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July 27, 1999
End of Kargil crisis makes it easier for Amarnath pilgrims
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
Following the withdrawal of intruders from Kargil, the Jammu and Kashmir government has re-opened the Baltal route to the Holy Shrine of Amarnath.
The pilgrimage had begun on July 21. But the route was closed, despite a Delhi high court direction, in view of the hostilities across the Zojila Pass.
Now, with the improvement in the situation in Drass and other sectors, the movement of troops has decreased on the Srinagar-Leh road. Already, scores of trucks carrying tents and food are on their way to Baltal to set up camps for pilgrims.
The state administration claims that it has made "foolproof" security arrangements on the Srinagar-Baltal highway in view of the recent landmine blasts near Kangan. Tight security arrangements have been made along the Jammu-Pahalgam highway too.
Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Director-General Mohammad Ashraf told rediff.com that arrangements have been made for the 100,000 pilgrims expected in Amarnath this time.
"Already 50,000 pilgrims have registered at various offices across the country," he said. "We hope that despite the Kargil setback, pilgrims will join the pilgrimage spread over a month."
Till Monday evening, 5000 pilgrims had visited the holy cave.
"The pilgrimage is picking up fast. This will also see the revival of the tourism in the valley," the DG said, "Some of the pilgrims after having darshan will stop briefly in Kashmir."
The Kargil crisis had severely set back the tourism industry in the state, which, after a decade of rough weather, was picking up. The reopening of the Baltal route will improve the situation, the DG hoped.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the far end of the Lidder valley, Amarnath cave is 3,888 metres above sea level. It is 46 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. The trek from Pahalgam to the holy cave is on the ancient route and takes two days. All along the route, army, paramilitary and police troops have taken positions to ensure the safety of the pilgrims.
The darshan this year is on August 26 and coincides with the Raksha bandhan festival.
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