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Amarnath: Undertaking a yatra clad in faith

Mukhtar Ahmad in Baltal | July 20, 2004 00:19 IST

Nature creates mountains, faith conquers them.

Mahesh Kumar didn't have proper clothes to brave lashing rains and unseasonal snowfall at the cave shrine of Amarnath situated 13,500 feet above sea level, but his determination to have a glimpse of the ice lingam, believed to represent Lord Shiva, was enough to keep his body and soul together.

"I have seen snow for the first time in my life, I have not experienced such cold ever before in my life' but my mind and eyes were fixed on my goal: to have a darshan of the ice lingam. While I was inside the cave, a strange warmth encompassed my whole being," he said.

Kumar, a resident of Maharashtra, was one of the 3,000-odd pilgrims to have a glimpse of the ice lingam late on Sunday when harsh winds accompanied by dust and snow had brought down the temperature to zero degrees Celsius.

"Not all the pilgrims were wearing warm clothes. It was sheer faith that gave them the needed warmth to continue the journey," said Kumar.

Starting from the Baltal base camp in north Kashmir, several kept up a chant of Bam Bam Bolay as they ascended the hill leading to the shrine.

Baltal is located in the foothills of the Zojila Pass, which leads to the Ladakh region of state.

Through this route, it takes just a day to complete the final leg of the pilgrimage but the treacherous route stretching over 16km comprises a serpentine pony track and is interspersed with glaciers making it a challenge even for experienced trekkers.

One of the major concerns is security since over 100,000 people undertake the yatra through the Baltal and Pahalgam, in south Kashmir, routes. Pilgrims come from various states and, if the yatra passes off peacefully, will end up acting as ambassadors for the state, which is still not completely out of the shadow of militancy.

Hence, the state administration has made all possible security arrangements but pilgrims say much more needs to be done in terms of facilities.

Some environment-conscious pilgrims like Sohan Lal, who had undertaken the yatra in 2003 too, were surprised to find that the plastic and garbage littered around the campsites last year were yet to be removed.

"This is hazardous. It will destroy the ecology of this wonderful valley. I think officials should have first paid attention to the clearance of last year's refuse on the Yatra track," he said.

"Yes, lodging facilities and sanitation facilities could do with improvement. All the concerned agencies are working in tandem to make the yatra as comfortable as possibly all along the sloppy and rugged mountainous route," admits Governor Lt Gen S K Sinha who heads the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). "Based on this year's experience, further improvements would be made next year," he said.

"Tourism is the mainstay of the valley's economy. This aspect should not be undermined. Pilgrims could contribute in a big way to the state government's efforts to attract tourists," Sinha said.

While boarding the bus for Srinagar, Kumar took one long look at the mighty peaks surrounding the base camp at Baltal. The smile on his face said it all. The soul had prevailed over the shortcomings of the body and he went back backing in the warmth of the darshan.

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