India

Amarnath yatra ready to host highest ever pilgrim footfall

J&K Lt Governor Manoj Sinha during his visit to Baltal and Pahalgam Axis of Amarnath Yatra to review the preparedness and response mechanism of all the stakeholder departments.

J&K Lt Governor Manoj Sinha during his visit to Baltal and Pahalgam Axis of Amarnath Yatra to review the preparedness and response mechanism of all the stakeholder departments. | Photo Credit: PTI

Preparations for the annual Amarnath yatra, being held after a gap of three years, have seen a massive scaling up, with officials comparing the arrangements to that of the Kumbh Mela.

Compared to 2.85 lakh pilgrims who visited in 2018, the Jammu & Kashmir administration is expecting eight lakh footfalls this year. The annual pilgrimage, conducted via the twin routes of the famous tourist destinations of Pahalgam and Sonamarg in south and central Kashmir, respectively, was cut short in 2019, ahead of the Centre’s move to abrogate the erstwhile State’s special constitutional position.

The highest ever number of pilgrims 6.35 lakh pilgrims visited the cave shrine in 2011.

“We are expecting a high number of devotees for the annual pilgrimage this year,” Manoj Sinha, Lieutenant-Governor of the Union Territory of J&K, who is also Chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), said.

To meet the demand, the capacity of tents set up en route to the holy cave has been increased from 29,000 to 70,000. Six base hospitals have been established for the first time. COVID care hospitals are also being established with ICU facilities at Pahalgam, Baltal and Sonamarg.

"A 60-bed facility, including oxygen-fitted beds, has been set up by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) at Baltal, and a 50-bed hospital as been set up at Chandanwari. More than 300 doctors and paramedics will attend to the medical needs of the pilgrims," officials said.

The administration also utilised the services of Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd.) and Major General Sudhir Bahl (Retd.) “to put disaster preparedness in place”. A ten-day stock of essentials has been created to meet any eventuality. For the first time, female rescuers have been stationed at Sheshnag in south Kashmir’s Pahalgam.

From drones to closed circuit cameras, cutting edge communication technology will monitor the movement of pilgrims in real time. All pilgrims will be tracked with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.

The administration is mulling over engaging 35,000 labourers, mostly locals, for the pilgrimage. The Animal Husbandry Department has been directed to register an additional 5,000 ponies. "Full year insurance cover of ₹5 lakh is being provided for horses and ponies," officials said.

In another first, a helicopter service from the Srinagar airport will help pilgrims enjoy darshan in a day, without travelling by road to any destination in the Kashmir Valley. Earlier, helicopter services were operational in only two sectors near the base camps in south and central Kashmir. However, pilgrims can now avail the services in four sectors, including Srinagar to Neelgrath, Srinagar to Pahalgam , Neelgrath to Panchtarni, and Pahalgam to Panchtarni. A total of 11 helicopters will be put into service.

The Shrine Board has special arrangements for a live telecast of the aarti, virtual pujas, havan and prasad.

The L-G, who chaired a meeting of the Unified Command attended by the heads of all the security wings on June 23, said, "The government is committed to providing the best facilities for yatris. Improvements have been made in the arrangements as compared to the previous years."

Restrictions have been imposed on the movement of tourists towards the Chandanwari-Betaab valley, and Aru, from June 25. The 43-day pilgrimage period will start from June 30 and conclude on August 11, 2022.


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Printable version | Aug 16, 2022 12:59:12 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/amarnath-yatra-ready-to-host-highest-ever-pilgrim-footfall/article65567868.ece