Heavy snow casts shadow on start of Amarnath pilgrimage


Jammu : A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the June 15 start of the Amarnath pilgrimage in Jammu and Kashmir as the tracks to the Himalayan cave shrine devoted to Hindu god Shiva are covered with heavy snow.

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Both the tracks to the shrine – a traditional route involving a 46 km trek from the tourist resort of Pahalgam, 100 km south of here, and a shorter and steep route via Baltal, 105 km north of here – are covered with heavy snow, said an official of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB).

The SASB headed by Governor N.N. Vohra manages the affairs of the shrine, which attracts nearly 400,000 pilgrims from across India during summer. This summer the ‘yatra’, or the pilgrimage, was first scheduled to start June 7, and then it was postponed to June 15 owing to snow on the tracks.

The attraction at the shrine located at a height of 13,500 feet above sea level is an ice stalagmite structure, reverentially called Shivlingam, an icon of Lord Shiva. The pilgrimage to Amarnath lasts for two months.

B.B. Vyas, the CEO of SASB, who has been visiting the shrine by chopper for the past few days, was quoted by an official spokesman of the Jammu and Kashmir government as saying that there was heavy snow on the tracks and at the shrine itself.

“Efforts to clear the snow are on,” he said.

But TV footage of snow on the tracks makes the start of the pilgrimage June 15 seem difficult.

Officials admitted on condition of anonymity that snow clearance operations would take a lot of time, and the yatra may have to be further rescheduled.

However, groups like the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad have termed the repeated references to snow on the tracks as a delaying tactics by the government.

“This is nothing but a ploy to delay the yatra,” BJP spokesperson Ramesh Arora said.

VHP’s state unit president Rama Kant Dubey said: “It is a conspiracy to shorten the yatra period”.

Last year the pilgrimage was marked by controversy as there was violence over the allotment of forest land for Amarnath pilgrims.