Jammu, Jun 28 : The annual Amarnath yatra began today amid tight security as the first batch of 2,096 devotees left Jammu base camp for pilgrimage to the 13,500 meter-high cave shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas.
With CRPF keeping strict vigil, a cavalcade of 73 vehicles carrying the pilgrims was flagged off by Minister for Tourism and Culture Nawang Rigzin Jora from Amarnath Basecamp at Bagwatinagar Yatri Niwas here around 5:00 AM.
The devotees offered prayers and chanted Lord Shiva slogans like “Bum Bum Bolay, Chalo Amarnath, Chalo Eik Saath” at the event.
1,369 males, 421 females, 110 children and 196 Sadhus left in 49 buses and 24 Light Motor Vehicles (LMVs) for Pahalgam and Baltal base camps in Kashmir valley and their onward journey to the shrine.
“The yatra has begun from here today. The first batch has been flagged off for the cave shrine. All arrangements have been put in place for the smooth conduct of the yatra,” Jora told reporters.
There is no fear to the yatra and it is going on smoothly, he said after flagging off the event attended by Divisional Commissioner, Jammu, Pawan Kotwal and IGP Jammu Dilbagh Singh.
Adequate security arrangements have been made in Jammu and along the route to the Amarnath cave shrine for the safety and security of the pilgrims, Singh said.
With paramilitary forces deployed along the highway, the yatra has crossed Udhampur The pilgrims are scheduled to have a darshan of the holy ice ‘ligum' of Lord Shiva at Amarnath cave tomorrow.
As many as 2.30 lakh pilgrims have been registered for the pilgrimage at various centers and online counters across the country.
As part of stringent security measures, Road Opening Parties (ROPS), Quick Reaction Teams (QRTS) and Mobile Rescue Teams (MRTS) have been positioned at several places to deal with any exigencies.
The Jammu and Kashmir Police has also launched a reception-cum-yatri assistance center in Jammu to facilitate smooth and easy boarding and lodging of the pilgrims.
“We have launched reception-cum-yatri assistance center to facilitate smooth and easy boarding and lodging for the pilgrims, besides knowledge of roads and routes,” Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Jammu-Samba-Kathua range, Farooq Khan said.
This center would take care of the devotees lodging at base camp yatri niwas, he said adding that it would also distribute booklets, pamphlets, maps and other material to the pilgrims.
The Amarnath yatra is expected to conclude on August 13, on the auspicious occasion of Raksha Bandhan.
More than 10,000 security force personnel have been deployed for the annual Amarnath yatra to the south Kashmir cave shrine, officials said.
Around 5,000 paramilitary CRPF and an equal number of state police personnel have been deployed for security of the pilgrims along the traditional Pahalgam route and the shorter Baltal route, the officials said.
Although there are no intelligence inputs to suggest any militant threat to the annual pilgrimage, the officials said they did not want to take any chance.
Barring few incidents at the peak of militancy in late 1990s and early 2000s, the Amarnath yatra has generally been conducted smoothly over the years.
Security force personnel have been deployed all along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway and between Khanabal and Pahalgam in Anantnag district and Srinagar and Baltal in Ganderbal district, they said.
Forces have also been deployed in strength at all halting stations like Panjtarni, Sheshnag and Chandanwari, besides the perimeter of the 3880-metre high cave shrine.
The first batch of nearly 2,000 pilgrims, which left from Jammu base camp today, will be starting their onward journey towards the cave shrine from Pahalgam and Baltal from tomorrow.
More than 2.5 lakh pilgrims have registered for the pilgrimage this year but the number is lesser compared to previous years.
However, officials said the number of pilgrims will increase during the course of 45-day pilgrimage. The yatra will conclude on August 13 coinciding with Raksha Bandhan. PTI