Amarnath cave, a prominent Hindu shrine located in Kashmir valley, is visited by lakhs of devotees every year. The shrine is taken care by Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), which conducts the annual pilgrimage to the high-altitude shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Situated at a height of 3,888 meters above the sea level, the Amarnath Cave is being considered one of the most revered pilgrimage sites among Hindus.
Besides the pilgrimage taking place from decades is an exemplary exposition of communal harmony in Kashmir, for which it is famous all over the world.
There is a religious belief and mythological story attached to Amarnath Temple and Amarnath Yatra. Many historians and legends narrated different ordeals on its discovery and existence.
It is believed that there was a shepherd named Buta Malik who first discovered the cave. However there is a mention of Amarnath temple in ‘Rajtarangni’ and people believe that Queen Suryamthi gave a present of trishul, banalingas and sacred emblems to Amarnath temple back in the 11th century. But in 15th century, Buta Malik rediscovered the cave, so the story of Queen Suryamthi was disremembered.
Malik according to reports was deep into the Pahalgam mountains where he found Shiva telling Parvati, his wife and Ganesh Amar Katha (the secret of his immortality).
A Kashmiri poet, writer, social activist and environmentalist Zareef Ahmad Zareef while shedding light on the historical background of Amarnath Cave, said Buta Malik who was a shepherd once lost his goat. He ventured out through the difficult terrain of Pahalgam and reached to the cave where he found a Saadhu (Hindu Saint) like man feeding his goat.
“On seeing Malik, the Saadhu expressed that God has sent this goat to me and pleaded before Malik to leave the goat with him. The Saadhu offered some kind of gift to Malik in lieu of his goat”, Zareef said.
When Buta Malik returned to his village, he went to the market to sell the gift (gold like item) where a gold smith requested him to express the whole ordeal. Later on both visited the cave after passing through the difficult terrain where they found the Saadhu dead. Malik and the goldsmith returned back to Batkote village of Pahalgam with the stick (Chari Mubarak) of the Saadhu he left at the cave after his death.
According to a myth, the Saadhu who died in the cave came from Banaras to spend some time in the cave, which was discovered by Buta Malik in 1850.
According to eye witnesses, there was handful of non-Muslim brethren from nearby areas who used to visit the cave for pilgrimage. “There was a Sanskrit University in Bijbehara area of Anantnag where students from different parts of India were pursuing religious education. Besides locals, these students were also visiting the Amarnath cave for many years”, Zareef said.
After some time the saints from different parts of the country started to visit the Amarnath cave.
The Amarnath Cave remained out of bounds for almost 50 years in Pathan Era (1754 – 1819) when a strong earthquake jolted southern districts of Kashmir Valley. The rocky terrain leading to Amarnath cave got collapsed for five decades almost during which no Yatra took place. Later on an alternate walk-able route from Baltal was constructed to ensure the smooth reach of devotees to the cave.
According to Zareef, the Yatra was a depiction of communal harmony between Muslims and Non-Muslims in the region. Even the Government departments were assisting the pilgrims with full zeal and passion.
“Earlier some 500 to 600 people from different parts of the country would visit to the Amarnath cave however after 1990’s, the Government of India ensured the number of devotees increased”, he said.
The eye witnessed said these devotees preferred to stay in different parts of valley with their Muslim brethren who provided them every material required during the pilgrimage. “There was a strong bond between the communities. The Amarnath devotees were given sticks, woolen caps, sweaters, pheran, plastic boots etc. by Muslims keeping the weather conditions and difficult terrain into consideration”, Zareef said.
“There was a great respect for these pilgrims in Kashmir. They were being welcomed by heart. The local Kashmiris were opening doors of the houses for them and provided meals and other goods to the Amarnath pilgrims”, he added.
The Yatra was initially taking place for a period of 10 days, however after Government of India took reins of the pilgrimage, its period was extended to two months.
In 2000 things started changing after J&K legislature passed a law guiding setting up of a caretaking board. After Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) was set up on February 12, 2000, it did away with all hereditary rights that family of Buta Malik possessed. They all were offered one time settlement.
Meanwhile the authorities have made adequate security arrangements to ensure peaceful Amarnath Yatra this year. An official told Rising Kashmir that at least 12,000 paramilitary troops and hundreds of Jammu and Kashmir Police personnel, with the help of drone cameras, will guard the Amarnath Yatra which is scheduled to begin on June 30 this year.
Notably the Amarnath Yatra was suspended in 2020 and 2021 owing to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions across the country.
Union Home Secretary, Ajay Bhalla on May 13 reviewed the security preparedness for the annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine located in south Kashmir at an altitude of 3,888 meters.
About 12,000 paramilitary personnel (120 companies) in addition to Jammu and Kashmir Police are expected to be deployed along the two pilgrimage routes via Pahalgam and Baltal, they said. Drone cameras will hover over the pilgrim routes to help the security forces to ensure the protection of pilgrims, officials said. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags will also be given to the pilgrims.
As per the official, about three lac pilgrims are likely to take part in the Yatra this year which is expected to end on August 11.
To welcome the Amarnath pilgrims, the hoteliers and restaurateurs are also gearing up.
Abdul Wahid, President, Kashmir Hotel And Restaurant Owners Federation (KHAROF) said the Amarnath yatra is one of the biggest sources of income for people of Kashmir. “This will open door to the employment and opportunities among people of Kashmir and everyone will get benefitted,”
He further said that every person of the twin tourist spots - Pahalgam and Sonmarg is ready for their welcome.
“Sonamarg area till Kangan will be reverberated with activities of horse and pony walas, potters, artisans and whoever is concerned with the spiritual tourism directly or indirectly,” he said.
He further said that the number of devotees has been increasing from the past 30 years but the past 2-3 years put the tourism sector on the back seat.
“Be it tourists and pilgrims, we need to have better infrastructure for everyone so that more people can be welcomed. The carrying capacity of the tourists has to be increased,” he said.
Ghulam Nabi, a pony rider in Pahalgam said that the people of the valley have been converting their homes to homestay for pilgrims. “People open their hearts and homes to welcome them. Devotees are taken good care by the locals as well to build up the communal harmony” he said.
He further said that the pilgrimage is one of the main sources of livelihood to them. “We get good earnings during this season of the year,” he said.
Javed Burza, a hotelier said that the Sonamarg witnesses more rush of devotees than Pahalgam.
He said, “For the first 15 days the rush remains good and then it slows down. This year we are hoping for a prosperous season. Group bookings have started coming.”
The reason, he stated, behind the rush of devotees in Sonamarg is the short distance to the cave.
Apart from horse rides, local helicopter rides will also be available.
“If one goes and comes to pilgrimage from Sonamarg, he can come back the same day whereas from Pahalgam, it takes him 3 days. The traditional route is Pahalgam and the devotees usually live in camps,” he said.
* The Annual Amarnath Yatra – 2022 will commence on June 30 and conclude on August 11.
* Persons below 13 years or above 75 years of age cannot take part in the Amarnath Yatra.
* Devotees between the age of 13-75 years can come for the registration. They will have to get a health certificate from designated hospitals that are near to Amarnath Shrine Board.
* The process of Yatri registration for Amarnath Yatra began at the 316 branches of Punjab National Bank, 446 branches of Jammu & Kashmir Bank, Yes Bank and 100 branches of SBI across the country on April 11 this year and shall continue till June 30.
* Yatri’s who had registered last year have to give rupees 20 extra for the fee, which was 100 last, while it is 120 rupees now.
* The pilgrims can also register online through the website and mobile app of the Shrine Board.
Do’s and Don’ts for Yatris
What to do?
1. Carry sufficient woolen clothes as the temperature may sometimes abruptly fall to below 5 degree Celsius.
2. Carry umbrella, wind cheater, raincoat and waterproof shoes as the weather in the Yatra area is unpredictable.
3. Keep your clothes and eatables in a suitable waterproof bag to avoid your belongings getting wet.
4. Keep in your pocket a note containing the name, address, mobile telephone number of any Yatri proceeding for Darshan on the same date as you are doing, for emergency purposes.
5. Carry your identity card, driving license and Yatra permit with you.
What not to do?
1. Don’t stop at places which are marked by warning notices.
2. Don’t use slippers because there are steep rises and falls on the route to the Holy Cave.
3. Don’t attempt any shortcuts on the route as doing so would be dangerous.
4. Do not do anything during your entire forward/return journey which could cause pollution or disturb the environment of the Yatra area.
5. Use of plastics is strictly banned in the Union Territory and is punishable under law.
There are two possible routes established to reach the holy cave, one from Jammu to Pahalgam and the other one is Jammu to Baltal. Pilgrims can start their journey from any of these two places. Between these two routes Baltal, the northern route is the shorter one which is almost 14 km long. However, it is the steeper one so people mostly prefer the route which starts from Pahalgam which is longer yet easier and the more traditional one. The devotees can start their journey from Srinagar or Pahalgam on their barefoot.
How to reach the cave?
The distance between Amarnath and Delhi is 638 km. There is no specific railhead at Amarnath and the nearest railway railhead to Amarnath is in Jammu which is situated almost 178 km from the pilgrimage. A devotee can reach to Amarnath Cave through these means:
By Bus: There are many websites offering online bus ticket services from Delhi to the holy cave. The buses are categorized as AC, non-AC and Volvo bus. There are numerous private and public buses running from Delhi to Amarnath.
By Air: The nearest airport to Amarnath is Srinagar airport which is located around 71 km away from the destination. This is the most convenient way to reach Amarnath from Delhi as it takes lesser time as compared to other modes of transportation.
By Train: A devotee has to spend 12 hours if he or she is travelling to Amarnath from Delhi by train. The nearest railhead is Udhampur which is located 146 km away from the Srinagar Airport.