The first batch of yatris have left for the twin base camps of Baltal and Pahalgam in Kashmir, in a fleet of vehicles under tight security, officials said.
Amarnath Yatra registration, route news: The much-awaited Amarnath Yatra has begun on Wednesday morning amidst tight security. The first batch of pilgrims for the annual Amarnath Yatra has left from Jammu’s Bhagwati Nagar base camp at at 4:30 am today. This year the yatra has begun under apprehensions that it will be a target for militants. The yatra is also taking place days after BJP had pulled out of the ruling alliance with the PDP resulting into the Governor’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir.
“All arrangements are in place to ensure smooth and peaceful pilgrimage, which is a symbol of brotherhood and communal harmony,” Inspector General of Police, Jammu, S D Singh Jamwal said. Till yesterday nearly 2 lakh pilgrims from across the country have registered themselves for the yatra to the cave shrine in the south Kashmir Himalayas. The yatra is scheduled to conclude on August 26 coinciding with the ‘Raksha Bandhan’ festival.
The first batch of yatris have left for the twin base camps of Baltal and Pahalgam in Kashmir, in a fleet of vehicles under tight security, officials said. They will reach the base camps of Baltal in Ganderbal and Nunwan-Pahalgam in Anantnag districts in Kashmir later in the day. The pilgrims would start their onward journey to the 3,880 metre high cave shrine by foot on Thursday, marking the commencement of the pilgrimage.
Security arrangements: According to the Inspector General of Police, Jammu, security forces were fully alert and they have taken adequate measures to thwart nefarious designs of anti-national elements and their mentors from across the border. Security arrangements around the base camps, temples, railway stations, bus stands and other crowded places have been strengthened, the officials said. Around 40,000 security personnel from the police, paramilitary forces, National Disaster Response Force and the Army have been being deployed this year. Security forces are also using drones and CCTV cameras along the yatra route, specially designed motorcycles and ambulances during the 60-day Yatra to the South Kashmir Himalayas to check any possible terror atack and avert disaster.
Measures taken: This year, the government has decided to monitor each vehicle carrying Amarnath pilgrims with radio frequency (RF) tag and to extend the validity of temporary prepaid mobile connections taken by pilgrims from seven days to 10 days. Considering the carrying capacity of the existing tracks and other available infrastructure in the pilgrimage area, Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) has decided to allow 7, 500 pilgrims on each route daily. These are the traditional 36-km route from Pahalgam and the shortest 12-km route from Baltal. This will exclude pilgrims travelling by helicopter.
Number of pilgrims expected: “As many as 2,11,994 pilgrims have secured advance registration through the designated bank branches, group registration facility and through booking of helicopter tickets for the yatra,” an official spokesperson said yesterday. A total of 2.60 lakh pilgrims offered prayers at the shrine last year. He said that due to reduced helicopter ticket fares for yatra 2017 and yatra 2018, the pilgrims had made bookings in advance in large numbers.
Registration process: The registration process started on March 1 this year through 440 designated bank branches of the Punjab National Bank, J&K Bank and YES Bank in 32 states and UTs across the country, the spokesperson said. The CEO of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board Umang Narula urged the pilgrims to secure advance registration for the pilgrimage only from the branches of the authorized banks and not from any other persons or agents who may try to cheat and sell fake permits to them.
Reduced helicopter ticket prices: This year, per passenger one way heli-fare for Neelgrath-Panjtarni is Rs 1,600 and Rs 2,751 for Pahalgam-Panjtarni, he said. It was also noted that the advance registration via the traditional Pahalgam route, which conforms to the traditional pattern of the yatra, was being preferred over the Baltal route, the spokesperson added.
No Hizbul threat: Hizbul Mujahideen has allegedly released an audio in which it had assured Amarnath pilgrims they have nothing to fear as long as they visit Kashmir only to fulfil their religious duties. The voice is purportedly that of Riyaz Naikoo, the commander of the terror group. But the authenticity of the voice clip could not be confirmed. The 15-minute clip, which circulated on WhatsApp, carried Naikoo’s picture. “Our fight is only against India’s occupation of Jammu and Kashmir. We have nothing against the people of India or Amarnath pilgrims who come here for religious reasons. However, they should not connect the pilgrimage to the political issue of Kashmir,” Naikoo said.