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June 26, 1999
Easier route to Amarnath may be abandoned
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
In view of the hostilities near the Zoji La (pass), the Jammu & Kashmir government is planning to abandon the Baltal route to the cave shrine at Amarnath. The annual pilgrimage begins next month.
"We have not yet taken any decision. But in view of the heavy movement of army vehicles and tension near Zoji La, the route may have to be abandoned," a senior government officer said. In that case, the government will be forced to use only the Pahalgam route.
A series of meetings have been held in the last week to finalise arrangements for this year's pilgrimage. Senior army officers have also been attending the meetings.
Sources in Srinagar said the government prefers the Baltal route as it allows pilgrims to return to Srinagar the same day. The Pahalgam route is tougher and takes four days. But "all depends on how fast the situation improves across Zoji La", the officer said.
After the outbreak of secessionist violence in the Kashmir valley, the government had closed the Baltal route. But it had to reopen the route last year on the orders of the Delhi high court following the 1996 tragedy when more than 350 pilgrims died in heavy snowfall along the Pahalgam route.
The state government, meanwhile, is making all arrangements to provide "foolproof" security to the pilgrims despite the withdrawal of army units from the valley because of the war in Kargil. The Centre has already rushed more battalions of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Border Security Force.
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