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Kashmir unrest takes toll on Amarnath Yatra, pilgrim numbers dwindle

india Updated: Jul 24, 2016 19:29 IST
Navneet Dubey
Navneet Dubey
Hindustan Times
Kashmir unrest

Pilgrims stranded at a base camp after authorities suspend the Amarnath Yatra in view of growing tensions in the Kashmir Valley over the death of Hizbul commander Burhan Wani.(Nitin Kanotra/ HT Photo)

Enthusiasm over the ongoing Amarnath Yatra appears to have fizzled out due to repeated disruptions to the pilgrimage in the wake of unrest in the Valley following the death Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

The yatra, now on its 48th day, began on a promising note on July 2, but saw a sudden dip in traffic since tension gripped Kashmir on July 8.

Particularly in South Kashmir, through which around 50 km of the Jammu-Srinagar national highway passes, authorities suspended the yatra for two days on July 9 and again from July 14 to 16, considering the safety risk for the pilgrims. The pilgrimage from the traditional Pahalgam route commenced on July 17 after it was suspended on July 9.

The yatra movement has been unorderly ever since its resumption on July 11. Earlier batches of pilgrims left from Yarti Niwas, Bagwati Nagar in Jammu, around 5 am, but under the given circumstance, groups began their journeys later in the day, depending on the situation in the Valley.

In the past few days, convoys were halted at Udhampur and Ramban in Jammu division or Qazigund and a couple of other camps in the Valley, causing a lot of inconvenience to pilgrims. On July 11, buses carrying pilgrims were allegedly attacked near Anantnag.

More than 25,000 pilgrims were stranded for three days at Baltal base camp amid growing instability in the Valley, and could only leave for Jammu on July 11.

Such disruptions have created an atmosphere of fear among some pilgrims, who chose to cancel their trips despite advanced registrations. Many others called off their trip after the pilgrimage was temporarily suspended.

Last year, in the first 23 days of the pilgrimage, 286,053 pilgrims paid obedience at the Holy Cave. In contrast, barely 200,000 pilgrims had made that trip as on Sunday (the 23rd day) this year.

The numbers are dwindling further, as barely 1,000 pilgrims are leaving for the Pahalgam and Baltal base camps from the Bagwati Nagar base camp nowadays. In the past few day, the total tally of pilgrims has even failed to cross the 3,000 mark. Such figures usually are seen towards the final days of Amarnath Yatra.

The dramatic decline in turnout has prompted the Jammu district administration to start on-the-spot registration for the pilgrimage at Vaishnavi and Saraswati Dhams from Saturday. The decision was taken in view of the availability of quota for spot registration of Amarnath yatris.

Last year, 352,771 pilgrims reached the Holy Cave for ‘darshan’ despite two lost day due to inclement weather.  Going by the current trend this year, however, it appears unlikely that the yatra would be able to breach the three lakh figure before its concluding on August 18.