Despite terror threats, the number of pilgrims paying obeisance at the ice lingam in the Amarnath cave shrine in south Kashmir during the first 16 days has broken the record of previous three years. The 45-days pilgrimage began on 1 July and 2, 05, 083 pilgrims had visited the shrine till Tuesday.
The pilgrimage will conclude on 15 August coinciding with the Shravan Purnima and Raksha Bandhan festival.
As compared to this, the number of pilgrims visiting the shrine during the same period was1, 65, 006 in 2018, 1, 86, 853 in 2017, and 1, 72, 851 in 2016. There was enthusiasm among pilgrims trekking to the mountain shrine through the treacherous terrain from the Baltal and Pahalgam routes.
On Wednesday, another convoy carrying a batch of 4, 584 devotees left Jammu for the valley.
“This is the highest number of pilgrims to visit the Cave shrine during the first forthright in the last four years,” an official connected with the pilgrimage said.
Sixteen pilgrims have so far died during the Yatra due to natural causes, according to the officials of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). Situated 3888 metres above the sea-level in Kashmir Himalayas, the ice structure waxes and wanes with the phases of the moon.
The enthusiasm among the pilgrims indicates that their total number might substantially increase by the end of the yatra. A record-breaking number of 6.35 lakh devotees had visited the cave shrine in 2011 followed by 6.22 lakh in 2012.
The pilgrims were appreciative of the camp officer at Baltal, Nagendra Singh Jamwal, who, they say, was taking care of facilities for every individual pilgrim.
The pilgrimage is supported by the Muslim community who also earn their livelihood by mobilising their ponies and palanquins to carry old and weak pilgrims to the shrine. This is besides the helicopter service from both the routes.
As many as 9896 ponies and palanquin owners are registered at the Baltal base camp. They are not only locals but also from far off places like Rajouri, Reasi, Poonch and Ramban in the Jammu division. The both-way rate for hiring a pony has been fixed at Rs 4150 whereas for a palanquin it is Rs 15,000.