Amarnath yatra: A pilgrimage under the shadow of gun

  • Ravi Krishan Khajuria, Hindustan Times, Jammu
  • Updated: Jul 05, 2016 12:00 IST
Standing guard: A three-tier security cover would guard over 3.5 lakh pilgrims. (Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)

Guarding the annual Amarnath pilgrimage has been a recurring logistical challenge for the government since a Pakistan-backed insurgency broke out in Kashmir in 1989.

The recent spurt in militant attacks on security forces in the Kashmir Valley has made both the Centre and state government pull out all stops on security cover to over 3.5 lakh pilgrims expected to trek to the holy cave tucked away at 12,750-ft altitude in the Pir Panjal mountains in the south Kashmir.

A day before the 48-day pilgrimage kicked off on July 2, Union home minister Rajnath Singh took stock of security details in Jammu and Srinagar, underscoring a sense of urgency on one of the most-sacred and longest Hindu pilgrimages that continues on the radar of terror outfits.

In 16 years, 52 pilgrims have been killed in three terror strikes -- the worst was in 2000 when 30 pilgrims lost their lives at the Pahalgam base camp. Though there is no specific threat from militants, security forces are leaving nothing to chance.

Though the spectre of a terror strike looms large, the pilgrimage is also fraught with harsh elements: A high-altitude 13-km trek, sub-zero temperature, low oxygen and threat of blizzards. (Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)

Hindustan Times takes a closer look at extraordinary steps put in place for the smooth conduct of the yatra.

Degree of challenge

The prime task of security forces is to sanitise and secure the 400-km highway, starting from Lakhanpur, the gateway on the J&K-Punjab border, to the shrine. Equally daunting is the task of protecting dozens of make-shift ‘langar’ (community kitchens) and night camps for pilgrims along the yatra route.

Security blanket

A three-tier grid of 21,000 security personnel has been put in place along the two key routes to the shrine. While the army is tasked with road opening drills and domination of the upper reaches around the shrine, the CRPF will ensure protection to vehicles ferrying pilgrims. The state police has set up extra road checkpoints. In a first, drones will conduct aerial reconnaissance of the largest base camp at Bhagwati Nagar in Jammu.

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