The arduous Amarnath yatra routes, sometimes going up to an altitude of 13,000 feet through the picturesque tourist spots of Pahalgam and Sonamarg, will be widened with railings this year by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO).
“We are deploying our machines and teams in places where we are expecting a landslide. The Centre has given us permission to improve border roads,” Lt. Gen. Rajeev Chaudhry, Director-General of the BRO, said.
For the first time, the BRO will be maintaining the Amarnath twin tracks. Earlier, the J&K government’s Public Works Department was maintaining the Baltal shrine track in Ganderbal district and the Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) was maintaining the Pahalgam shrine route in Anantnag district. It was in September last year that the Amarnath yatra tracks were handed over to the BRO for both maintenance and upgradation.
Path to shrine
At present, pilgrims trek 20 km on foot from Chandanwari up to the cave shrine in Pahalgam and 14 km from Baltal to the shrine.
“The basic scope of work (on the tracks) involved snow clearance, widening of the track, restoration of all foot bridges, fixing of hand rails, protection works at slide prone stretches and construction of breast walls and retaining walls for protection of the tracks,” a BRO spokesman said.
In April this year, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari announced a road project to the Amarnath shrine in Pahalgam, after J&K Lieutenant Governor (L-G) Manoj Sinha requisitioned it.
Officials said over five lakh pilgrims were expected to visit the shrine this year. The BRO is likely to restore the tracks by June 15. The yatra is set to commence from July 1 this year.
“Snow clearance, using plant machinery, commenced on both the tracks from Baltal and Chandanwari in the last week of March. Eight dozers, excavators and almost 1,100 labourers are working on the tracks,” the BRO said.
The BRO said the work slowed down due to “unprecedented” snow and rain in the higher reaches in Kashmir between April and May this year. “Despite the loss of precious time due to the inclement weather during April-May, the tracks will be made available to the civil administration by June 15,” Lt. Gen. Chaudhry said.
Meanwhile, J&K L-G Sinha attended the ‘Pratham Puja’ on Saturday to mark the ceremonial beginning of the annual Amarnath yatra. The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board has been organising ‘Pratham Puja’ at the Holy Cave on the auspicious occasion of Jyeshtha Purnima every year.
“For millions of devotees all over the world, pilgrimage to the Holy Cave of Baba Amarnath is a cherished life-long dream. The J&K Government is committed to ensure the best possible arrangements. Dedicated efforts have been made in the last few years to bring about perceptible improvements in infrastructure and other facilities,” L-G Sinha said.
He acknowledged the contribution of the local residents to the successful conduct of the yatra. “It (the yatra) will also increase the livelihood opportunities and boost the local economy,” he said.
Inspector General of BSF, Kashmir frontier, Ashok Yadav, on Saturday said “a coordinated security response grid has be set up to ensure a safe and incident-free Amarnath yatra this year”.
He said that quick response teams will also be positioned along the route to address any natural disasters that may arise. “Historical data indicates the opening of traditional infiltration routes, as snow begins to melt. To counter this, the BSF, in coordination with the Army, will diligently monitor these vulnerable routes to prevent any unauthorised entry. A thorough mapping of these routes will be conducted to plan effective deployments,” the BSF officer said.