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Countdown begins for 5000-year-old yatra

Last updated on: June 10, 2011 15:43 IST

Countdown begins for 5000-year-old yatra

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Ashok Handoo/Press Information Bureau
The countdown for this year's pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath in Kashmir, which will begin from June 29 till August 13 -- the Shravana Poornima day -- has begun.
 
The 5000-year-old yatra, which used to be a pilgrimage for only a few days, has grown tremendously in size over the years.

It is now being conducted for more than one and a half months with over 4 lakh people taking part in the yatra each year.

Registration for the yatra has already begun on first-come-first-served basis. Online registration have also been introduced this year. Over 2 lakh pilgrims have already registered in the first few days. 

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Image: The ice lingam

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The holy cave of Amarnath is situated in the Himalyan range surrounded by snow-capped mountains, about 96 kilometres from Srinagar with the base camp at the picturesque tourist resort of Pahalgam.

A huge-tented township comes up here during the Yatra to accommodate the pilgrims.

The distance from Pahalgam to the cave is 46 kilometres. The pilgrimage from this traditional route takes four days with overnight stops at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarni.


Image: The Chandanwari route

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Beyond Chandanwari -- 3 kilometres from Pahalgam -- it is a foot-march with the elderly persons moving on horsebacks and the sick and disabled being carried on palanquins, chanting 'Baba Amarnath ki Jai'.

The highest point touched en-route is the Mahaguns, which is about 14,500 feet above the sea level. The cave itself is at a lower elevation of about 1,300 feet. 

There is shorter route as well -- the Baltal route. It is just 14 kilometres to the cave but its topography makes it risky in case of bad weather.

Quite a few pilgrims take this route to save on time. A helicopter service from Pahalgam to Panchtarni is also in place. 



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Officially, the yatra is organised by the state government in collaboration with the Shree Amarnath Yatra trust.

The government agencies provide necessary facilities all along the route during the yatra period, which includes provision of ponies, supply of power, telecommunication facilities, firewood and setting up of fair price shops.

A number of voluntary organisations from across the country join the efforts by setting up pandals to provide eatables and other necessities to the pilgrims all along the route. 



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There are a number of versions about the importance of the pilgrimage. The most popular version is that it was in this cave that Lord Shiva revealed the secrets of immortality to his consort Parvati.

Two pigeons who overheard the conversation achieved immortality and appear briefly at the cave on the Shravana Poornima day, even to this day.

One is amazed to see the pair of pigeons surviving in a climate where no birds are ever seen. Inside the cave a natural ice lingam is formed during the Shravana Poornima to represent Lord Shiva, which waxes and wanes according to the cycle of the moon.

Two other ice formations are also there which represent Parvati and Ganesh. There is a mention of the cave in the puranas as well.



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Another story says that in ancient times the valley of Kashmir was under water forming a big lake. Kashyap Rishi drained the water out through a number of rivulets to make the valley habitable.

In those days, Bhrigu Rishi came to the valley to visit the Himalayas and he was the first to discover the cave.

According to yet another legend, it was a Kashmiri Muslim shepherd, Buta Malik, who while grazing his cattle in the area re-discovered the cave. The Malik family continues to get a share of the offerings at the cave even now. 

In his Chronicle of Kashmir, a sequel to Kalhana's Rajtarangni, Jonaraja says that Sultan Zainu'l-abidin (1420 1470) paid a visit to Amarnath while constructing a canal on the left bank of the river Lidder. 



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The pilgrimage has been of particular importance for the people of Kashmir. It has deepened the bonds of brotherhood among the Hindus and Muslims living in the valley for ages.

Though it is a Hindu pilgrimage, Muslims have been providing necessary services to the pilgrims, in keeping with the rich secular traditions of the place. These include provision of ponies and Pithoos (palanquins for carrying the old and the sick).

Despite the militant attack at Pahalgam in 2006, there has been no let up in the Yatra. In fact the number of yatris has been ever growing. The pilgrimage stands out as a symbol of Hindu Muslim unity in the Valley



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