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Huge turnout a surprise?

Thousands of Amarnath devotees were joined by hundreds of Muslims labourers and pony owners on Wednesday to kick start annual pilgrimage from two base camps in south and north-east of Kashmir.

india Updated: Jun 30, 2011 00:29 IST
Peerzada Ashiq

Thousands of Amarnath devotees were joined by hundreds of Muslims labourers and pony owners on Wednesday to kick start annual pilgrimage from two base camps in south and north-east of Kashmir.

The Vedic mantras recited by the priests and J-K governor NN Vohra, who heads the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, at the sanctum sanctorum declared yatra open in the morning for devotees across the country.

This year it is not security that is worrying the authorities but incredible number of devotees trickling into Kashmir. On day when only 2,096 registered devotees were expected from south Kashmir, the authorities were taken aback by the phenomenal number of devotees standing up in queues at the two base camps of Baltal in north-east of Srinagar and Chandanwari in the south.

“Against 2,000 plus registered devotees, out estimates say there were 10,000 plus devotees on the day one aspiring to reach the shrine through the Pahalgam route,” south Kashmir deputy inspector general (DIG) of police Shafkat Watali told the Hindustan Times.

The government’s decision of on-the-spot registration had many people driving in in their private cars into Kashmir valley. “It’s difficult to differentiate between registered and unregistered pilgrims. There is also heavy tourist rush in the area. Two, on-the spot registration facility is there. It’s putting extra pressure on us but we are managing it,” said Watali.

There are two mountain routes to the shrine --- 42 km trek from Pahalgam base camp in south Kashmir and 12 km trek from Baltal base camp in north-east of Kashmir.

Against 5,000 registered pilgrims, around 13,900 pilgrims left the Baltal base camp towards the cave on Wednesday, according to state officials. Over 12,000 pilgrims left for the cave shrine from the Nunwan base camp in south.

The 13,500-foot high Himalayan cave houses a stalagmite of Lord Shiva. The police have deployed more than 1500 personnel to man the route to the shrine in south Kashmir. “Security arrangements are foolproof. Under multi-tier security arrangement, we have deployments in upper reaches of the mountain, personnel are manning camps and road opening parties are active to keep miscreants at bay,” said Watali.

The army and the paramilitary, around 7,000 personnel, are also providing cover to the devotees. This year the government has procured more equipment and additional accommodation to cater to devotees in case of any natural calamity. Both the routes are prone to sudden showers and landslides, with temperature dipping very fast in the area.

At least 20,000 Muslim labourers and 7,000 Muslim pony owners will ensure safe and secure pilgrimage of the devotees. The pilgrimage will culminate on August 13 with Hindus celebrating Raksha Bandhan.