Amidst chants of ‘Bum Bum Bole’, over 22,000 devotees set off from Baltal and Pahalgam base camps for pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas, marking the formal start of the annual yatra.
Governor N N Vohra, also the chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), set the pilgrimage in motion by performing the pratham pooja (first prayer) inside the sanctum sanctorum of the cave shrine, housing the naturally-formed ice ’lingam’ of Lord Shiva.
The Governor reviewed the arrangements made for the yatris and expressed satisfaction at the support extended by the State government and security agencies. He later flew to Baltal base camp, where he was joined by State Minister for Forests Mian Altaf Ahmad.
Over 13,000 pilgrims started from Baltal base camp, about 110 km from Srinagar, through the shorter 13-km route leading to the 3,880-metre high cave shrine, a SASB official said.
Around 9,000 pilgrims also started their two-day trek to the holy cave through the traditional Pahalgam route, he said.
While the pilgrims taking the Baltal route will reach the cave shrine today, those taking the Pahalgam route are expected to reach there by tomorrow morning.
The second batch of 2,185 pilgrims left from Bagwatinagar base camp in Jammu for Kashmir on Wednesday.
Over 4,800 devotees have flocked to Jammu city to undertake the yatra, officials said.
Meanwhile, JKLF chairman Mohammad Yasin Malik visited Sonamarg to welcome the pilgrims and assured them that Kashmir was safe to visit even after the yatra was over.
Security has been beefed up along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and on both Baltal and Pahalgam routes to ensure smooth conduct of the yatra.
Over 10,000 paramilitary and police personnel have been deployed along the yatra routes, even though there are no intelligence inputs about any militant plans to target the pilgrims.
The SASB has made elaborate arrangements for the convenience of the pilgrims, setting up shelters and langars at Baltal and Pahalgam base camps and other stations along the traditional route.
More than 2.50 lakh pilgrims have registered for this year’s pilgrimage, which will conclude on August 13 - coinciding with Raksha Bandhan.