First batch of 2234 Amarnath pilgrims reaches twin base camps

Pilgrims show their registration slips at Baltal base camp on Sunday. —Excelsior/Shakeel
Pilgrims show their registration slips at Baltal base camp on Sunday. —Excelsior/Shakeel

Yatris in high spirits

Avtar Bhat
JAMMU, June 30: The first batch of 2,234 pilgrims for this year’s 46 day -long holy Amarnath yatra reached their respective base camps of Nunwan-Chandanwari in South Kashmir district of Anantnag and Baltal in Central Kashmir district of Ganderbal under tight security this evening.
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These yatris along with those who directly reached to base camps from different parts of the country will leave for their onwards sojourn to 3,880 metre high cave shrine early tomorrow morning. Officials said that 1006 batch of pilgrims who left Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas early this morning for Baltal and another batch of 1248 pilgrims who left for Nunwan reached their respective base camps late in the evening under tight security cover.
They said the yatris will leave from their respective base camps to holy cave early tomorrow morning. While it will take nearly two days to yatris preferring Nunwan -Sheshnag track to reach holy cave, those opting Baltal route will have darshan in a single day.
Over 1.50 lakh pilgrims across the country have so far registered themselves for the holy Amarnath yatra which takes place from the traditional 36-km long Chandanwari track in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district and shortest 14 km – Baltal track in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district.

Advisor to Governor, K K Sharma flagging off yatra at Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas on Sunday.
Advisor to Governor, K K Sharma flagging off yatra at Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas on Sunday.

Earlier this morning amid chanting of “Bum Bum Bholey” and “Baba Barfani Ki Jai” the first batch of 2,234 pilgrims left the Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas -the base camp of pilgrims here for holy cave of Shri Amarnath situated in deep Himalayas in Anantnag district under tight security arrangements.
With their spirits high, the yatris drawn from different parts of country left in a cavalcade of 93 vehicles for the holy cave. The yatra was flagged off by Advisor to Governor, K K Sharma after performing traditional pooja and religious rites.
There was total festivity at the Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas with yatris including Sadhus dancing to the beating of drums, chanting religious and devotional bhajans etc in praise of Barfani Baba. The authorities had made elaborate security arrangements for the pilgrims at the Bhagwati Nagar base camp.
Two separate batches departed from the base camp, one for Nunwan -Chandanwari in Pahalgam tehsil of South Kashmir district of Anantnag and another for Baltal in Central Kashmir.
The Baltal batch of 1,006 pilgrims comprising 793 men, 203 women and 10 children left the base camp in 45 vehicles including 9 buses, 33 light motor vehicles (LMV) and three motorcycles.
The Pahalgam batch of 1248 pilgrims comprised 1046 men, 130 women, seven children and 45 ‘Sadhus’ and left the base camp in 48 vehicles including 25 buses and 23 LMVs.
Talking to reporters, Advisor K K Sharma said that elaborate security arrangements have been made for the pilgrims right from gateway of J&K at Lakhanpur to holy cave and there will be no laxity in security of pilgrims visiting the cave shrine during 46 day long yatra which started today.
He said Home Minister, Amit Shah himself visited Kashmir last week to review the security arrangements for the pilgrims which showed the seriousness of Government for the welfare of yatris. The multi tier security has been provided to yatris visiting holy cave and a big contingent of CRPF and J&K Police is also guarding the base camp of Bhagwati Nagar to maintain a constant vigil.
He said all the necessary arrangements of basic amenities, medical facilities etc are in place for smooth conduct of the yatra.
Officials said a multi-tier security grid has been formed for the security of pilgrims this year. “A robust security cover has been put in place for the Yatra which includes satellite and chip-based tracking of vehicles and pilgrims. The deployment of forces will be in various layers to ensure smooth conduct of the pilgrimage,” the officials added.
Elaborating upon the security plan, they said apart from a special motorcycle squad of CRPF personnel with cameras fixed on their helmets accompanying the convoys — which was introduced last year – CCTV cameras have been placed at various locations at base camps and sensitive spots along the twin routes, including on the highway.
The 300 additional companies of security forces deployed for the conduct of Parliamentary polls in Kashmir valley have been retained and deployed for the security of the pilgrimage, they said.
Besides, the security deployment on the Srinagar-Jammu National Highway and Yatra routes, stationing personnel in sensitive areas and quick reaction teams (of police and CRPF), mobile vehicle check posts along with technical monitoring, including through drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are all part of the comprehensive security plan.
The officials added that barricades will be erected on the highways soon after the cut-off timing for the movement of security forces’ convoys and pilgrims.
They said each Yatra vehicle will be fitted with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag which will remain under the radars connected with respective control rooms, and no such vehicle will be allowed to cross a particular point after the cut-off timing.
To further strengthen the security apparatus, the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has provided every pilgrim with barcodes which will be connected with towers set up at multiple locations along the Yatra route.
Inspector General of CRPF, Ravideep Singh Sahi said stringent security arrangements have been made right from Jammu to the holy cave shrine.
“The security forces have been divided sector-wise and (each sector) includes components like ROP (Road Opening Parties), night area domination, law and order and QRTs (quick reaction teams). This comprehensive plan has been made based on the experience of last year as well as that of previous years,” he said.
The IG CRPF asserted that technology is always a force multiplier and RFID tags will be used for the Yatra this year as well.
“This year, the Shrine Board has put in place a yatri management system through which we can track the location of each and every pilgrim. UAVs and drones along with CCTV cameras are being used for the security of yatris (pilgrims),” he said.
“The CRPF is also using IP-based CCTV cameras to track the forces and the route on real-time basis. We have a command and control structure based on the perceived threats and our focus will be to implement the security plan on the ground. The security scenario is totally under control,” Sahi added.
Inspector General of CRPF, Jammu, A V Chauhan said necessary security arrangements have been put in place all along the Yatra route, base camps and halting stations for the safety of pilgrims. “All security agencies are involved and our primary concern is the safety of pilgrims,” he said.
The pilgrims expressed satisfaction over the arrangements made by the Government.
“I am very happy to join the Yatra. I am satisfied with the arrangements and salute the forces for their service to the nation,” Veena Patil from Ahmedabad of Gujarat said.
Deepali, a resident of Paharganj Delhi, said she was undertaking the Yatra for the 13th time and is accompanied by relatives and friends.
“There is nothing to worry about… we are safe and satisfied with the arrangements,” she said.
As Government has made strict restrictions that no yatri vehicle will be allowed to leave for Kashmir valley via Mughal Road, a Tempo Traveller bearing registration No JK02 AW 8041 carrying 14 yatris who were on way to Kashmir valley after violating DM’s orders was seized by Police Station Surankote.
The police has registered a case FIR No 155/19 under Section 188 RPC and driver of the vehicle Ashok Kumar, S/o Payeray Lal of Kotebhalwal , Jammu was arrested. The DM Poonch has ordered that no yatri will be permitted to leave for Kashmir valley via Mughal Road.