Amid shouts of 'Bam bam bhole', the traditional cry hailing Hindu god Shiva, the first batch of more than 2,500 pilgrims left early on Monday morning for this year's annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Amarnath in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pilgrims from various parts of the country, especially Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana moved in 73 vehicles - 43 buses and 30 light motors - on their nearly 400 km journey from Jammu to Baltal.
The pilgrimage from the Baltal route started on Monday, and the pilgrims will offer their first prayers on Tuesday morning. The "darshan" or worshipping will be first performed by Governor NN Vohra.
Vohra is the chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board that manages the cave shrine, located at a height of 13,500 feet in the Himalayas in south Kashmir. The revered shrine has an icon of Lord Shiva in the form of a naturally made ice stalagmite, called Shivlingam.
Tourism Minister Rigzin Jora, who flagged off the first batch on Monday, said: "I hope the yatra will be successful and help boost tourism in the state."
As many as 2,511 pilgrims left for the pilgrimage that is to last till Aug 5, the day of "Shravan Purnima" - full moon day - of the Hindu calendar, when the yatra concludes. Of the 2,511 pilgrims, 1,560 were men, 652 women and 224 children besides 75 Sadhus.
The enthusiastic pilgrims chanted slogans "Har Har Mahadev" and "Bam Bam Bhole". They were joined by a large crowd of locals who came to see the pilgrims off at Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Bhavan here - the starting point of the pilgrimage.
"It is a dream come true. Particularly after reports that the weather was playing spoilsport," said Shalini Gupta, from Agra who is on the pilgrimage with her husband and two children.
More than 5,000 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel have been deployed along the yatra route for security.