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Surge in Covid places a question mark over Amarnath pilgrimage in Kashmir

23/04/2021 at 6:12 AM

Arun Joshi

In 2021, when the Jammu and Kashmir Government and Shri Amarnath Shrine Board were making extraordinary arrangements to attract more than six lakh pilgrims to the Himalayan cave shrine of Amarnath to showcase absolute normalcy post scrapping of Article 370, the surge in Covid-19 cases has jolted the process.

The Shrine Board has announced the suspension of the registration for the pilgrimage. This announcement on Thursday has cast a shadow over the pilgrimage for the third year in a row.

Shri Amarnath Shrine Board ( SASB)  that manages the affairs of the pilgrimage announced on Thursday “In view of evolving COVID situation in the country and the need to take all necessary precautionary measures, registration for Shri Amarnathji Yatra is being temporarily suspended. “

It made the resumption of the registration conditional on the improvement of the situation. “The situation is being constantly monitored and it would be reopened once the situation improves.”

As such when all the arrangements were being finalized for the conduct of the pilgrimage better known as Amarnath Yatra, the spike in the Covid cases in Jammu and Kashmir and the worsening scenario in the country has made the SASB make this announcement leaving room open for further announcements. Last year, too, Shrine Board had moved cautiously and then announced the cancellation of the yatra at the last moment, just a couple of days before the start of the pilgrimage in July 2020.

The registration for the pilgrimage had started on April 1 and there was a lot of enthusiasm among the would-be pilgrims for the annual Himalayan pilgrimage as there was a big backlog – the pilgrimage was cancelled last year and it was cut short in August 2019 days ahead of the August 5, 2019 decision of scrapping off of J&K‘s special status and division of the state into two union territories of Ladakh, and J&K.

This year, the Shrine Board had decided to have a 56-day-long pilgrimage beginning June 22. It was to last till August 22 when Hindus celebrate the festival of Raksha Bandhan.  The cave shrine, as the myth goes, is the place where Lord Shiva had narrated the tale of immortality to his consort Parvati. Amar, in Hindi, means immortal.

The devotees trek high-risk mountainous tracks, wading through tonnes of snow across the Himalayas. The shrine is situated at the height of 13,500 feet above sea level. It is accessible from two sides – the traditional route through the world-renowned tourist spot of Pahalgam from where the pilgrims ascend up to 14,500 feet high Mahagunus pass before descending to the beautiful Valley of Panchtarni and then again climbing to the shrine. The other route takes a diversion from Baltal on Srinagar-Leh national highway. It is steep, rocky and highly slippery, but it is shorter than the Pahalgam route.

The temporary suspension of the registration barely three weeks after it was opened is an acknowledgment of the fact that the situation in J&K is not conducive to host the pilgrimage in as many numbers as the Shrine Board had hoped for this year. The Shrine Board had said that it was making arrangement for the arrival of 15,000 pilgrims in addition to those using choppers to visit the cave shrine devoted to Lord Shiva.

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha who is chairman of the shrine board that manages affairs of the pilgrimage had declared that six lakh pilgrims would be visiting the cave shrine devoted to Lord Shiva where a naturally made ice-lingam is the main attraction for the pilgrims.

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