Jammu: A fresh batch of over 1,100 pilgrims left here on Saturday to perform the ongoing Amarnath Yatra, an official said. “Another batch of 1,180 pilgrims left the Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas at 3.40 a.m. in an escorted convoy of 43 vehicles for the Kashmir Valley,” he said. There were 787 males, 243 females and 150 sadhus (holy men) in the convoy.
The pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine that began on June 29, entered its 24th day on Saturday. The 40-day long ‘yatra’ will end on August 7 on ‘Shravan Purnima’ coinciding with the Raksha Bandhan festival. Every day the pilgrims have to start their journey early as no vehicles carrying pilgrims are allowed to cross the Jawahar Tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar highway after 3.30 p.m. due to security reasons.
The precaution was taken to ensure that the pilgrims reach the base camps of Baltal in the north and Pahalgam in the south of the Kashmir Valley before sunset. From the two base camps, the pilgrims have to track treacherous mountain tracks. The traditional Pahalgam route is 46 km long and takes around four days. While the one from Baltal is 14 km. The yatris who use the Baltal route return to the base camp the same day after paying obeisance inside the cave shrine. Helicopter services are also available for pilgrims on both routes. A total of 48 pilgrims have so far died during the yatra in 2017. Of these 17 died in a road accident on Jammu-Srinagar highway on July 16.
While eight died in a terror attack on a bus carrying pilgrims at Batengo on the same highway on July 10 in Anantnag district. Another 23 died due to natural causes. Situated at 3,888 metres above the sea-level, the Amarnath cave houses an ice stalagmite structure that waxes and wanes with the size of the visible moon. Devotees believe the ice stalagmite structure symbolizes mythical powers of Lord Shiva. Over 35,000 security personnel drawn from the Army, Central Reserve Police Force, Sashastra Seema Bal, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the state police are deployed for the protection of the pilgrims this year.