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For Amarnath pilgrims, faith helps overcome fear of militant attacks

nationpaper Updated: Jul 03, 2016, 07:29 IST

DHUMAIL/BALTAL: At dawn on Saturday, thousands of pilgrims began their journey to the holy Amarnath shrine in south Kashmir from the Baltal base camp, some 120km from Srinagar.

“It’s my 18th Yatra and all I will ask Bhole Baba once I reach the cave is to bless all humanity,” said Satpal Verma, 53, from Rajasthan, as he began the trek with a walking stick.

The 48-day pilgrimage to the holy shrine, located at an altitude of more than 3,880 metres, through the two routes of Baltal and Pahalgam is expected to be taken by about 400,000 visitors. Inside the cave, a natural ice formation is considered the Shiva Lingam by Hindus.

As cold winds swept the camp, pilgrims began their 16km trek on foot, horses and palkis, chanting “Bum Bum Bholey” amid a massive security set-up comprising personnel from the state police, army, CRPF and BSF.

Since Friday evening, the scene at the Baltal base camp was that of exuberance — with tents put up for lodging the pilgrims by various religious bodies, multicoloured lights and devotional songs blaring out of loudspeakers.

Hundreds of pilgrims crossed the arduous security checks to enter the camp and the langars put up in a large tent adorned with posters of Shiva serving vegetarian meals.

The security arrangement for the annual pilgrimage became a major concern this year following a series of militant attacks in Kashmir in the last few weeks, including a major one on a CRPF convoy in Pampore.

Late on Friday night, a CRPF camp was attacked by militants, leaving three personnel injured, hours after Union home minister Rajnath Singh reviewed the security arrangements for the Yatra.

Sources said more than 12,500 central paramilitary personnel and 8,000 state police officers were being deployed.

But pilgrims who spoke to HT said although they were aware of the spike in attacks in the Valley, they were not scared because of their “faith”.

“We are not scared. For whom we have come this far, will protect us no matter what. The heart says, ‘He is there’. We want to come again and again,” said Atul Dhir, a clothes trader from Ludhiana, who is on his second pilgrimage.

Some pilgrims also said the presence of a large number of troopers and personnel was reassuring.

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