Pilgrimage in Jammu & Kashmir - Shri Amarnath Yatra
During the Amarnath Yatra, in the month of Shravan (July - August), the devotees visit this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva, in the form of a lingam, is formed naturally of an ice - stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two more ice - lingams, that of Parvati and of their son, Ganesha.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley, Amarnathji stands at 3,888 m and is 45 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage subscribes that the yatra be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin the journey from Pahalgam, and cover the distance to Amarnathji and back in four or five days. Pahalgam is 96 km from Srinagar. One of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living god. The most ancient and sacred book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time. Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of creation in the Amarnathji cave. Unknown to them, a pair of mating pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva).
Chopper for the Amarnath yatra - According to other legends, there was once a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a sadhu. Upon reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact, contained gold. Overjoyed and overcome, Buta Malik rushed back to look for the sadhu and thank him, but on the spot of their meeting discovered a cave, and eventually this became a place of pilgrimage for all believers. Today, as well a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to the descendants of Malik, and the remaining to the trust which manages the shrine. According to another legend, when Kashap Reshi drained the Kashmir valley of water (it was believed to have been a vast lake), the cave and the lingam were discovered by Bregish Reshi who was traveling in the Himalayas. When people heard of the lingam, Amarnathji became Shiva's abode and a centre of pilgrimage. Whatever the legends and the history of Amarnathji's discovery, it is today a very important centre of pilgrimage and although the route is still difficult to negotiate but it is still very exciting. Every year, thousands of devotees come to pay homage before Shiva in one of his famous Himalayan abodes.
Cave Shiva Temple - Since the base point for the pilgrim's trek is picturesque Pahalgam, a large tented township springs up to accommodate the pilgrims. The conduct of the Yatra is a gigantic task in which the State Government takes the assistance of the security departments for providing security and helping to keep the route open. All intermediate halting places have the same kind of facilities as are provided at Pahalgam, and a Yatra Officer is appointed to conduct the pilgrimage.
Useful Tips on the Amarnath Yatra - The Amarnath Yatra is organized by the Jammu and Kashmir Government, in the month of Shravan, and starts mainly from Pahalgam on specified dates. In recent years, the route from Baltal has also been thrown open for the pilgrims to approach the holy Cave.
Pilgrims are advised to carry sufficient woolens such as sweaters, drawers, woolen trousers, monkey cap etc. Other items include wind sheaters, rain coat, sleeping bag or blankets, umbrella, waterproof boots/shoes, walking stick, torch etc. Ladies are advised not to go on the trek in saris, instead pants or Salwar suits with drawers should be used.
Medical posts manned by qualified doctors and nursing staff are established en route to cater to the needs of the pilgrims, free of cost. However, pilgrims are advised to carry along any medicines specifically prescribed for them.
Essential rations are available at fair prices from the specially established Goverment Depots at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarni. Numerous wayside tea-shops and small restaurants are set up by private parties. However, pilgrims are advised to carry with them biscuits, toffees, tinned food etc. to cater to their immediate needs. Firewood or gas can be obtained at Chandanwari, Sheshnag (Wawajan), Panchtarni and near the Cave.
In view of the hazardous nature, pilgrims are advised to insure themselves before proceeding on the Yatra.
Good tented accommodation with allied facilities are set-up during the Yatra period by the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism and private parties. These are provided on the basis of payment of rates fixed by the State authorities. Facilities for booking of such accommodation will be available at the base camps.
Registration of pilgrims are undertaken about a month ahead of the date fixed for commencement of Yatra. The dates are generally notified through press advertisements. No Yatri will be allowed to proceed on the journey without a Registration Card.
Pilgrims are advised not to pay more than the specified rates for either services or their provisions.
It is important to observe discipline on the trek and keep moving slowly and steadily. Adhere to the instructions issued by the Yatra Officer from time to time. Officials of the State Police, Health, Tourism, Food and Supplies and other concerned Departments are deployed on duty to help the pilgrims.
You must also ensure that you are physically fit for the journey, and have yourself medically examined. Remember that you have to cross Mahagunus pass which is at an altitude of 14,000 feet above sea level.
Please ensure that ponies carrying your luggage and eatables remain with you at all times. Also ensure that the Pony Walla, labourer or Dandiwalla is properly registered and carries a token. You can get these allotted at fixed rates at the base camps.
Do not overstrain on steep gradients: do not relax at points where there are warning notices; don't break traffic discipline or try to overtake other on difficult stretches.
Aged, infirm, ailing and insufficiently clothed persons will not be permitted to proceed beyond Pahalgam.
How to Reach from Pahalgam - Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley, Amarnath stands at 3888 mtrs and 46 Kms from Pahalgam and 141 Kms from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage subscribe that Yatra be undertaken from Srinagar , the more common practice is to begin journey from Chandanwari and cover the distance to Amarnath and back in 5 days. Pahalgam is 96 Kms from Srinagar. the trek from Chandanwari to Cave is on an ancient peregerine route. pilgrims camp at Pahalgam or Chandanwari on the first night out.
The first day's trek of 12 Kms from Chandanwari is through spectacular primeval country side and the main centre of attraction is Sheshnag a mountain which derves its name from seven peaks resembling the head of mythical snake. A cascading stream accompanies you with wild scenery untouched by modern civilization. The second night camp at Wavjan overlooks the deep blue waters of Sheshnag lake and glaciers beyond it. The tales of love and revenge associated
with Sheshnag are recounted by campfires to the stillness of pine scented Himalyan night.
The second day 12 km trek steadily gains height winding across Mahagunas Pass at 4600 mtrs and then descending to the meadow land of Panchtarni the last camp en-route to Amarnath Cave.
From Panchtarni to Amarnath the distance is 6kms and an early morning start is recommended for there is long queue awaitning entry at the cave. The same day devotees after darshans can return to Panchtarni in time for lunch and continue upto Sheshnag for night halt.
For those who journey with faith it is a rewarding experience.
How to Reach from Baltal - The second approach to Amarnath is from Sonamarg via Baltal alt. 3000 mtrs. . Sonamarg is situated on Srinagar-Leh road north east from Srinagar. About 15 kms ahead lies Baltal which is charming little valley lying in the foothills of Zojila Pass. The holy cave is just a days journey from here. At domail 2 kms from Baltal free langar(community Kitchen) facility is available. The trek from here is very steep and therefore needs great caution and care. Some teastalls are available at Brarimarg and Sangam top. Several snow bridges on the fast flwing streams are to be crossed and during rains the road becomes slippery. At sangam top the road meets Pahalgam route. At Baltal Ponies/Dandies/Pack ponies /porters are available on Govt. approved rates.
The nearest Airport is away in Badgam Distt. This Airport is connected with major cities of India. The nearest Rail Head is at Jammu which is 300 Kms away and from there National Highway NH1A connects the Kashmir valley with country.Every sort of transport to suit every budget from Buses to Taxis ply on this Highway. It Takes around 10 to 12 hours to cross this mountaineous road which crosses some beautiful spots andthe famous Jawahar Tunnel linking Kashmir Valley with country.
Do's and Don'ts for Pilgrims (Yatries)
- Please ensure that you are physically and mentally fit to perform the journey as the Yatra involves trekking at an altitude of 14000ft. Get yourself medically examined and certified fit for the journey and forward the certificate to the registering authority designated for your area of residence.
- Do carry sufficient heavy woolens including sweaters, woolen thermal body warmers, trousers, monkey caps, mufflers and any other cold fighting apparels. Other items needed to be carried are wind cheaters, raincoats, sleeping bags, blankets, water proof shoes with sufficient grips, small water proof tents, torch with sufficient batteries and walking sticks. Ladies are advised to avoid sarees. Instead body hussging clothing like salwar Kamiz, pants etc are advised.
- Carry dry eatable stocks with you viz. biscuits, sugar, candies, chocolates, milk powder, assorted dry fruits, pickles, honey, lemons and tinned foods and other items suiting your palates. Water bottle, spoons, tumblers, saucers and plates may also be carried.
- Ration and firewood quota is also made available en-route and can be purchased.
- Registered pony Walla, porter, dandyman may only be hired. They are available for prefixed tariffs.
- Ponies carrying luggage and eatables should remain with you all the time. At no point of time should you get out of touch with them. This is to avoid inconvenience.
- Move slowly and steadily as this is a ardous pilgrimage and maintain discipline. Instructions of Yatra officer should be adhered to. Various officials are deployed by the Govt. for your help.
- Carry sufficient money to pay for your accommodation at Pahalgam and meeting your other requirements.
- All medical facilities during yatra are free. It is advisable to carry your own personal medical kit and First aid box.
- Alcohol is strictly prohibited.
- Don't overstrain on steep gradients.
- Don't relax at places where warning signs are fixed.
- Don't break traffic discipline.
- Do not pay more to any of the hired services for which the prices are fixed.
- Yatries without registration card, Aged, infirm, ailing and ill clad persons will not be allowed to proceed beyond Pahalgam and Baltal.