Amarnath Yatra is a Hindu pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath, where an ice stalagmite is formed every year that resembles the Shiva Linga, a symbol of Lord Shiva. The cave is located at an altitude of 3,888 meters in the Himalayas, in the union territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The yatra is undertaken by millions of devotees every year during the months of June to August, when the ice lingam reaches its maximum size. The Amarnath Yatra is one of the most popular pilgrimages in India, and is attended by millions of people each year. The pilgrimage is typically undertaken in the months of July and August, during the Hindu holy month of Shravan.
The yatra is considered to be one of the most challenging and rewarding spiritual journeys, as it involves trekking through rugged terrain, crossing glaciers and rivers, and braving harsh weather conditions. The yatra also offers a glimpse of the scenic beauty and cultural diversity of Kashmir, as pilgrims pass through various villages, shrines and camps along the way.
History of Amarnath Yatra
According to legend, Lord Shiva chose the Amarnath cave to reveal the secret of life and eternity to his consort Goddess Parvati. He left behind all his belongings and companions at different places before entering the cave, which are now revered as sacred sites by the pilgrims. He also created a fire around the cave to prevent anyone from overhearing his conversation. However, a pair of pigeons managed to sneak in and listen to his words. They became immortal and are believed to be seen in the cave even today.
The history of the Amarnath Yatra is long and complex. The earliest recorded mention of the pilgrimage is in the 15th century, but it is believed to have been undertaken for centuries before that. The cave is mentioned in several Hindu scriptures, including the Mahabharata and the Puranas.
The cave was rediscovered by a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik in the 15th century, who was given a sack of coal by a saint. When he opened the sack at home, he found it full of gold coins. He returned to the place where he met the saint and found the cave with the ice lingam. He started taking pilgrims to the cave and his family still receives a portion of the offerings made by the devotees.
The yatra became popular in the 19th century, when Swami Vivekananda visited the cave in 1898 and wrote about his experience. Since then, many saints, sages and leaders have undertaken the yatra and inspired others to do so. The yatra is now organized by the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), which was constituted by an Act of Jammu and Kashmir State Legislature in 2000.
Time and Duration of Amarnath Yatra
The Amarnath Yatra usually begins on the auspicious day of Ashadha Purnima (full moon day in June or July) and ends on Shravana Purnima (full moon day in July or August), coinciding with the Hindu festival of Raksha Bandhan. The duration of the yatra varies from year to year depending on the weather conditions and the size of the ice lingam. The average duration is 62 days.
The yatra can be done either on foot or by helicopter. The foot yatra involves trekking for about 32 km from Chandanwari (the base camp) to the cave via Pahalgam route or for about 14 km from Baltal (the alternate base camp) to the cave via Sonamarg route. The helicopter yatra involves flying from Neelgrath (near Baltal) or Pahalgam to Panjtarni (6 km from the cave) and then trekking or riding a pony to the cave.
Registration Process for Amarnath Yatra
The registration process for Amarnath Yatra is mandatory for all pilgrims above 13 years and below 70 years of age. Pregnant women with more than six weeks pregnancy are not allowed to undertake the yatra. The registration can be done online or offline through designated bank branches across India.
The online registration can be done through the official website of SASB (www.jksasb.nic.in) by filling an application form and paying a fee of Rs 220 per person. The offline registration can be done through 542 bank branches of Punjab National Bank (PNB), Jammu and Kashmir Bank (JKB), Yes Bank and State Bank of India (SBI) by submitting an application form along with a compulsory health certificate (CHC) issued by authorized doctors or institutions and paying a fee of Rs 120 per person.
The registration is done on a first-come-first-serve basis and is valid for a specific date and route. The pilgrims are issued a yatra permit with a barcode that contains their personal details, photo, date and route of yatra. The yatra permit has to be carried along with a valid photo ID proof throughout the yatra.
Routes for Amarnath Yatra
There are two routes for Amarnath Yatra: Pahalgam route and Baltal route. Both routes converge at Sangam near Panjtarni, from where the final ascent to the cave begins.
The Pahalgam route is the traditional and longer route that covers a distance of about 32 km from Chandanwari to the cave. The route passes through several places of religious and historical significance, such as:
- Pahalgam: The starting point of the yatra, situated at an altitude of 2,130 meters on the banks of Lidder river. It is a popular hill station and tourist destination in Kashmir, known for its scenic beauty and adventure activities.
- Chandanwari: The base camp of the yatra, situated at an altitude of 2,895 meters, 16 km from Pahalgam. It is the place where Lord Shiva left behind his moon (Chandra) on his forehead. It is also the place where the annual ice stalagmite festival is held in May.
- Pissu Top: The first steep climb of the yatra, situated at an altitude of 3,130 meters, 3 km from Chandanwari. It is the place where a fierce battle took place between the gods and the demons to reach the cave first. The heap of rocks here is said to be the remains of the dead demons (Pishachas).
- Sheshnag: The second camp of the yatra, situated at an altitude of 3,590 meters, 12 km from Chandanwari. It is the place where Lord Shiva left behind his snake (Sheshnag) around his neck. It is also the name of a glacial lake that resembles a snake with seven heads.
- Mahagunas Top: The highest point of the yatra, situated at an altitude of 4,600 meters, 4.6 km from Sheshnag. It is the place where Lord Shiva left behind his elephant (Mahagunas) that he rode. It is also known as Mahaganesh Hill or Mahadev Hill.
- Panchtarni: The third camp of the yatra, situated at an altitude of 3,650 meters, 9.4 km from Sheshnag. It is the place where Lord Shiva left behind his five elements (Panch Tatvas) before entering the cave. It is also the name of a confluence of five streams that originate from different glaciers.
The Baltal route is the shorter and steeper route that covers a distance of about 14 km from Baltal to the cave. The route passes through some scenic spots and challenging terrains, such as:
- Baltal: The alternate base camp of the yatra, situated at an altitude of 2,743 meters, 15 km from Sonamarg. It is a small valley on the banks of Sind river that offers a panoramic view of the Zojila Pass and the Himalayan peaks.
- Domel: The first checkpoint of the yatra, situated at an altitude of 2,800 meters, 2 km from Baltal. It is the place where the pilgrims have to cross a wooden bridge over Sind river and register their details.
- Barari Marg: The second checkpoint of the yatra, situated at an altitude of 3,200 meters, 6 km from Baltal. It is the place where the pilgrims have to cross another wooden bridge over a stream and register their details.
- Sangam: The confluence point of both routes, situated at an altitude of 3,450 meters, 10 km from Baltal and 22 km from Chandanwari. It is the place where the pilgrims have to cross a third wooden bridge over Amravati river and register their details.
Precautions for Amarnath Yatra
The Amarnath Yatra is a physically demanding and risky pilgrimage that requires proper preparation and precautions. Some of the precautions that should be taken by the pilgrims are:
- Consult a doctor before undertaking the yatra and obtain a compulsory health certificate (CHC) from authorized doctors or institutions.
- Carry adequate warm clothing, raincoat, umbrella, trekking shoes, walking stick, torch, water bottle, dry fruits, glucose and medicines along with your yatra permit and photo ID proof.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and smoking during the yatra as they can cause dehydration and aggravate high altitude sickness.
- Drink plenty of water and eat light and nutritious food at regular intervals to prevent dehydration and exhaustion.
- Walk slowly and steadily while ascending and descending and take rest at designated places. Do not overexert yourself or compete with others.
- Follow the instructions and guidelines issued by SASB, security forces and yatra officials. Do not take any shortcuts or stray away from the marked track.
- Do not litter or pollute the environment. Dispose your garbage at designated places or carry it back with you.
- Respect the local culture and traditions. Do not indulge in any activity that may hurt the sentiments of the people or disturb the sanctity of the place.