The strict implementation of the Supreme Court (SC) guidelines opened this year's Amarnath on a slow note. Of 7,500 pilgrims scheduled to visit the shrine, only around 4,500 made it to the cave on day one on Friday.
The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, which drew flak from the SC after around 130 pilgrims died last year, has tightened its noose on unregistered pilgrims. "I have come seven times before without registration. Earlier, a card would be issued in Jammu and that would serve as registration. Since morning, six of us are not allowed to trek to the shrine," said Shubash Kumar, a priest from Mumbai, who is neither registered nor carrying medical certificate.
The board, for the first time, is making special announcements on speakers for unregistered and unscheduled pilgrims to dissuade them from embarking on any yatra route. Pilgrims above 75 are urged not to go ahead. "Only pilgrims who are registered for the day will be allowed," a yatra officer told the pilgrims at the gates of Baltal, which is being monitored through the closed camera television system.
Despite rains and overcast sky, hundreds of pilgrims queued up since 3am at Baltal.
IG CRPF YS Yadav attributes several other reason to the slow start of the yatra. "The incident in Uttrakhand, militant attack on the army this week, terror alerts and strict implementation of SC guidelines have slowed down the flow of pilgrims," said Yadav.
Yadav said he was hopeful that the yatra will pick up since the duration, which is of 55 days, is longer than the previous year.
"Security issues did linger on our minds. Otherwise, geography and weather did not bother us," said Deepika Saxena, a resident of Delhi.
More than 3.25 lakh pilgrims have already registered for the yatra. In an attempt to implement the SC guidelines on safety and incident-free yatra, the board has taken a slew of measures to streamline the pilgrimage. "A diet chart has been issued to langars (free meal stalls). It was observed that many pilgrims had developed complication by taking unhealthy food before trekking to the cave," said the yatra officer.
Slippery paths have been railed up on the Baltal-Cave route and roads widened. The State Disaster Response Force (SDRF) has been equipped up with mobile oxygen cylinders. "The rescuers are trained for all types of eventuality," said Nazeer Ahmad, a deputy superintendent of police.
A multi-layer medical facility system with oxygen-fixed beds have been set up on the route. "No major complication was reported on day one," said a doctor at the base hospital.
Eight eight pilgrims, many unregistered and medically unfit, died last year while trekking the two routes --- 14 km trek from Sonamarg-Baltal-cave in north-eastern region of Srinagar and 42 km trek from Pahalgam-Chandanwar-cave in south Kashmir --- after developing medical complications.
The SC has fixed the number of pilgrims at 7,500 for each route. Around 2,000 additional can take chopper service. Last year, 20,000 trekked on the routes a day and more than a lakh on-spot registrations were issued, the trend stopped this year.