With annual Holy Yatra starting on 1st July it’s time for salvation and nirvana, as whole Jammu gets into festive mode to greet and serve lakhs of pilgrims in the City of Temples. Shri Amarnath ji cave shrine is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism and is one of highly revered religious places throughout South Asia.
According to Hindu religious beliefs, this is the place where Lord Shiva explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort, Mata Parvati. The cave itself is covered with snow most of the year except for a short period of time in summer when it is open for pilgrims. Out of all Hindu deities, Lord Shiva is extremely popular not only amongst Indians but also amongst the people of other nationalities. To get closer to their revered God, who appears on this earth in the unique form of an Ice Lingam, millions of devotees trek through the daunting mountains to Shri Amarnath ji Shrine in South Kashmir every year in the summer months to pay obeisance. The Shrine is managed by Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), constituted by an Act of the Jammu & Kashmir State Legislature in 2000 with His Excellency the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir as its ex-officio Chairman.
The Holy Cave itself is at a height of around 13,500 ft with track to cave passing through highest altitude of 14,500 ft and as such problem of high altitude sickness as well as rain and snowfall make this pilgrimage as one of the toughest among all. There are two routes followed by pilgrim: Phalgam route 32 km track and Baltal route 14 km track. For the convenience of yatris 442 bank branches of PNB, J&K Bank and YES Bank are registering yatris across whole India, pan 36 states/UT along with registered doctors for medical fitness certificate as it is mandatory for yatra. Above 6 week pregnant ladies, children below 13 years and adults over 75 years are not permitted for the yatra. For convenience of yatris SASB has also outsourced the accommodation at Nunwan Base camp (10 rooms with 80 beds @Rs250/ per bed), Sheshnag Camp (7 rooms with 56 beds @ Rs 375/ per bed), Panjtarni Camp (5 rooms with 40 beds @ Rs 375/ per bed) and Baltal Base Camp (60 rooms with 240 beds @ Rs 375/ per bed) in addition to tented and prefabricated accommodation provided by SASB. Yatra is allowed from 5 to 11 from Domel to Chandanwadi and BSNL post paid or pre paid of JK Circle only work en route. After every two kilometers a medical camp is available but yatris are strictly advised not to stay at cave during night as sudden dip in temperature is imminent and as such no one is allowed to go beyond Panjtarni base camp after 3 pm. Keeping in view the present carrying capacity of the tracks, availability of infrastructure in the Yatra area and all other relevant considerations it has been decided that 7500 pilgrims would be allowed to register for Shri Amarnath Yatra – 2019 per day per route excluding yatris who would travel by helicopters on either route to Panjtarni. Authorities, in fact, have decided to issue a ”barcode” enabled authority slip to pilgrims to keep a track of the actual number of people traveling to and from the cave shrine. For security reasons an enhanced number of upgraded electromagnetic chips or RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags will be deployed on vehicles that will transport pilgrims and other civilians associated with the yatra. The Centre has decided to deploy about 40,000 central paramilitary and state police personnel to secure the 46-day yatra that begins on July 1st from the twin routes – traditional Pahalgam track in Anantnag district and shortest Baltal track in Ganderbal district. The yatra slips will be triplicate, one each for the shrine board, pilgrim and for handing over to the checking staff on route. There will be access control checking gadgets that will be deployed both at the Pahalgam and Baltal routes. The barcode will capture all the information of a pilgrim and it can be accessed by a click of the mouse to track the pilgrim. Keeping in the mind the security challenges that emerged after the February 14th Pulwama terror attack, an enhanced number of counter-IED teams have also been deployed that will sweep roads and vehicles against such threats.
Keeping in view of tough terrain, high altitude, as well as health of pilgrims SASB has strictly banned in the langars – poori, bathura, pizza, burgar, stuffed parantha, dosa ,fried roti, bread with butter, cream based foods, pickle, chutney, fried papad, chowmein, all other fried/ fast food, chips, cold drinks, halwa, jalebi, gulab jamun, laddu, khoya burfi, rasgulla, all other halwai items, matthi, namkeen mixture, pakora, samosa, fried dry fruits, all other deep fried items and cold drinks. Yatris are advised to carry woolens, umbrella, raincoat, rain/snow shoes, ID card with mobile number. Preferred dress for trekking is salwar kameez or track suit. Keeping in view of environment no use of plastics, nothing to be offered at Lingam and all yataris are advised to have 4/5 km daily morning walk for at least one month prior to yatra and regularly practice pranayams. In the past NGT has already taken serious view of certain aspects specifically declaring the area around the Amarnath Shrine cave as “silence zone” to prevent avalanches, there is prohibition on carrying of religious offerings inside the cave to maintain its pristine nature, providing a proper path, proper facilities for toilets among several objections. The green panel also took exception to non-compliance of the directions issued by the Supreme Court in 2012 and asked the board to fulfill all at the earliest.
Keeping in view the changed political equations in the state and thumping return of BJP at Centre again Director Tourism Jammu has special focus on the pilgrim tourism this year. Yatri Niwas at Bhagwati Nagar has been specially augmented with state of art facilities this year. In all this Yatri Niwas has three storey residential building with 15 halls (including one cloak room) and each hall is capable of accommodating 100 pilgrims at a time. Ground floor five halls are non AC whereas number of installed ACs has been raised from existing 28 to 50 in the remaining 10 halls, almost double for the convenience of yatris. Gender based toilets 22 toilets (11 male and 11 females) have been totally revamped with all modern facilities at par with best hotels. Whole kitchen/langar area has been revamped with total granite table top fitting for cleanliness and steel sinks for washing utensils. This community kitchen area can cater to 200 persons at any moment of time for meals. Main gate of Yatri Niwas has also been retouched along with white wash of whole complex and proper paint. Three Vertical Gardens have been put up for better ambience in the complex and the overall scenic view has dramatically improved along with the best augmentation of round the clock facilities offered. Only area of concern right now is laying down of nullah along the side of the whole road from fourth bridge to Yatri Niwas causing immense dust pollution and traffic chaos. Also noticeable is cutting down of old big trees to lay this nullah, the permission, if granted; to cut them is really a serious environmental issue. Another area of concern is malba lying along the bank of canal tributary from power house onwards. It seems other departments are not in tandem with Tourism Department.
On the special initiatives of Department of Tourism Jammu an Amusement Park and Tourist facilities are coming up at Bhagwati Nagar itself at an estimated approximate cost of 23 crores. The facilities include tourist information centre, cafeteria, resting shelter, disaster management building, gender based toilets, IRCTC counters, ATM, queue complex, police and paramilitary assistance booths, Open Amphitheatre, parking, landscaping and pathways. Also done are river protection works, food court and solar illumination system to name few. All these tourism related projects become more important keeping in view prevailing condition of our NH which is blocked much more time than open. Jammu Tourism Department on its behalf has planned hoardings depicting various tourists’ destinations of Jammu along with welcome hoardings for Shri Amarnath Ji Yatra. Moreover, Tourism Department has also undertaken publicity campaign of tourist destinations through radio channels pan India since June 1st, 2019 along with advertisement in print media, local as well as national. For information of yatris, information pamphlets with important instructions and phone numbers of utility and emergency services have been printed for distribution. Brochures of various tourist destinations with brief write up of tourist places have also been printed. Also planned are Summer Festival at Panitop, Paddar Festival at Gulabgarh Gompa, trekking from Gauri Kund to Maudlot, cycle rally from Chenani to Dudu and Machail Yatra during Shri Amarnath Ji Yatra and of course Gandola ride at Patnitop not to forget. It seems Jammu Tourism is well prepared this time to tap religious tourism fervor of yatris, intent is in right direction and one hopes Jammu gets a much required tourism flip this year.