An estimated 50,000 pilgrims took the holy dip in the oval shaped, glacial-fed Manimahesh Lake amid chanting or religious hymns, in tribal Bharmour sub-division of Chamba district on the occasion of Janmashtmi (birthday of Lord Krishna) that also marked the official beginning of 17-day annual Manimahesh Yatra.
The administration, however, put the estimated number of the pilgrims who visited the lake at 20,000, based on the registration done at Bharmour and Hadsar base camp. From last year, the Bharmour administration has made it mandatory for pilgrims to register before visiting the holy lake.
However, the registration is done only on the Bharmour-Manimahesh route while thousands of devotees reach the lake from Bhaderwah of Jammu and Kashmir and Lauhul and Spiti after crossing the high passes.
The pilgrimage is considered as arduous as the one to the Amarnath cave shrine in Jammu and Kashmir. It will conclude September 2 on Radhashtami (the birthday of Lord Krishna's companion Radha).
“The first batch of around 20,000 devotees reached the holy lake on foot from Bharmour trek,” sub-divisional magistrate and pilgrimage in-charge Jitender Kanwar told Hindustan Times.
Kanwar said devotees would be allowed on the pilgrimage only after registration with the local civic authorities.
Every year, devotees undertake the arduous 14-km trek from the Hadsar base camp, 65 km from district headquarters Chamba, to the Manimahesh lake, located in the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas at an altitude of 4,080 metre, from where devotees can see Mount Kailash believed to be adobe of Lord Shiva. The holy lake is visited annually by more than 5 lakh devotees.
“Elaborate security arrangements have been put in place, with around 600 police personnel and home guard jawans deployed on the 14-km trek,” Kanwar said, adding that entire route has had been divided into 17 sectors. An office has been set up in each sector to facilitate the pilgrims.
Besides, 50 rescue teams comprising experts from Regional Mountaineering Institute have been constituted and deployed at various points. Medical camps have been set up at vital points to meet any emergency.
The administration has also advised the pilgrims against trekking in the night or alone, taking short-cuts on the route and continuing the trek if feeling uneasy.