First batch of pilgrims to leave today

Avtar Bhat

JAMMU, June 26: The first batch of annual Amarnath yatra is all set to leave from Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas here -the base camp of the yatra amid multi tier security cover tomorrow.
The authorities have made elaborate arrangements including a multi tier security cover for the yatra right from Lakhanpur in Kathua district to holy cave of Swami Amarnath Ji situated in deep Himalayas in Anantnag district of South Kashmir.
The yatra will be flagged off at 4.30 am tomorrow morning by two Advisors of Governor, B B Viyas and Vijay Kumar and Chief Secretary B V R Subrahmanyam under tight security measures.
About 1500 pilgrims and 350 Sadhus will form the first batch of pilgrims who will be flagged off from here tomorrow, Divisional Commissioner, Jammu Sanjeev Verma told Excelsior.
He said all arrangements including that of fool proof security, sanitation, boarding and lodging, medicare etc are in place and this time new buses have been arranged for the pilgrims. He said lodges as well as community centres have been booked at various places in Jammu, Udhampur and enroute for the pilgrims.
The number of pilgrims is expected to increase as many yatris coming directly from outside the State will join the cavalcade enroute.
Hundreds of pilgrims from different parts of country have reported at Bhagwati Nagar Base camp till last reports came in. The pilgrims were high in spirits and they said that they don’t care for any threat from any one including terrorists as Lord Shiva is there to take care of them. “When Lord Shiva is there no one can dare to harm us” said Ram Krishan of Gorkhpur, UP who was on way to Bhagwati Nagar base camp this afternoon to leave for holy cave tomorrow.
Same were the views of Radhay Shayam, a Sadhu who had reached here this morning from Varanasi, UP to have the darshan of Swami Amarnath. He said Sadhus are never afraid of any body as they have surrendered to Lord Shiva so no one can harm them.
Till now over two lakh pilgrims from across the country have registered themselves for the yatra to the cave shrine.
The pilgrims, including Sadhus, have started arriving in Jammu from various parts of the country. Reports reaching here said that 2158 pilgrims in 128 buses crossed Lakahnpur up to this evening to leave for holy cave tomorrow.
The first batch of yatris will leave for the twin base camps of Baltal and Pahalgam in Kashmir, in a fleet of vehicles. However there will be a difference of one hour in departure of yatris for two base camps of Pahalgam and Baltal from here to allow hassle free movement of convoy.
They will reach the base camps of Baltal in Ganderbal and Nunwan-Pahalgam in Anantnag districts in Kashmir late in the evening. The pilgrims would start their onward journey to the 3,880 metre high cave shrine by foot, the next day, marking the commencement of the annual pilgrimage.
The yatra is scheduled to conclude on Shravan Purnima falling on August 26 and coinciding with the annual ‘Raksha Bandhan’ festival.
Inspector General of Police, Jammu, S D Singh Jamwal said, “all arrangements are in place to ensure smooth and peaceful pilgrimage, which is a symbol of brotherhood and communal harmony.”
He said security forces are fully alert and they have taken adequate measures to thwart nefarious designs of anti-national elements and their mentors from across the border.
Security officials said 1.96 lakh pilgrims have so far registered themselves for the yatra, which will for the first time see the use of radio frequency (RF) tags on Amarnath- bound vehicles and CRPF motorcycle squads in action.
Security arrangements around the base camps, temples, railway stations, bus stands and other crowded places here have been strengthened, the officials said.
This year, the Government has decided to monitor each vehicle carrying Amarnath pilgrims with radio frequency (RF) tag and to extend the validity of temporary prepaid mobile connections taken by pilgrims from seven days to 10 days.
Around 40,000 security personnel from Jammu and Kashmir Police, paramilitary, National Disaster Response Force and the Army, have been deployed for this year’s pilgrimage, the officials said.
A total of 2.60 lakh pilgrims had offered prayers at the shrine last year.
Considering the carrying capacity of the existing tracks and other available infrastructure in the pilgrimage area, Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) has decided to allow 7, 500 pilgrims on each route daily. These are the traditional 36-km route from Pahalgam and the shortest 12-km route from Baltal. This will exclude pilgrims travelling by helicopter.
Meanwhile, Governor N N Vohra, Chairman of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, (SASB) while reviewing the ongoing advance registration of yatris for Shri Amarnathji with Umang Narula, Chief Executive Officer and Bhupinder Kumar, Additional Chief Executive Officer, was informed that  as of now, 2,11,994 pilgrims had  secured Advance Registration through the designated Bank branches, Group Registration Facility and through booking of helicopter tickets for the  Yatra.
This registration is being provided to the Yatris since   March, 1  through 440 designated bank branches of the Punjab National Bank, (PNB) J&K Bank and YES Bank, located in 32 States and UTs across the country. The ongoing trend of registration shows that about 1200 persons are being registered every day and the maximum numbers are being registered from the States of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, M.P, Gujarat, Delhi, Rajasthan and Haryana. It was also noted that the Advance Registration via the traditional Pahalgam route, preferred over the Baltal route; this trend  conforms to the traditional pattern of the Yatra.
A total of 225 groups have so far utilized the Group Registration Facility which is being especially provided by the Shrine Board, CEO informed.
CEO reported that with the reduced helicopter ticket fare for Yatra 2017 and Yatra 2018, as compared to the rates in the previous years, pilgrims in larger numbers have booked tickets in advance of the Yatra. The per passenger one way Neelgrath – Panjtarni heli-fare for Yatra 2018 is Rs. 1,600/- (inclusive of all taxes) and Rs. 2,751/- (inclusive of all taxes) for Pahalgam-Panjtarni.
CEO has once again urged Yatris to secure their Advance Registration for Shri Amarnathji Yatra 2018 only from the branches of the authorized Banks and not from any other persons or agents who may try to cheat and sell fake yatra permits to them.  The list of all authorized bank branches for providing advance registration for Yatra 2018, along with the authorized Doctors/Medical Institutions competent to issue Compulsory Health Certificates, is available on the website of Shrine Board at http://www.shriamarnathjishrine.com.
To review the arrangements for the annual Amarnath pilgrimage the Advisor to Governor, K Vijay Kumar along with Chief Secretary, BVR Subrahmanyam and Director General of Police, Dr S P Vaid visited Chandanwari and Pahalgam today.
The Advisor took stock of all the activities being carried out by the concerned in this connection. He stressed on proper coordination and complete synergy among all the concerned for the successful conduct of the yatra.
The Advisor also inspected 20 bedded hospital at Chandanwari and directed the health Department to ensure all medical facilities including life saving drugs, ECG and X-Ray facilities at Sheshnag also.
The Chief Secretary directed for ensuring adequate facilities and services particularly with regard to healthcare at all the halt stations.
Later, the Advisor along with the Chief Secretary and DGP convened a meeting of civil and police officers at Pahalgam regarding the yatra arrangements.
Meanwhile a top Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander today said that Amarnath Yatra is not the target of the militants and termed the yatris as guests who come here to perform religious rituals.
The statement from field operation commander of Hizbul Mujahideen, Reyaz Naikoo, came after the Director General of Police, SP Vaid said militants were planning to attack the yatra.