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First batch of pilgrims begin Amarnath yatra

Sadhus queue up to register themselves for Amarnath Yatra, in Jammu on Tuesday. Around 120 sadhus are among the first batch of yatris.   | Photo Credit: PTI

An inaugural batch of 2,995 pilgrims embarked on the Amarnath yatra from Jammu on Wednesday via the new sanitised highway in the Valley amid intensified security.

The journey began on a day when Hizbul Mujahideen’s self-styled commander of south Kashmir, Riyaz Naikoo, said the pilgrims are “welcome as guests.”

Around 37,000 additional personnel, 19% more compared to last year, will man the highways and the shrine in Pahalgam in south Kashmir during the yatra period, from June 28 till August 26. Over 500 CCTV cameras will monitor the flow of pilgrims, said an official.

For the first time, the pilgrims will take the widened Kulgam-Srinagar national highway, bypassing most volatile pockets in south Kashmir. “Re-routing the yatra on the new highway will help bypass volatile Khanbal, Bijbehara, Awantipora and Pampore. Those highway patches were densely populated on both the sides, allowing militants to take advantageous positions,” a senior police official told The Hindu.

Eight pilgrims died in a militant attack in July last year on the Srinagar-Jammu highway near Anantnag’s Batengo area when gunmen opened fire at it.

“This year no vehicle will pass Batengo area,” said the police.

Adviser to Governor N.N. Vohra, K. Vijay Kumar, said the yatra is “a very significant annual event” and “an elaborate scheme is in place to address the concerns of the pilgrims.”

The first batch of pilgrims were flagged off by advisers to the Governor, B.B. Vyas and Vijay Kumar, besides Chief Secretary B.V.R. Subrahmanyam, from the Bhagwati Nagar camp in Jammu.

Tags for vehicles

A fleet of 109 vehicles started around 4.30 a.m. for the cave shrine through the traditional twin routes of Pahalgam and Baltal. “Around 1,904 pilgrims opted for the traditional Pahalgam route, while 1,091 chose the Baltal route. The first batch comprised 2,334 men, 520 women, 21 children and 120 sadhus,” said an official.

For the first time, GPS-enabled radio-frequency identification (RFID) stickers will be attached to the shrine-bound vehicles for round-the-clock tracking.

“All buses carrying pilgrims have to cross the Banihal tunnel by 3 p.m.,” said the official.

Meanwhile, Ram Madhav, BJP’s national general secretary, met Governor Vohra at the Raj Bhavan in Srinagar and discussed “the arrangements made for the yatra”, said an official spokesman.

The 14-km trekking route, the shortest to the Amarnath shrine at an altitude of 3657 metres, was opened in 1999. Most pilgrims prefer this route because it is only a one-day trek.

The Pahalgam route, a 43-km. trek, is the traditional, longer route but provides two night stays before the darshan.

Most pilgrims first acclimatise at Nunwan and then at Sheshnag (11,730 ft) before they proceed for the pilgrimage.

Hizb message

“Militants never did it in the past nor do they intend now to carry out any attack on the yatra. Pilgrims come to perform their religious rites and are welcome as guests. The statement by the police that militants are planning an attack is baseless. The yatra should not be politicised,” said Hizb commander Naikoo in a 15-minute audio message.

He accused “New Delhi of issuing such statements to portray militancy in Kashmir as terrorism.”

“We have no enmity with the people of India,” he added, while inviting migrant Pandits to “return home.”

LeT distances itself

Distancing itself from any plot to attack the yatra, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) spokesman Dr. Abdullah Ghaznawi said, “We do not attack unarmed personnel and citizens.”

“We abide by the principle of Islamic teachings,” he added.

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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 10:34:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/first-batch-of-pilgrims-leave-for-amarnath-shrine/article24268780.ece

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