Anantnag (Jammu and Kashmir) [India], August 17 (ANI): The pilgrimage to the Amarnath Gupha, a holy place for Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir, is marked by devotion, religious tolerance and brotherhood.
Inside the Amarnath Gupha is an old 'Linga' of Lord Shiva. Pilgrims come from all over India to have darshan here.
Hindus believe that this was the abode of Lord Shiva, located 168 km from the district headquarters in Anantnag district. Located 141 km from the capital Srinagar at an altitude of 12,756 feet above sea level, Gupha lies in the Ladar Valley, which is covered by glaciers, and snow-capped mountains for most of the year.
Common pilgrims are allowed to come here for darshan only for a limited time in summer. There are two main routes to reach here, one is beyond the town of Pahalgam and the other is the route to Baltal via Sonawar, a popular tourist spot in the Ganderbal district.
A 43-km hill trek starts from Chandiwadi and Noonan base camps in Pahalgam. Some people also avail the option to go on horses or palanquins to cover the trek. The shortest route is from Bal Tal which is 16 km but that's more challenging.
Prior to 1990, the pilgrimage was very exclusive and available to only sadhus and saints to visit. In 1995, the pilgrimage was held for 20 days. From 2004 to 2009, its duration was increased to two months. The pilgrimage now lasts for 40 to 45 days between July and August.
Yatra was held this year after a gap of two years. The Yatra was suspended on August 5, 2019, due to the outbreak of coronavirus. For the 44-day yatra, the Jammu and Kashmir UT administration makes arrangements, starting from Lakhanpur to the Kashmir valley.
Be it Bhagwati Nagar base camp located in Jammu or the routes going to Pahalgam or Baltal, there were excellent arrangements for anchorages, accommodation and other facilities. Most of the horses, ponies and palanquins were of the local people.
This pilgrimage is like a festival which also plays an important role in the economy of Jammu and Kashmir. During these 44 days, the local people are able to do good business by temporarily establishing their business along the route of the Amarnath Yatra.
The Yatra is celebrated as a festival in which everyone irrespective of religion, caste, colour and caste gives their full support. The political and social personalities of the Muslim community welcome the pilgrims with open hearts.
A wonderful program was organized yesterday by Society Kashmir to welcome the pilgrims at SKICC, in which people from all walks of life, sects, and schools of thought, participated and welcomed the pilgrims with a smile, assuring assistance whenever needed.
According to official data, 3.65 lakh RFID registered pilgrims visited Gupha this year during Shri Amarnathji Yatra. This is the highest number of pilgrims who have done darshan in the last five years. In 2016, 220490 pilgrims came for darshan, in 2017 this number was 260003 while in 2018 and 2019 285006 and 343587 people had darshan of Putragupha respectively.
This yatra has also witnessed calamity, at least 35 pilgrims died and more than 55 were injured due to the flood that occurred after the cloudburst on the mountain near Gupha on July 8. Apart from this, 30 pilgrims and 2 local pilgrims lost their lives due to diseases, heart attacks and other incidents.
Youth of the Muslim community actively participated in the rescue operations. Youths from many places in Jammu and Kashmir reached there and offered Eid-ul-Adha prayers there.
The administration had made various arrangements for the comfort of the pilgrims. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tracking was introduced for the first time which proved to be very helpful in tracking the pilgrims, especially during the disaster on July 8, many pilgrims were traced using RFID technology.
A 240% increase in the number of toilets and unprecedented sanitation arrangements ensured a litter-free and open defecation-free Yatra. Along with this, a 190% increase in the number of beds in hospitals, 100-bed additional medical facilities in each base camp and 50 additional beds in each axis were installed.
85% increase in the number of oxygen booths, besides buckets, and the two DRDO hospitals in Chandanwari adequately catered to the health needs of pilgrims as well as local people and other stakeholders and saved many precious lives.
An Integrated Command and Control Center (IIIC) has been set up in Srinagar with nodal officers from all concerned departments for immediate monitoring and quick response. Volunteer students of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Jammu offered their services in the Yatra in technical aspects. A senior IAS officer has been appointed as the nodal officer for each axis of the Yatra. As a result of bad weather conditions, no target number was fixed for the Yatra. Arrangements were made in view of the expected increase in pilgrims as the Yatra could not be held in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid.
This year pilgrims availed of helicopter service from 4 sectors instead of 2 sectors. Two new helipads from Srinagar to Neelgrath and from Srinagar to Pahalgam were opened for yatris. Free battery car service for pilgrims between Bal Tal and Dumail, 200% increase in the number of RO water purifiers at each camp and tracks, underground cabling on Bal Tal axis provided 3 phase 24X7 power supply, backup generator set Helped in providing better facilities to pilgrims.
PTZ cameras installed on Yatra tracks for surveillance solved many problems and helped in the minute-to-minute monitoring of Yatras while also stopping overcharging. Daily coordination meetings with Divisional Commissioners, DCs, Camp Officers and other stakeholders by CEOSASB with three times the number of Camp Officers deployed to manage the Yatra efficiently yielded better results.
Yatra registration started on April 11 through 566 bank branches of SBI, PNB, J&K Bank and Yes Bank across the country both online and offline and on June 30 through both Pahalgam and Baltal routes. The Yatra started on August 12 and ended on August 12. Lt. Governor Manoj Sinha flagged off the caravan from Bhagwati Nagar Jammu on June 29 and also participated in the puja on June 30 to mark the beginning of Yatra 2022. Pratham Puja was performed by CEO SASB on June 14 at Putragupha on the auspicious day of Jestha Purnima.
The Lt. Governor said that the overall yatra was satisfactory despite bad weather conditions for 20 days out of 44 days. A RAS survey by pilgrims shows a 93 per cent satisfaction rating on various parameters, while 73 per cent of darshans were performed in the first 20 days of the yatra. The feedback received from pilgrims about the facilities has been overwhelming for the administration.
Shrine Board, Civil Administration, J&K Police, Army, CAPF, NDRF, SDRF, volunteers, other stakeholders, especially local people of J&K after the 8 July floods. Performed rapid rescue and evacuation operations and saved many precious lives. The Lieutenant Governor said that the dedication and commitment of our police and security forces have ensured the safety of the pilgrims. I also thank the central government and the media for their cooperation in the successful organization of the yatra.
'Baba Amarnath Mandir' located in Tehsil Mandi of Poonch district, in the border district of Jammu province, without which the Amarnath Yatra is considered incomplete, was also visited by millions of pilgrims. Mutual brotherhood and religious tolerance during Budha Amarnath Yatra in Poonch set a great example of communal harmony.
A large number of Muslim people were also present in serving the pilgrims at the Dashnami Akhara Poonch. An unusual procession was seen there throughout the night. On the day when the Mubarak stick was to be moved from Poonch to the market, the Ashura procession of Muharram-e-Haram was to be held on the same day, but both the sections were determined to maintain law and order. Separate timings were fixed on the same day for smooth conduct and set another great example by upholding traditional secularism. We all should use occasions such as these to come closer to each other. This is the secret of Indian strength. (ANI)