The 43-day Amarnath Yatra to the holy cave shrine located in south Kashmir Himalayas is all set to begin on Thursday after a gap of three years. All arrangements have been put in place by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) to ensure smooth pilgrimage to the naturally formed ice-lingam at the cave shrine, officials said. Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha on Wednesday morning flagged off the first batch of pilgrims from Jammu base camp.
The first batch of 4,890 pilgrims left around 4 am from the Bhagwati Nagar base camp for Kashmir Valley in a cavalcade of 176 light and heavy vehicles, the officials said. The Jammu and Kashmir administration is also augmenting the efforts of the shrine board by providing foolproof security cover along both the Pahalgam and Baltal routes to the holy cave, a senior official said. The board has also made a provision of online 'darshan' for those who cannot physically undertake the pilgrimage.
"For the devotees who cannot come for the pilgrimage, they can avail the facility of online 'darshan', 'pooja', 'havan' and 'prasad'," the official said. This year, the pilgrimage is expected to see higher than usual attendance of pilgrims as the Yatra is resuming after a gap of three years. In 2019, the Yatra was curtailed days ahead the abrogation of Article 370. The pilgrimage did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While a senior army officer recently said the threat perception to the pilgrimage was more this year, unprecedented security arrangements have been made to ensure it remains incident-free.
Security personnel have been deployed three to four times more in strength for the pilgrimage, the officials said. The security along both the Baltal and Pahalgam routes has been beefed up and new security pickets have been established to ensure that subversive elements are not able to disrupt the pilgrimage, they said. To ensure only bona fide pilgrims are present at the pilgrimage, the SASB has asked all intending pilgrims to carry Aadhaar cards or any other biometric verified document with them. Apart from the deployment, drone surveillance and RFID chips are also a part of the three-tier security arrangements for pilgrims.
The peaks leading to the holy cave from both the routes -- Pahalgam and Baltal -- have been covered by the security forces, the officials said. They said sanitisation of the routes has been carried out and round-the-clock vigil is being maintained. The officials said the pilgrimage would be monitored with the help of CCTVs and drones on both routes. Apart from security, other arrangements have also been in an elaborate manner. At the Baltal base camp, a 70-bed fully-equipped DRDO hospital has been set up for quality healthcare services to the pilgrims.
The hospital, funded by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, will have X-ray and ultrasound facilities, general and oxygenated wards, OPD, ICU, pharmacy and a laboratory. The health department of the Union Territory administration has also made special arrangements for providing healthcare facilities to the pilgrims. They have stationed 109 basic life support ambulances and 26 advance life support critical care ambulances at 55 locations en route Baltal and Chandanwari routes from Qazigund for the pilgrims. The officials said this year, special focus is on cleanliness and the board aims for a "Swachh Amarnath Yatra". Toilets have been provided all along the routes. The pilgrimage will culminate on August 11, coinciding with 'Raksha Bandhan'.
(With PTI Inputs)