up to cave shrine, which was a practice till last year. Though chopper services will be allowed from both the routes right from the beginning of the yatra till its completion. Yet there will be common termination point at Panjtarni, he said and added that this will also help in preventing melting of ice-lingam till the end of the pilgrimage.
The one way heli-fare for Baltal- Panjtarni and Pahalgam-Panjtarni has been fixed at Rs. 2425 and Rs. 3800, respectively. He added that children, between the age of 2-12 years, will be required to pay half the aforesaid prices. The booking-reservation of helicopter seats would commence shortly via two modes, online booking or through the travel agents operating in Jammu & Kashmir divisions.
The CEO noted that the helicopter fares this year are substantially lower than those in Yatra 2009. He further clarified that, to reduce inconvenience and delays, the yatris who travel by helicopter would not be required to separately obtain yatra permits as their required details would have been recorded before issue of helicopter tickets which would serve as yatra permits.
Shri Amaranth Shrine Board (SASB) has made it mandatory for labourers and “ponywallas” associated with Amaranth Yatra to carry photo identity cards with them “to ensure the security for the pilgrimage”.
Revealing this, R K Goyal, Chief Executive Officer of SASB said the cards will be provided to the labourers and ponywallas for the purpose. He added that no yatri will be allowed to enter or proceed beyond the base camps unless he is in possession of a valid yatra permit for a specified date and route.
Special emphasis is being laid on the preservation of the ecology and environment of the Yatra area. A detailed plan has been drawn up, under the expert guidance of Dr Sunita Narain, environmentalist and the member of the SASB to maintain cleanliness at the base camps in Baltal and Nunwan and enroute the Holy Cave.
The tight security arrangements would be made to foil any attempt by militants to disrupt the two-month-long Amarnath Yatra. A multi-cordon security blanket will be thrown along the Yatra route. While the Indian Army is to man the heights to prevent any infiltration from the mountains, BSF personnel will guard the trek route. The safety of the camps put up for the pilgrims for night halts will be handled by CRPF jawans.
Shrine Board Chairman Shri NN Vohra appealed to the pilgrims to strictly adhere to the announced Yatra schedule and, under no circumstances whatsoever, venture on the arduous track ahead of the date for which they are registered for the Yatra. He also urged the yatris, before commencing Yatra, to most carefully read the instructions (Do’s and Dont’s) which are printed on the reverse of the Yatra Permit and are also available at the Board’s website.