The annual Amarnath Yatra began on Friday amid tight security, with pilgrims from both Baltal and Pahalgam base camps starting their journey for the 3880—metre—high cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas.
Amidst chants of ‘Bam Bam Bole’, the first batch of pilgrims started on the arduous 45—km trek from traditional Pahalgam route, and 13—km from Baltal simultaneously, in the wee hours on Friday, official sources said.
Heightened security measures have been put in place for the 55—day Yatra following intelligence inputs that militants might attempt to target the pilgrimage, sources said.
State police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have been deployed all along the twin routes to ensure safety and security of the pilgrims, they said.
For the first time, the access control agencies are carrying out thorough checks of the pilgrims and their documentation before allowing them to proceed.
More than 4,000 pilgrims proceeding towards Baltal base camp were turned back from Manigam in Kangan area of Ganderbal district.
“We have turned back over 4,000 pilgrims who were either without registration permits or had permits for a later date,” DIG Police central Kashmir Syed Ahfadul Mujtaba said.
Mr. Mujtaba said there will be no laxity on this account and the Supreme Court order in this regard will be implemented in letter and spirit.
Supreme Court had issued guidelines for the Amarnath Yatra this year after a PIL was Filed in July 2012 following a large number of deaths during last year’s Yatra.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra, who is also the Chairman of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), could not visit the cave shrine for the ‘pooja’ due to inclement weather, official sources said.
He interacted with the pilgrims and reviewed the arrangements at the Baltal camp.
Although the number of pilgrims who set out from the two base camps was not known yet, a spokesperson of the SASB said 12,717 pilgrims had registered themselves for the first day of the pilgrimage.
6,567 pilgrims have registered to travel by the Baltal route while 6,150 have preferred the Pahalgam route, he said, adding that SASB has fixed a ceiling of 7,500 pilgrims per day per route.
“This excludes pilgrims who travel by the Heli services up to Panjtarni, whose number may vary between 1,000 to 1,400, depending upon the number of sorties undertaken during the day,” he said.
A valid health certificate has been made mandatory while only pilgrims between 13 years and 75 years of age will be allowed to undertake the Yatra following high number of deaths last year.