Amarnath Yatra A spiritually surcharged journey

Sanjeev K Sharma
The world famous revered Amarnath Yatra is an annual pilgrimage performed between June-August to the holy cave situated at an altitude of around 3,888 meters above the sea level. The cave houses an ice lingam which shrinks and grows with the phases of moon.The Amarnath Yatra holds immense religious and cultural significance attracting large number of devotees from different parts of india and abroad.It is seen as a pilgrimage which one must take in life to experience spiritual transformation. Undaunted by rugged terrain and adverse climatic conditions devotees take this journey of faith with full devotion and exuberance.

Beginning of yatra

Pilgrims prefer visiting the holy site during the 45-day season around the festival of Shravani Mela in July-August, coinciding with the Hindu holy month of Shraavana.
The Amarnath pilgrimage takes place when the iced stalagmite Shiva Lingam reaches the apex of its waxing phase through the summer months. The beginning of the annual pilgrimage is marked by Pratham Pujan (first prayer) which is performed on the very first day of ceremonial opening of the holy cave for the pilgrimage. Shri Amarnath Shrine Board members along with the members of the J&K Government attend this Puja without a fail. This Puja includes Bhoomi Pujan, Navagraha Pujan, Chhari Pujan and the Dhwajarohan (flag hoisting). After the Puja is complete, the Prasad is distributed among the devotees present. Chhari Mubarak is another special Puja that takes place on the day of Shravan Purnima. The day is celebrated as Raksha Bandhan.
The Chhari is the holy mace which belonged to Lord Shiva. This mace was gifted by Shiva to Sage Bringesh Rishi. During this Puja, the mace is showcased to the devotees for Darshan. The arduous pilgrimage starts from two routes viz Pahalgam in Anantnag district and Baltal route in Srinagar. As one moves ahead towards the devotional destination, the deities of nature join together to shower all their blessings of spirituality which come in the form of melodious chirps of colourful birds, cool breeze passing through tall trees, attractive looks of snow-clad mountains with a rivulet flowing alongside wherein all this collectively gives a feeling that one has really stepped into the lap of divinity where all the pains and miseries die away and all the desires are satisfied to the zenith and one starts thinking only about the Almighty, omnipotent, omnipresent and one who is the creator of the entire universe and remains at the core of ultimate truth

Management of shrine

The pious Shrine is managed by Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) which was constituted by an Act of J&K State Legislature in 2000 and presently is helmed by the Lieutenant Governor of J&K Union Territory as its Chairman.The Shrine Board is responsible for the better management of the pilgrimage, up-gradation of facilities for the pilgrims and matters connected with it. It has also a website to guide, help and update pilgrims embarking the pilgrimage.

Amarnath Legends

As per a legend Bhagwan Shiva narrated ‘Amar Katha’ to Goddess Parvati in the Amarnath Cave and wanted to keep it a secret for which he abandoned all his pals. Shiva left Nandi, the bull, at Pahalgam (Bail Gaon), at Chandanwari he released the Moon from his hair (Jata), on the banks of Lake Sheshnag he released his snake, at Mahagunas Parvat (Mahaganesh Mountain) he left his son Ganesha while at Panjtarni, Shiva left the five elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky. Then, finally, Shiva entered the Amarnath Cave along with Parvati and both of them manifested into a Lingam made of ice. Another legend says that Saint Bhrigu Rishi discovered the Amarnath shrine. The valley of Kashmir was under the stream of water for a very long time and Sage Kashyapa Rishi drained out all the water after which Bhrigu Rishi was the first to lay eyes on the Swayambhu (self created) Lingam.

Medical Advisory

Before embarking for pilgrimage, the pilgrims should keep in mind that the pilgrimage involves trekking at altitudes as high as 14800 feet and they may develop High Altitude Sickness with symptoms like loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, light-headedness and difficulty in sleeping, visual impairment, bladder dysfunction, bowel dysfunction, loss of coordination of movements, paralysis on one side of the body, gradual loss of consciousness and mental status changes, drowsiness, chest tightness, fullness, congestion, fast breathing and increased heart rate. If high altitude sickness is not treated timely, it may prove fatal in a matter of hours.
The Shrine Board in its website has listed a number of do’s and don’ts for prevention of High Altitude Sickness. Due to cold harsh winds it is strongly recommended that Yatris should carry their quota of woollens and Vaseline.
Some Yatris are also affected by deficiency of oxygen and some may get the feeling of nausea. Dry fruits, sour and sweet eatables like lemon appear to control these symptoms but it is best to contact the nearest medical post immediately.

Two Routes

In Kashmir, the holy Amarnathji Shrine can be reached through either of the two routes-around 32 km long Pahalgam route or around 14 km long Baltal route.Yatra base camp for Baltal route is located at Baltal (near Sonamarg) in Ganderbal District. Baltal is around 95 km from Srinagar via road. Yatra Access Control Gate on Baltal route is located at Domail (at a distance of about 2.5 km from Baltal).Yatra base camp for Pahalgam route is located at Nunwan (near Pahalgam) in Anantnag District. Nunwan is about 90 km from Srinagar via road.Yatra Access Control Gate (ACG) on Pahalgam route is located at Chandanwari (at a distance of about 12 km from Nunwan).

Pahalgam Route

Pahalgam is 96 kms from Srinagar and is known all over the world for its beauty. Lidder and Aru rivers and high mountains add to the beauty of the valley. Good Hotels are available here for accommodation. Arrangements for free Langars (food kiosks) also remain available from Non Government Organisations at Nunwan Yatri Camp, 6 km short of Pahalgam. Pilgrims halt at Pahalgam for the first night and then proceed towards Chandanwari which is 16 km ahead and mini-buses run from Pahalgam to ferry the pilgrims to Chandanwari. The trail runs along the Lidder River with a fabulous scenic view.
As the Yatra proceeds further from Chandanwari, one climbs a height to reach Pissu Top. It is said that to be the first to reach for Darshan of Bhole Nath, there was a war between Devtas and Rakshas. With the power of Shiva, Devtas killed Rakshas in such a large number that the heap of their dead bodies resulted in this high mountain.
Sheshnag – is actually a mountain which derives its name from its seven peaks, resembling the heads of the mythical snake. The pilgrimage halts for the second night at Sheshnag which overlooks the deep blue waters of Sheshnag Lake and glaciers beyond. The stillness of the Himalayan night increases ones inner joy here. Once you take bath and enjoy the scenic view, life takes a whole new meaning altogether.From Sheshnag one has to climb a steep height across Mahagunas Pass at 4276 mtrs and then descend to the meadow lands of Panjtarni at a height of 3657 meters. At Panjtarni five rivers flow which apparently originate from Lord Shiva’s Hair. Pilgrims halt at Panjtarni on the 3rd night.On way to the holy cave, one comes across the Sangam of Amravati and Panjtarni rivers. Some pilgrims take bath at Amravati near the holy cave before going for Darshan. It may be noted that after having early Darshan of the Shiv Ling at the holy cave, one can return to Panjtarni well in time the same day.

Baltal route

From Jammu, one has to go by road to Srinagar and then reach Baltal via Sonamarg.This is a 14 kms steep trek – one way. Only the very fit can go and come back the same day after trekking for 28 kms. It is possible to hire ponies or Palkies. Baltal is more popular because of its short distance.


Heli services are also being provided by private operators on both the routes to the holy cave at the rates approved by Shri Amarnath Ji Shrine Board. The booking of the tickets can be done online or though authorized agents

Tips for pilgrimage

As important tips for performing the pilgrimage the Shrine Board instructs that the pilgrims must carry Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Card and wear the same around their neck during the entire duration of Yatra because no Yatri will be allowed to cross the ACG without RFID Card which every Registered Yatri must collect from any of the centres established in Jammu/Kashmir divisions after successful biometric authentication before embarking on the Yatra. Carrying of Registration Permit is also equally important.Also to register for the Yatra the intending pilgrims must have a valid Compulsory Health Certificate (CHC) issued by the authorized doctors and Yatris can register for Yatra 2024 through either offline mode (through designated bank branches of SBI, JK Bank, Yes Bank and PNB pan India) or online mode. Persons aged more than 70 years and less than 13 years and women with 6 weeks pregnancy are not allowed to undertake the pilgrimage.
Women Yatris should avoid wearing saree during trekking and should wear Salwar Kameez, Pant-Shirt, Track Suit or any recommended clothing suited for trekking on high altitude.Pilgrims are instructed by the Shrine Board to avoid throwing coins, notes, Chunni etc at the Holy Lingam.
In case of emergency the pilgrims may contact nearest Camp Director/Mountain Rescue Teams (MRTs) or Control Room at various locations.Gates of Access Control at Domel and Chandanwari open at 5 am and close at 11 am and the pilgrims should reach the gates on time as no Yatri shall be allowed to undertake pilgrimage after the closure of the Gate.
Pre-paid SIM Cards from other States shall not work in J&K and Yatra area, so Yatris can purchase pre-activated SIM Cards at the Base Camps of Baltal and Nunwan and at Bhagwati Nagar, Jammu and Lakhanpur.
This year the Amarnath pilgrimage is scheduled to start from June 29, 2024 and will conclude on August 19, 2024.

Registration for yatra

Before embarking for the Amarnath pilgrimage one has to first of all get registration which presently is also done online. After registration one has to reach Jammu by air, train or road and then proceed towards the Yatra Base Camp in Bhagwati Nagar. The pilgrimage starts from Jammu to Pahalgam which is 315 km distance and can be covered by taxi/buses which are available at Tourist Reception Centre, Raghunath Bazaar only early in the morning. Another option is going to Srinagar by air and then proceeding to Pahalgam by road.As the pilgrimage continues during rainy season, many times Jammu-Srinagar National Highway gets closed due to landslides or shooting stones which hinders the Yatra by road. To facilitate the pilgrims in such situations the administration of different districts en-route always put in place facilities for providing food, shelter, medicines and other facilities to the stranded pilgrims.