Recent troop deployment, curtailing of Amarnath Yatra add to sense of alarm and foreboding in Kashmir

Srinagar: A curt midday order issued by the State home department on Friday advised Amarnath Yatra pilgrims and tourists to immediately pack up and return home.

They were told that the annual Hindu pilgrimage, which was scheduled to end on August 15, has been called off. The tempo for the departure of the yatris and tourists from the Valley was built at a press conference addressed jointly by the Army brass.

The GOC of Srinagar-based Chinar Corps, Lieutenant General K. J. S. Dhillon said they had clear proof that Pakistan army was planning to attack the Amarnath Yatris, using terrorists in the Valley as a proxy.

The Army displayed a massive landmine bearing the markings of the Pakistan army and an American telescope fitted long range rifle which the media was told had been recovered during searches along the routes to the Amarnath shrine.Yatris and tourists naturally panicked.

Scores of vehicle carrying Yatris and tourists were racing against time to get out of the Valley. Though it was relatively easier for the pilgrims in Pahalgam base camp to pack up and leave as the south Kashmir base camp is nearer the Jawahar Tunnel that leads out of the Valley.

The ordeal for the yatris and the tourists in Baltal, Sonamarg and Gulmarg was frustrating. Pack up and leave, the terse message delivered by the local police assisted by the paramilitary CRPF was enough to tell the pilgrims and the tourists that something had already happened or was going to happen.

This year's Amarnath Yatra has been completely peaceful and 3.40 lakh pilgrims had 'darshan' at the cave shrine. Authorities had initially suspended the yatra from August 1 to August 4 "due to bad weather".

Dozens of pilgrims had arrived by air from outside the Valley during the last two days. As theystarted their journey from Srinagar airport to Baltal base camp, which is close to the Sonamarg hill station, they were were intercepted by police and paramilitary.

Without giving them a convincing explanation, officials told the aspiring pilgrims to head back to Srinagar city and re-schedule their flights back home.Interestingly, 'Chhari Mubarak' (Lord Shiva's Mace) was taken out by its custodian, Swami Dipendra Giri, from its seat in Srinagar for 'puja' at the Shankaracharya Shiv temple overlooking the Dal Lake.

The Chhari Mubarak will travel with its custodian and a group of devote sadhus to Pahalgam and reach the cave shrine on the morning of August 15 coinciding with Shravan Purnima festival. After the final prayers, the pilgrimage will formally come to an end.

Interestingly, dozens of ‘langars' (free kitchens) in en route to the cave shrine have been asked to pack up and leave. Most of the managers of these 'langars' said they would get a 'no-objection certificate' from the authorities each year after the yatra ended.

But, this year after cutting short the yatra period, authorities have told them to leave and not wait for any paper work to be completed.

By SHEIKH QAYOOM

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