Srinagar : The annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine of Lord Shiva, also known as Amarnath Cave, officially took off Sunday after the weather improved.
"As the weather showed marked improvement, we have allowed pilgrims to move towards the holy cave on both the north and south Kashmir routes," a police officer told IANS here.
Due to heavy rains and flash floods, the pilgrimage was suspended Saturday, the day it was to begin.
The officer added that around 6,500 pilgrims would move towards the cave from the north Kashmir Baltal base camp and around 2,000 devotees would trek from the south Kashmir Nunwan (Pahalgam) base camp Sunday.
The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), which conducts the annual pilgrimage, has decided not to allow any pilgrim movement Sunday from the winter capital Jammu to avoid the rush at the base camps. Nearly 4,000 pilgrims have been camping at Jammu since Saturday.
Thousands of personnel from the police and the paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) besides the army are deployed to protect the pilgrims.
Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who arrived here Saturday, studied the security arrangements. Patil said the situation in terror-torn Jammu and Kashmir had improved considerably.
The Himalayan Cave of Amarnath, at 3,888 metres above the sea level, was re-discovered by a Kashmiri Muslim shepherd, Bota Malik, of Botakote village near Pahalgam around 200 years ago.
"The herd strayed into the rugged mountainside, leading to the accidental rediscovery of the cave. It is said the shepherd met a 'sadhu' (hermit) there who gave him a bag of charcoal from the fire he had lit outside the cave.
"When Malik reached home, he found the bag full of gold coins," said M.Y. Teng, a noted Kashmiri scholar.
But it is believed that Hindus had been visiting the Amarnath cave much earlier.
The cave houses an ice stalagmite formation believed by the Hindus to represent the Lord Shiva's icon. There are two small ice formations beside the main stalagmite inside the cave.
The devotees believe these to represent Shiva's consort Parvati and their son Ganesh.