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Will there be a ropeway to the holy Amarnath cave in Kashmir anytime soon?

Jammu and Kashmir Lt. Gov. Manoj Sinha informed that he had discussed with the Chief Secretary a proposal to lay a modern ropeway on the pattern of Gulmarg Gondola up to the Amarnathji shrine in Kashmir’s Pahalgam area

Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, who also functions as chairman of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), is raising three major Yatri Bhawans to accommodate at least 10,000 pilgrims at a time on the route of the annual Amarnathji  yatra, even as the authorities are also considering to lay a ropeway to the holy cave in Kashmir.

Speaking to media persons on the margins of a foundation stone laying ceremony of Tirath Yatri Niwas and Disaster Management in Jammu, Sinha said that he had discussed with the Chief Secretary a proposal to lay a modern ropeway on the pattern of Gulmarg Gondola up to the Amarnathji shrine in Kashmir’s Pahalgam area. He did not reveal whether the ropeway to carry the pilgrims, like a similar facility at Mata Vaishno Devi in Jammu’s Katra area, was proposed to be laid on the yatra’s Pahalgam or Baltal mountain track.

“We have sought a feasibility report. When it comes, we will take further steps,” he said. Presently, a ropeway is operational between Mata Vaishno Devi Ji Bhawan to Bhairon Ghati in Katra and it is running successfully.

Apart from Gulmarg and Vaishno Devi, the Jammu and Kashmir Government’s Department of Tourism has already constructed ropeways at the Sultanul Aarifeen Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom shrine on the Hari Parbat foothill in Srinagar besides the two ropeways at the hill station of PatniTop and the heritage site of Mubarak Mandi in Jammu.

Quite a number of organizations as well as people have been demanding construction of a ropeway for Shri Amarnath Ji shrine which will not only reduce travel time drastically but also insulate the annual pilgrimage against the common disruptions like snowfall and landslides. Sinha said that more public utilities would be generated on Shri Amarnath Ji yatra track and existing arrangements would be enhanced.

Addressing the gathering after laying foundation stone of the Tirath Yatri Niwas and Disaster Management Centre, Sinha said that the work was underway at the new tourist circuit from Mata Vaishno Devi Ji shrine to Purmandal, Utterbehni, Mansar, Surinsar and Shiv Khori in Jammu. “This will lead to economic development and give easy access to tourists to visit these places,” he added.

According to Sinha, if the figures of the tourists visiting Jammu and Kashmir would be taken into account, the Vaishno Devi pilgrims, approximately one crore every year, would outnumber the tourists and pilgrims visiting other areas of Jammu. “The Government wants this number to go up,” he added.

The Lieutenant Governor announced that a Bhawan with capacity of the accommodation of 3,200 pilgrims would be ready at Chanderkot, near Ramban, on the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway at the beginning of the pilgrimage in June 2022.

“On August 6 this year, we laid the foundation stone of another such accommodation at Srinagar for 2,800 yatris. The Detailed Project Report (DPR) is ready and we have received Rs 12 crore for its construction. The Project will cost Rs 32 crore and work on it will start after winter with a completion timeline of 16 months,” he said.

While the Amarnath pilgrimage was scuttled midway ahead of the abrogation of Article 370 in 2019, it could not be operated due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Nevertheless, all the rituals were performed and a virtual puja of the holy mace was held for a select group of the aspirants. Prasad was delivered at home.

Sinha said there was a feeling among people in various parts of the country that the yatra was not safe. “All of us need to work towards ensuring that the people living across India feel that Amarnath Yatra is as safe as any other pilgrimage in the country. We are working in that direction,” he said.

On the new accommodation facility, Sinha said the Delhi School of Architecture would prepare the design within two months and expressed hope that the work would be completed within a year. He said that the Jindal Foundation had conducted a survey for improving facilities at Shiv Khori shrine in Jammu’s Reasi district. He said he was hopeful that the work on the Yatri Bhawans would start in December 2021.

On a lease of 40 years for nominal ground rent of Rs 250 per year, the J&K Government has sanctioned over three acres of land in favour of SASB for construction of a Yatri Niwas to accommodate around 3,000 pilgrims at Panta Chowk on the outskirts of Srinagar early this year. LG Sinha laid the foundation stone on 6 August 2021 for Yatri Niwas and an office for SASB. The construction would be completed in 18 months.

In 2008, allotment of nearly 100 acres of forest land to SASB in Sonamarg area of Ganderbal district had led to massive protests across Kashmir when the coalition partner and former Chief Minister raised questions over the then incumbent Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s decision. Mufti threatened to withdraw support from Azad’s government if he failed to cancel the allotment.

The confrontation between the PDP and the Congress led to breakdown of the coalition and Azad resigned as Chief Minister after the PDP withdrew support. Several people got killed in clashes. Nearly 5-month-long agitation in Kashmir ended only after the then Governor N N Vohra revoked the land transfer order.

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