With Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) announcing that the annual pilgrimage to Amarnath cave in Jammu and Kashmir would take place from June 25 to August 2, some Hindu groups and businessmen have again said its duration should be not less than two months.
Groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and the Hoteliers Association say the duration is too short and cannot accommodate an ever-rising number of pilgrims.
VHP state chief Rama Kant Dubey has described what he calls "curtailment of the yatra to little over five weeks" as a conspiracy to reduce the number of days and pilgrims for the pilgrimage.
Around 6,32,000 devoteees visited the cave located at a height of 3,888 metres in 2011, when the yatra went on for more than one-and-a-half months. Most pilgrims travel by road and stop in Jammu before proceeding to the Valley.
Inderjeet Khajuria, a leader of Jammu hoteliers, said at a press conference on Tuesday that the shortened duration would mean less business for the hotels in Jammu.
But given the scale of snow that has covered the Kashmir Valley this year and the experience of the past years when the snow could not be cleared from the mountainous tracks leading to the cave as well as hostile weather conditions, the SASB announced on February 25 that the pilgrimage would start on June 25 and conclude on August 2.
From two base camps at Baltal and Pahalgam, the pilgrimage involves a treacherous trek to the cave. According to SASB, 107 pilgrims had died last year.
SASB has to seek the help of the state government, army and paramilitary forces to facilitate the pilgrimage for clearing the mountainous tracks and for security reasons as well.
"It is not just a 39-day-affair. It is a much longer affair; putting up facilities takes time and that is a huge task," an SASB official told IANS.
Tarsem Sharma, a regular visitor to the cave, said, "It would be better if matters were left to the organisation that manages the affairs of the shrine (SASB) rather than to those whose interests are well-known."
Another pilgrim, who identified herself as a retired teacher Sheila Devi, asked, "What's wrong with the schedule? SASB has no role in the amount of snow that has fallen this year."