The 44-day-long Amarnath Yatra to the holy cave shrine ended on Sunday, with nearly four lakh pilgrims paying obeisance to the naturally-formed ice-Shivlingam this year.
Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra, Mahant Dipendra Giri and a group of sadhus, who carried the Chhari Mubarik (holy mace of Lord Shiva) were among the first to have the darshan on Sunday morning, a senior police official said.
The yatra, which started on June 28 from the Baltal route and on July 2 from the Pahalgam route, came to an end on Sunday on Shravan Purnima, also being celebrated as Rakshabandhan.
The yatra culminated with the puja of the 'Charri Mubarakh' performed by Swami Dipinder Giri at the shrine located at 12,000-feet-high in south Kashmir.
Governor NN Vohra, also chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, and Rakesh K Gupta, chief executive officer, also visited the cave shrine early on Sunday morning.
A government spokesman said the governor prayed for "sustained peace, harmony, progress and prosperity in the state."
The yatra was more arduous this year because of accumulation of snow on several passages. "Snow has still not melted at Panjtarni, Baltal, Sheshnag and Nunwan Yatra camps," said the spokesman.
However, the governor expressed satisfaction over the smooth conduct of this year's yatra.
The board will now embark on cleaning up of all camp sites.
The police said 46 pilgrims died during this year's pilgrimage due to various causes with cardiac arrest accounting for most of the deaths. The deceased included 39 pilgrims, two sadhus and five sevadars (volunteers). Four volunteers died in a fire incident inside a community kitchen.
This year's yatra again remained peaceful except for clashes between local helpers and non-locals near the Baltal base camp.
This year there was a marginal increase in the number of pilgrims visiting the holy shrine. Last year, only 3.54 lakh pilgrims had visited the holy cave. But, the figures were far below compared to 2011 and 2012, when 6.21 lakh and 6.30 lakh pilgrims had visited the Amarnath shrine respectively.
The dip in number of pilgrims could be attributed to a number of factors, including the compulsory health certificate, Supreme Court guidelines, tougher registration norms, delay in the opening of traditional Pahalgam track and current registration counters in Jammu.
According to a board official, the reason behind the drop of devotees from 2011 and 2012 may be due to the last year's Uttarakhand tragedy.
"It appears that tragedy might have created a fear psychosis among the pilgrims. There has also been a slight dip in the pilgrims visiting Mata Vaishno Devi at Katra after the tragedy", he added.
On the allegations the board did not act timely to remove snow from the Pahalgam track, the board official rebutted it saying, "It is very easy to speak from the thousands of miles away. I must tell you, it was not easy to remove such large accumulation of snow. The people only observe after seeing the finished track."
The age cap has also played a part in reducing the number of pilgrims. As per the Supreme Court guidelines, no one below the age of 13 years and above 75 years was allowed to undertake the Amaranth Yatra this year.
This year, too, Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) maintained its tough stance by not allowing any unregistered pilgrim to undertake the yatra.
The SASB has fixed a quota of 1,60,00 yatris per day with 7,500 yatirs each from both the Pahalgam and the Baltal routes and 1,000 yatris by air route were allowed.
Another reason for the decline in number of pilgrims was the compulsory health certificate while seeking the registration for the pilgrimage.
In 2012, after the high rate of causalities of the yatris during the yatra, the apex court took a strong view and directed the SASB to evolve a mechanism to control such high rate of mortality. In 2012, as many as 93 pilgrims died during the yatra period, while last year only 13 pilgrims lost their lives.