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Sunday, Oct 20, 2019

Amarnath Yatra: The pilgrimage under shadow of the gun explained

Pilgrimage comes days after governor’s rule imposed in Jammu and Kashmir, surge in mob attacks in Valley and volatile situation in south Kashmir through which the yatra passes.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2018 18:52 IST

Navneet Dubey, Hindustan Times, Jammu
A CRPF soldier guards the bus carrying Amarnath Yatra pilgrims  on August 05, 2015.
A CRPF soldier guards the bus carrying Amarnath Yatra pilgrims on August 05, 2015.(Nitin Kanotra/ H File Photo)

The two-month-long annual Amarnath Yatra, for which 1.96 lakh pilgrims from different parts of the country have registered this year, begins on Thursday amid unprecedented security.

The first batch of pilgrims, headed for the cave shrine of Lord Shiva, was escorted in a convoy from the Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas in Jammu for the Kashmir Valley amid three-tier security on Wednesday.

The pilgrimage is being conducted under unprecedented security as it comes days after governor’s rule was imposed in the state following the collapse of the PDP-BJP government in the Valley and the volatile situation in south Kashmir through which the yatra passes.

The Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), headed by governor NN Vohra, which manages the affairs of the yatra, has this year decided to restrict at 7,500, from each route, the daily number of pilgrims to be allowed to proceed towards the shrine each day. This does not include pilgrims who use the helicopter services from the two base camps to the shrine.

Three lakh pilgrims are expected to undertake the yatra that concludes on August 26, coinciding with the Shravan Purnima festival.

Security personnel guar the Yatri Niwas base camp ahead of the annual Amarnath Yatra, which starts from Jammu on June 27, 2018.
Security personnel guar the Yatri Niwas base camp ahead of the annual Amarnath Yatra, which starts from Jammu on June 27, 2018. ( Nitin Kanotra )

Location and logistics

Situated at 3,888m (12,756 feet) above sea level, the cave shrine in south Himalayas houses an ice stalagmite structure that waxes and wanes with the phases of the moon. Devotees believe the ice stalagmite symbolises mythical powers of Lord Shiva.

Legend has it that Lord Shiva narrated the ‘amar katha or ode to immorality’ to Goddess Parvati in the shrine, which was discovered by a Muslim shepherd in the 15thcentury. A naturally formed ‘ice lingam’ in the cave is the object of reverence.

Pilgrims taking the 36-km Pahalgam route take four days to reach the shrine with stopovers at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarni, while those using the 14-km uphill Baltal route return to the base camp the same day after offering prayers at the shrine. The shrine via Pahalgam is 428 km from Jammu, while it is 416 km from Baltal. Jammu is 292 km from Srinagar.

3-tier grid of 40,000 security personnel

Nearly 40,000 security personnel from the army, paramilitary forces, state police and the National Disaster Response Force have been deployed on yatra duty.

Their prime task is to sanitise and secure the 400-km highway, starting from Lakhanpur, the gateway on the J&K-Punjab border, to the shrine. Equally daunting is the task of protecting dozens of makeshift ‘langar’ (community kitchens) and night camps for pilgrims along the yatra route.

The army has been tasked with road opening drills and domination of upper reaches around shrine, while 238 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been deployed along the route. J&K Police have set up extra road checkpoints.

Motorcycle squads of commandos will assist the army, paramilitary and police personnel.

Electronic and human surveillance through intelligence sleuths in plainclothes have been included for the first time.

Hi-tech surveillance

All buses and mini-buses carrying pilgrims will be equipped with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags for better coordination. The RFID device uses radio waves to read and capture information stored on a tag attached to an object. It will be installed on vehicles when an individual or tour operator registers to travel to Kashmir for the yatra.

Drones will keep a close watch on the routes and at the base cam CCTV cameras installed to keep a constant vigil on all key locations. Bulletproof bunkers, dog squads and quick reaction teams will be on the yatra route. A satellite will track the entire route.

A round-the-clock helpline number 1364 installed to help yatris.

Health check

Registration of pilgrims is open at the counters set up in Jammu. They became functional on Tuesday though 437 designated branches of Punjab National Bank, Jammu and Kashmir Bank and Yes Bank in 32 states and UTs initiated advance registration on March 1.

Any person above 75 years or below 13 years is not allowed to perform the pilgrimage. A fitness certificate from designated health centres is needed to get registered.

The directorate of health services, Kashmir, have set up a three-level mode health services, which include 10 emergency aid centres (EAC), 30 medical aid centres (MAC) and five base camp hospitals.

“The facilities follow Supreme Court guidelines of having a health facility at every 2 km of the route,” says Dr Saleem-ur-Rehmaan, director, health services.

Hi-tech equipment for the yatris include hyperbaric chambers, defibrillators, oxygen concentrators, automated chest compression systems, multi-parameter cardiac monitors and pulse oxymeters. As many as 307 medical personnel, including 81 doctors, will attend to pilgrims.

First Published: Jun 27, 2018 09:33 IST

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