Hindu religious leaders on Monday agreed to start the annual Amarnath Yatra from June 29, and not June 15 as they had earlier insisted on, following hectic negotiations with the Jammu and Kashmir government representatives to resolve the row over a curtailed pilgrimage to the famed cave shrine in the Himalayas.
The Baba Amarnath Yatra Nyas agreed to the suggestion of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board to start the pilgrimage from June 29 in view of unfavourable weather conditions in and around the cave shrine in south Kashmir's Pir Panjal ranges.
The agreement was reached after the Nyas leaders held detailed discussions with the government representatives.
A team of senior officials, including director general of police Kuldeep Khoda, home secretary BR Sharma and principal secretary to the chief minister BB Vyas, earlier in the day arrived in Jammu to facilitate talks between the board and the Hindu groups.
The talks were held after the Nyas threatened to go ahead with its plans to start the pilgrimage from June 15, alleging that June 29 had been chosen with a design to curtail the period of the pilgrimage from 60 to 45 days.
Nyas spokesman Surinder Jain, who along with Vishwa Hindu Parishad's state unit president Rama Kant Dubey and others represented the Hindu groups who were insisting on June 15 to begin the pilgrimage, told newsmen: "We have been told that the track is not worthy of trekking and the weather is also not good. So we have given up our programme of starting the yatra from tomorrow (Tuesday) and darshan at the shrine on June 15."
Jain said that instead of the pilgrimage starting Tuesday, the "Nyas will send its representatives to the shrine June 15 by chopper and pray there. And, for future, we have requested that the pilgrimage's duration should not be less than two months".
"The shrine board will be holding a meeting to deliberate on this issue on July 22," he said.
The shrine board, headed by governor NN Vohra, had announced the schedule of pilgrimage from June 29 to Aug 13, 15 days less than the two-month duration of the yatra until last year.
"The Nyas was convinced that it was not feasible to start the yatra earlier than the month-end as the weather was hostile and the routes leading to the shrine were covered with snow even at this point of time," an official told IANS after the talks.
The annual Amarnath pilgrimage is undertaken by pilgrims from all over the country to reach the cave shrine, devoted to Lord Shiva, at an altitude of 13,500 feet. A stalagmite of ice, considered an icon of Lord Shiva, is the main attraction of the pilgrims.
Last year, nearly half a million pilgrims visited the shrine.
This year the Hindu groups decided to start the pilgrimage on June 15, defying the shrine board's plans to start it from June 29.
The Nyas, supported by the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu groups, was earlier insisting on starting the pilgrimage June 15 and concluding it Aug 13, Raksha Bandhan day - the traditional date of its end.
The Amarnath shrine in the Pir Panjal range is approachable through mountainous tracks from south and central Kashmir.