The number of pilgrims to the 3,880 metre high holy cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir crossed half a million mark- a record achieved during the first half of the 46-day annual pilgrimage.

The footfall at the cave shrine, housing the naturally formed ice-shivlingam, touched the five lakh mark this afternoon, official sources said.

The annual pilgrimage commenced on June 29 from the twin tracks of Baltal in Ganderbal and Pahalgam in Anantnag district and scheduled to end on August 13 coinciding with the Hindu festival of ‘Raksha Bandhan’.

This is for the first time in the history of the yatra that five lakh pilgrims paid their obeisance at the shrine during the first 23 days and the number is expected to surpass the highest figure of 5.33 lakh recorded in 2008.

In 2004, the duration of the pilgrimage was increased from 30 days to 45 days and during that year the highest number of 3.82 lakh pilgrims visited the cave shrine.

In 2005, 3.88 lakh pilgrims visited the shrine followed by 3.47 lakh pilgrims in 2006 and 2.96 lakh pilgrims in 2007.

The year 2009 saw 3.81 lakh pilgrims, while 4.56 lakh pilgrims offered their prayers at the shrine despite unrest in the Valley last year.

The yatra was going on smoothly from both the tracks, the official sources said adding that fresh batches of over 8,000 pilgrims left the base camps of Baltal and Nunwan towards the holy cave shrine this morning.

Meanwhile, a 65-year-old pilgrim died of cardiac arrest at Sheshnag along the traditional 42-km Pahalgam route, taking the death toll in the ongoing yatra to 81, the sources said.

Govind Raja Ram, a resident of Maharashtra, died at Sheshnag last night, they said.