Among the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites, the Amarnath Yatra is considered a highly revered one. Most Hindus, particularly those who are worshippers of Lord Shiva, wish to undertake a journey to the Amarnath Shrine at least once in a lifetime.
This is because of the appearance of a natural ice Shiva Lingam in the cave, which is considered an annual sacred phenomenon. However, it is much more than just a simple trek to visit a temple. Here’s a look at what the famed Amarnath Yatra entails, and what you can expect from it:
When And Where Is The Yatra Held?
The Amarnath Cave is located in the Himalayas in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, approximately 140km from the capital Srinagar. The annual yatra (journey) takes place in the Shravan month according to the Hindu calendar, which falls somewhere in June-August. Since the cave and its surrounding areas remain covered in snow most of the year, this is the only time when devotees can access the shrine – hence the massive crowds that flock here for the yatra.
It is said that the ice Lingam that forms in the cave shrinks and grows as per the changes in the lunar cycle. In 2017, the Amarnath Yatra is from June 29 to August 7. Usually, the yatra spans a period of 45 days.
Amarnath Yatra: Legend And History
There are many legends about the Amarnath Cave and the yatra, and the most popular one being that Lord Shiva had to give in to his wife Parvati’s demands to tell her the secret of his immortality. But to ensure that no one eavesdrops, they set off for the mountain cave where he narrated the Amar Katha to her. His bull Nandi was left behind at Pahalgam, from where the Lord and his wife started their ascent. Today, it is a major starting point for the yatra.
The Shiv Lingam that people flock to see forms mysteriously and rises to its full growth on Purnima, night of the full moon. It is believed that this was the day when the Lord narrated the secrets to his divine consort.
The cave was discovered later (there are different legends associated with this discovery too), after which it became public knowledge and the annual pilgrimage started.
The Amarnath Yatra Route
At present, there are two routes that pilgrims can take to reach the Amarnath Cave. But whichever you choose, remember that the trek will take you to a height of more than 14,000 feet. Hence, being physically fit and mentally prepared for the journey is a must.
Pahalgam Route: Pahalgam is the traditional route for the yatra, and it comprises a trek of 36-48 km. You can complete this on foot or choose to ride on a pony, and the journey usually takes 3-5 days one way. Although this is the wider route of the two, it can get crowded with ponies, palanquins (dolis), and devotees since it is still preferred by most people.
For this route, you will travel through Chandanwari, which is the checkpoint where yatris need to furnish their permits and documents. Pissu Top, Sheshnag, and Panchtarni are the other places on the way.
Baltal Route: This is the shorter route, more suited for those with less time for the journey. However, this 16-km long route is steeper and the climb will be more laborious. Ponies and palanquins are available, and experienced hikers can complete the journey from Baltal to the cave and back in a single day. Helicopter services are also available on both the routes.
Amenities/Facilities For Pilgrims
- The Indian Central Government, State Government Police Forces, and the Indian Army work hard to provide the best possible amenities for pilgrims undertaking the Amarnath Yatra. However, one certainly needs to be prepared to face harsh climatic conditions at such an altitude.
- In addition, non-profit organisations such as the Shri Amarnath Yatra trust and private companies provide services like food stalls, power supply, telecommunication, firewood for campers, and so on.
- To reach any of the route starting points, private taxis as well as state government road transport services are available from Srinagar.
- For those travelling over a few days, insulated tents and huts are available as rented accommodation over different camping sites along the route.
- Although there are food stalls to buy stuff, there are also the presence of langars along the route serving free food to all pilgrims. Hearty meals and clean drinking water for everyone is taken care of.
Tips For Amarnath Yatra Travellers
- The registrations start about a month prior to the yatra, so keep all your paperwork ready.
- Get all your bookings like accommodation, helicopter rides, etc. done in advance.
- Mobile phones may not work in the area, so it is best to not carry them.
- Get medical examinations done to ensure that you are fit to undertake the journey.
- Carry warm clothing, camping essentials, medication, and sufficient money.
- If you are hiring labourers to help with your luggage, make sure that they are authorised and decide on the rates beforehand.
- Do not litter, smoke, drink alcohol, or do anything else to disturb your fellow travellers and spiritual ambience of the trek.
The Amarnath Yatra is a challenging journey, but the facilities available make it easier on pilgrims. In addition, the views, the spiritual upliftment of the journey, and the sheer devotion one feels on being able to reach the peak and witness the divine sight makes everything worthwhile. Perhaps this is a feeling best experienced first-hand, and not passively described in words.
Interested to book an Amarnath Yatra?