Amarnath pilgrimage: Preparations begin

Upbeat after a record half a million pilgrims visited the Amarnath cave shrine in the Kashmir Valley last year, the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department has begun preparations for a "smooth and safe" pilgrimage this year.

Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora has recommended construction of impregnable gates at Chatwari and Domel for effective regulation of pilgrims' movement, proper registration, upgradation of the Rangamore-Baltal-Domel road, improvement and up-gradation of the Baltal track to the holy cave and widening of the Chandarwari route.

The cave shrine is situated at the height of 3,888 meters above sea level and has two routes leading to it, one from Pahalgam and another from Baltal, 110 kms from Srinagar.

The minister has also ordered establishment of transit camps along National Highway from Lakhanpur (gateway to Jammu and Kashmir) to Sonamarg and Pahalgam (two base camps of the two routes).

The department also decided to set up Shelter Units at various locations along the yatra routes, up-gradation of Medical Facilities, strengthening of Water Supply System at base camps and halting places enroute.

As the pilgrimage routes pass through high mountains and glaciers, involving a steep climb, most of the track despite clearance of snow is slippery and full of slush, making it difficult for the pilgrims to survive the tortuous terrain.

An ice lingam or a naturally made stalagmite of snow considered as an icon of Lord Shiva, Hindu god of construction and destruction, is the main attraction of the cave shrine.

More than 630,000 pilgrims had visited the shrine last year, breaking all the previous records. The myth goes that Lord Shiva had narrated the tale of immortality to his consort Parvati at the cave, thus it is known as "Amarnath" meaning immortality.

Growingly large number of pilgrims have been losing their lives during the annual Shri Amarnathji pilgrimage, particularly due to cardiac related ailments.

It was noted that in 2009 around 45 people died during the pilgrimage, in 2010 it was 68 and in 2011, 107 people lost their lives.

Hence, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, that looks after the conduct of pilgrimage has underlined physical fitness of the pilgrims, and also laying more focus on healthcare provisions. Jora said: "There will be complete synergy between Shri Amarnath Shrine Board and Tourism department for preparations and conduct of the pilgrimage."

The pilgrimage this year is scheduled to start from June 25 till August 2.

- With inputs from IANS