The annual Amarnath pilgrimage to a cave shrine devoted to Hindu God Shiva, located in south Kashmir, will start on July 1 and last till August 24 this year, according to an official of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.

The annual pilgrimage to the shrine, located at a height of 13,500 feet above sea level, attracts nearly half-a-million Hindu devotees every year.

According to the chief executive officer of the shrine board R.K. Goyal, the decision to start the pilgrimage from July 1 this year has been taken because of the difficulties faced by the pilgrims in the initial days of the pilgrimage which started June 16 last year.

The shrine board also studied the pattern of pilgrim inflow of the past 15 years before reaching this decision.

According to Mr. Goyal, the board has decided to provide free Rs.1 Lakh insurance cover to each of the pilgrims visiting the shrine.

These decisions were taken at a meeting in New Delhi on Tuesday evening, according to an official release.

The Amarnath shrine’s main attraction is a lingam made of ice.