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Amarnath yatra duration may be doubled

By Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
Last updated on: May 20, 2004 15:39 IST

For the first time, the annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine of Amarnath may be thrown open for two months as against the usual practice of one month so far.

This is likely to enable more pilgrims to visit the shrine. Authorities expect a record number of 300,000 pilgrims this year as compared to approximately 175,000 last year.

This proposal will be implemented by allowing pilgrims to take the Baltal route to the cave shrine from July 2 onwards. This route is shorter but a difficult one.

The traditional Pahalgam-Chandanwari route, with halts at Seeshnag and Panchtarni, will be opened for the annual yatra from early August till Raksha Bandhan (August 30).

In view of the militant threat, appropriate security arrangements will be put in place on both the routes.

However, weather and security considerations would ultimately determine the duration of the pilgrimage, according to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board chief executive officer Dr Arun Kumar.

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In another significant move, the SASB is contemplating scrapping the procedure of prior registration at various centres in the country. Instead, pilgrims will be allowed to reach the base camp at Jammu and proceed to Pahalgam and Sonmarg on their own, depending on the route they intend to take.

A helicopter service from Baltal to the holy cave is also likely to be introduced this year. "To enable this, infrastructure will be created to station helicopters, with pilots and other staff at Baltal itself. Arrangements would also be made for emergency aerial evacuation of pilgrims as and when required."

A constant complaint, by about half the pilgrims each year, is that they are denied darshan of the ice shiv linga, which begins melting after the first ten days of the yatra.

"SASB has requisitioned the services of reputed organisations like Defence Research and Development Organisation and IIT Delhi to work out the most optimal solution for preventing the meltdown and prolonging its life without in any way interfering with its formation," he added.

Near the Amarnath cave, where pilgrims camp for some time before visiting the shrine, the SASB is building infrastructure like insulated prefabricated huts with hot water facilities for bathing, filtered drinking water and adequate number of toilets with innovative measures to eliminate foul smell.

The prefab insulated huts with cushioned bunk beds will replace ordinary tents and are being built in phases. "In the first phase, we have ordered the construction of 60 such huts, each of which can accommodate at least 50 pilgrims. The target is to accommodate at least 5,000 pilgrims in such huts."

For the first time, barbed wire fencing and searchlights are being installed at the camp sites 'to provide fool-proof security at the camp sites'.

Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar