With shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir becoming routine and separatists demanding a curtailed Amarnath yatra, an air of uncertainty and apprehension has gripped thousands of Hindu pilgrims assembling in Jammu.
While pilgrims pouring into Jammu are happy about the arrangements made for the annual pilgrimage starting July 1, they feel that the situation in the Kashmir Valley will mar their spiritual quest.
Tens of thousands make it every year to the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir, dedicated to Lord Shiva, that is located at a height of 13,500 feet.
Sehdev Singh of Jammu, who has not missed the pilgrimage for 12 years, is among the more than 170,000 people who have got registered and are rearing to go.
"But the news from the (Kashmir) Valley is disturbing," the man in his mid-30s told IANS. "Undertaking pilgrimage under security cover takes away much of the charm."
Sehdev is thinking of changing his plans and waiting for the situation to improve.
"That would mean cancelling my registration and going for a fresh one at a later date," he said. "I think it is better to wait."
There have been reassuring words from Governor N.N. Vohra, who is also chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.
Vohra has promised safe pilgrimage. "The army, the Border Security Force, the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) and the state police are there to ensure a safe pilgrimage. There is nothing to worry," he said during his visit to Jammu last week.
The authorities are determined that the yatra is peaceful.
"We are putting in all efforts to ensure that the pilgrimage is smooth and peaceful," M.K. Dwivedi, the deputy commissioner of Jammu, said after presiding over a meeting Friday.
But the authorities' words, though reassuring, have not led all the pilgrims to shed their fear.
It is particularly so with those who saw the troubles of the summer of 2008 in the valley when protests over the contentious issue of allotment of 100 acres of land to the shrine board led to emotive demonstrations.
Hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani has publicly demanded that the Amarnath pilgrimage be curtailed to 15 days instead of the present two months. He has warned of more protests -- on top of the numerous shutdowns Srinagar and other parts of the valley are seeing every now and then -- if his demand is not accepted.
"Since Geelani has warned of agitations over the pilgrimage, we may not be welcome faces over there (Kashmir Valley)," said Ashok Puri, another pilgrim.