Defying all odds, more than 456,000 pilgrims prayed at the cave shrine of Lord Shiva in southern Kashmir during the Amarnath Yatra that ended on Tuesday.
The pilgrimage, which started July 1 amid mobs dominating the streets in the Kashmir Valley, concluded without any major untoward incident although pilgrims' vehicles were caught in stone-pelting at times.
As the violence started escalating in the valley, the rush of pilgrims declined. Torrential rains added to the misery. Rains and landslides interrupted pilgrims' progress on six occasions.
"We are satisfied with the peaceful conclusion of the pilgrimage and with good reason," said a senior official of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) that manages the annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan shrine, located at a height of 3,888 metres above sea level.
There had been fears that terrorists could attack the pilgrimage.
"The number of pilgrims this year might be less than last year's 533,000. But we are satisfied," the SASB official said requesting anonymity.
The pilgrimage route passed through some of the areas worst affected by violence like parts of Srinagar, Sangam and Bijbedhra on the Jammu-Srinagar highway.
The shorter and steeper route to the shrine, better known as Baltal route, on the edges of the Srinagar-Leh highway, was also badly affected. Equally disturbed were parts of Anantnag, Mattan and Wanpoh en route to Pahlagam-Chandanwari route to the shrine.
Before the pilgrimage began, the government brought in additional 3,000 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel to strengthen security for pilgrims, after three youths were killed in Anantnag town, 52 km from Srinagar.
Sunny Gupta, 26, who had trekked up to the shrine last week, said: "There was some fear but the presence of security forces reinforced our inner strength and faith."
Separatist leaders, including All Parties Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, assured the pilgrims that they were "guests" of the people of Kashmir and "no harm would come to them".
While Hindu groups in Jammu credit security forces for the smooth conduct of the pilgrimage, most pilgrims attribute it to both the security forces and the people of the valley.
"They (Kashmiri Muslims) have their own problems. But they did not cause any problem to us," said Archit Mangotra, who undertook the pilgrimage.
Most pilgrims started their journey from Jammu but many others either drove directly to Baltal and Pahlalgam or flew into Srinagar for the pilgrimage.