Srinagar, 28 June-2014, PTI: The annual pilgrimage to the 3,880 metre high holy cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas, commenced on Saturday from Baltal route in Ganderbal district amid tight security arrangements.
Among religious chants, the first bath of nearly 8,000 pilgrims who had reached Baltal base camp on Friday, started the arduous 16-km journey to the cave shrine on Saturday morning, officials said.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra, who is also Chairman of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) which manages the annual pilgrimage, was the first to pay obeisance at the cave shrine and participated in ‘Pratham Pooja’, marking the beginning of the 44-day pilgrimage, the officials said.
They said the first group of pilgrims left the Baltal base camp around 4.45 am and by noon, a total of 7,907 pilgrims including 951 women and 24 sadhus proceeded toward the cave shrine.
In addition, 152 pilgrims also visited the cave using the chopper service and had ‘darshan’ (glimpse) of the naturally formed ice-shivalingam at the cave shrine by this afternoon, the officials said.
The yatra was also scheduled to commence from the traditional 45-km Pahalgam route in Anantnag district on Saturday but was deferred due to non-clearance of snow along the track.
On June 25, SASB announced its decision to defer the start of the yatra from the Pahalgam route by three days as the track had not yet been completely cleared of snow.
The Himalayan mountain ranges in the entire Yatra area witnessed very heavy snowfall during the winter and about seven to eight feet of snow still exist at several places around the cave shrine.
Efforts are on to throw open the Pahalgam route for pilgrims by July 1 but the final decision will be taken by the Governor after reviewing the status of the route and clearance operation, the officials said.
A three-tier security ring, comprising of police, CRPF, BSF and Army, has been put in place along the route to ensure peaceful yatra and foil any nefarious design by subversive elements to sabotage the annual pilgrimage.
The officials said special rescue teams have also been deployed at vulnerable spots along the tracks to meet any eventuality, the officials said.