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L-G Sinha flags off Amarnath Yatra as 3,488 pilgrims set off for Holy Cave Shrine

LG Sinha Flags Off 1st Batch Of 3,488 Amarnath Pilgrims From Jammu Base Camp.

Srinagar: With the local Muslim population as usual eagerly waiting to receive the annual pilgrimage across the Kulgam and Anantnag districts in southern Kashmir, the first batch of the 3,488 yatris was flagged off by Jammu and Kashmir Lieutenant Governor and Chairperson of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) Manoj Sinha from the Jammu base camp of Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas on Friday.

Amid multi-layer security arrangements, including drone surveillance, along the 300-km yatra route, LG Manoj Sinha performed a brief session of customary prayers at Bhagwati Nagar in Jammu, also known as the City of Temples, before he flagged off the first batch of the pilgrims for the spiritual journey. The flagging off ceremony was conducted in a devotional ambience early in the morning as hundreds of participants chanted slogans and hymns in reverence of Lord Shiva.

Senior police and civil officers remained present at the Yatra base camp throughout the ceremony.

“Flagged off the first batch of Shri Amarnath Ji pilgrims, as they set off to the Holy Cave. Wishing all the devotees a safe and spiritually-fulfilling journey. Prayed to Baba Amarnath for peace, prosperity and happiness to all”, Sinha tweeted.

The first batch of pilgrims, which will undertake the journey from 1 July to 31 August this year, comprises 3,488 devotees in 160 vehicles, escorted by scores of security vehicles. While 1,997 pilgrims in 84 vehicles are on their way to the base camp of Nunwan, near Pahalgam, in Anantnag district, 1491 pilgrims in 76 vehicles will be reaching the base camp of Baltal, in Ganderbal district, in the evening.

On Saturday morning, devotees from both the base camps will set off for the holy cave shrine situated at an altitude of 3,888 metres (12,756 ft). The pilgrims will get free food and other necessities while travelling. As many as 22 langars have been established this year at various points on the highway (NH-44).

The annual Hindu pilgrimage is being conducted with heavy security arrangements provided by the Jammu and Kashmir police, paramilitary forces and the Army. There have been fluctuating threat perceptions from time to time. Two major terror attacks on the Yatra occurred in August 2000 and July 2017.

Around 30 persons, including 21 pilgrims and 7 local Muslims, had died in the first major terror attack at Pahalgam in 2000. In the second major terror attack, 8 pilgrims got killed when their bus, returning from Baltal to Jammu, was ambushed at Botengo, near Khanabal Anantnag, in July 2017.

A substantial chunk of the local Muslim population has been associated with the pilgrimage for centuries. Almost all the logistic service providers including those who have ponies and palanquins besides shopkeepers and hoteliers are from the Muslim community. Hundreds of people with ponies and palanquins reach the base camps of Pahalgam and Baltal every year from Anantnag, Kulgam and Shopian districts of Kashmir as also from Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban and Reasi districts of Jammu.