The annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir started Friday amid tight security and despite the rains along the route this morning.
A three-tier security ring has been put in place to secure this year’s yatra. The army, paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force and the Jammu and Kashmir Police are manning the yatra security at the two base camps and at the transit camps, cave shrine and hundreds of kilometers long highways used by the pilgrims.
With some army and intelligence reports suggesting that the militants had plans to attack the yatra, even army helicopters have been pressed into service for surveillance.
All the transit camps have been declared out of bounds for non-yatris except the officials of the security forces and those administratively associated with the pilgrimage’s conduct.
This year around 6,000 pilgrims have registered themselves for the yatra and the authorities of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, that manages the affairs of the yatra, have made it clear that no unregistered pilgrim would be allowed to undertake the pilgrimage.
“We have turned back 4,000 unregistered pilgrims from Manigam transit camp in Ganderbal district this morning as we have strict instructions not to allow any unregistered pilgrim to proceed towards the cave shrine”, said a senior police officer.
7,000 yatris were allowed by the authorities to proceed towards the holy cave from the south Kashmir’s Nunwan base camp near Pahalgam while an equal number left from north Kashmir’s Baltal base camp for the cave shrine, according to officials.
It rained along both the north and south Kashmir routes of the yatra this morning although the weather started improving in these areas later.
The two-month long yatra will conclude on August 21 coinciding with Raksha Bandhan when the final puja would be offered inside the cave shrine.
Image: 14,000 pilgrims have already started their journey to the holy cave of Amarnath
Photograph: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters