Saturday, August 13, 2011

6.36 lakh Piligrims Visit Amarnath Yatra 2011

Forty-six days long annual pilgrimage to holy cave shrine of Shri Amarnath ji, located at a height of 13,500 feet from the sea level in South Kashmir Himalayas, concluded today with Mahant Deependera Giri carrying holy mace (Chhari Mubarak) of Lord Shiva, joined by about 500 devotees, performing darshan in the shrine.

On the occasion of Shravan Purnima and Raksha Bandhan, the final day of annual yatra, about 1,000 pilgrims today paid obeisance inside the holy cave shrine of Lord Shiva. Governor NN Vohra, who happened to be the chairman of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) and SASB CEO R K Goyal also performed prayers in the shrine today.

A record number of 6.36 lakh yatris had darshan of Lord Shiva’s holy Ice Lingam during about one and a half month yatra this year. The pilgrimage had started on June 29. There was heavy rush of pilgrims during first 20 days when number of the yatris having darshan daily ranged between 25,000 to 30,000. The holy Ice Lingam remained in full bloom during about a month after which it started melting.

However, with the rise in number of pilgrims, the yatra also witnessed number of 107 deaths this year with 68 of them breathing their last due to cardiac and pulmonary failures. Five porters and two security personnel were among those killed during the yatra period.

During 2010, 68 pilgrims had died while the number was 45 in 2009.

Official sources attributed increase in number of deaths during the yatra to massive rise in rush of the pilgrims during initial period when a large number of unregistered pilgrims visited the shrine.

While hardly 3 lakh yatris had registered themselves for the yatra through Jammu and Kashmir Bank, Yes Bank and some Co-operative Banks for the pilgrimage, 6.36 lakh pilgrims performed darshan. Nearly 3.36 lakh unregistered yatris undertook the pilgrimage. The SASB had covered registered yatris as well as porters for Rs 1 lakh insurance cover.

While 3.50 lakh pilgrims reached holy cave shrine of Shri Amarnath ji from tougher but shortest 14 kilometers Baltal track, 2.84 lakh yatris opted for traditional 34 kilometers Pahalgam-Chandanwari route.

As against 6.36 lakh yatris performing darshan during this year’s annual pilgrimage, the previous best figure of 5.33 lakh of 2008 was surpassed. In 2010, 4.55 lakh yatris had visited the holy cave shrine while the number was 3.81 lakh in 2009.

In 2001 when the SASB had taken over affairs of the shrine, 1.19 lakh yatris had paid obeisance to Lord Shiva’s cave shrine while the number came down to 1.10 lakh in 2002 but went up to 1.70 lakh in 2003. The number of yatris recorded a sudden jump to 4 lakh in 2004 but it again came down to 3.88 lakh in 2005, 3.47 lakh in 2006 and 2.96 lakh in 2007.

During Amarnath land row agitation in 2008, the highest number of 5,33,368 yatris had visited the holy cave shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas. This year, the number went up by 1.03 lakh.

Sources said security forces, para-military personnel and police had made impressive tight security arrangements for the pilgrimage right from Lakhanpur to the cave shrine at a height of 13,500 feet from the sea level and performed the task of providing security cover to a large number of pilgrims under extreme tough terrain and weather conditions.

Army personnel, who had been assigned the security of peaks including the cave shrine, did an extra ordinary job braving chilly weather and other difficult tasks. Not even a single militancy-related incident was reported on either of the two tracks or any other place connected to the yatra during 46 days period, sources said.

Governor NN Vohra, the chairman of the SASB and Chief Minister Omar Abdullah constantly monitored yatra arrangements and security.

However, the number of 107 deaths during the pilgrimage remained a matter of concern for the Shrine Board as well as the pilgrims. There was a strong opinion among the pilgrims as well as the local people that the Board should upgrade medical facilities on the tracks and the cave shrine to prevent, or at least, minimize the number of deaths.

Meanwhile, the ‘Chhari Mubarak’ of Lord Shiva reached the Amarnath ji shrine from Panchtarni halting station this morning after a night halt.

Led by Mahant Deependera Giri, custodian of holy mace, hundreds of devotees and Sadhus accompanied it.

A special prayer was offered on the occasion of ‘Shravan Purnima’ to pay obeisance to ice-lingam of Lord Shiva – coinciding with Raksha Bandhan – to mark the conclusion of the annual yatra.

Governor N N Vohra, Mrs Usha Vohra and Chief Executive Officer of Shrine Board R K Goyal also took part in the prayers at the cave shrine.

After the traditional prayers, the ‘Chhari Mubarak’ was taken back to Panchtarni for a night halt.

The holy mace is scheduled to reach Chandanwari tomorrow and Pahalgam on Monday on its return journey.

‘Pujan’ and ‘Visarjan’ ceremonies would be performed on the banks of river Lidder in Pahalgam on Monday while the Chhari would return to its abode at Dashnami Akhara in Srinagar on the same day.

The Governor, expressing satisfaction over the smooth conduct of this year’s yatra, complimented all the concerned Departments of the State Government, Army, CRPF, BSF, State police, BSNL, J&K Bank, and all other concerned organisations, and particularly the people of the State, for making the pilgrimage a satisfying experience for thousands of pilgrims who visited the holy shrine this year from various parts of the country, over the past 45 days.

He had a word of appreciation for the close coordination, which had been maintained among security forces, civil and police administration, all the stakeholders, local population and the Shrine Board in ensuring a smooth and peaceful Yatra.

As Chairman of the Shrine Board, the Governor had been monitoring all important aspects of the yatra management on daily basis and personally reviewing the arrangements for the pilgrimage by visiting the base camps, camps enroute and the holy cave.

He had earlier issued strict instructions for launching a time-bound post-yatra cleanliness drive at the base camps, camps enroute and in the holy cave area for ensuring absolute purity of the entire yatra area.

In this context, the Governor particularly visited Panchtarni and Sheshnag camps today to personally review the results of the cleanliness drive launched in the yatra area.

Expressing satisfaction over the implementation of the sanitation measures, the Governor asked the CEO of the Shrine Board to ensure the disposal of all garbage by August 20, so that the entire yatra area is free from all solid wastes well before the onset of ensuing winter season.

Mr Goyal said that 6.36 lakh yatris paid their obeisance at the holy cave Shrine during this year’s pilgrimage, which had commenced on June 29, simultaneously from Baltal and Nunwan base camps, ensuring equitable economic benefits to the local stakeholders residing in Sonamarg-Baltal and Pahalgam-Chandanwari areas.

Referring to various new initiatives taken during the Yatra-2011, Mr Goyal said that the Shrine Board has been according very high priority to the implementation of sanitation and related measures for the preservation of the environment at the base camps and at all the locations enroute the cave shrine and both the yatra routes.

He said that the two Sewerage Treatment Plants (STPs), based on Eco-friendly technology/Biological treatment, at the Baltal and Nunwan base camps, yielded very encouraging outcomes.

Mr Goyal added that the toilet/bath facilities were significantly augmented at Sheshnag, Panchtarni and holy cave camps, with over 250 additional toilets.

He further said that all the toilets were dosed with eco-friendly bacteria on daily basis, for decomposition of the faecal matter.

The CEO disclosed that like last year, all the registered pilgrims were provided free of cost Accident Insurance Cover of Rs one lakh this year as well.

He said that the accidental insurance cover was also provided, with the support from the State Government, to all the registered labourers deployed during the yatra, as well as for the pony owners, in case their horse/pony was involved in an accidental death.

This scheme was aimed at benefiting about 20,000 labourers and 7,000 pony owners, almost all of whom belonged to the economically weaker sections of the society.

Mr Goyal disclosed that insurance claims of pony owners are being processed expeditiously and hoped that beneficiary pony owners would receive the insurance claim in the coming weeks, after completion of all procedural formalities.

Dwelling on other activities this year, the CEO stated that the helicopter services were made available on both Baltal-Panchtarni and Pahalgam-Panchtarni routes, at reasonable fares.

The CEO added that, at the instance of the Governor, several steps were taken for the promotion of tourism industry in the J&K State, through enhanced and equitable distribution of helicopter seats among the registered Tour and Travel Agents and their Associations (based at Srinagar and Jammu), Hotel Associations of Kashmir and Jammu Divisions, House Boat Owners Association and Pahalgam Hotel Association.

These collaborative arrangements were widely appreciated by all the stakeholders.

Mr Goyal added that mobile phone connectivity had been made operational by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) on both Pahalgam and Baltal routes of the entire yatra area up to the holy cave shrine of Shri Amarnath ji this year 10 days ahead of the commencement of the yatra, which not only enabled the yatris to contact their families back home while undertaking the pilgrimage through mountainous tracks but helped a great deal in day to day management of the Yatra.

The Board had also installed Digital Satellite Phones at the crucial camps at Sheshnag, Panchtarni and the holy cave, which proved to be extremely useful for real time monitoring of the Yatra arrangements as also the movement of Yatris.

He informed that round the clock Control Room was established in the CEO’s office to monitor all movements and to particularly watch the weather reports.

Despite repeated Advisories and issue of Do’s and Don’ts to the Yatris, the CEO regretted that as many as 107 Yatris lost their lives due to medical reasons, the prime among them being cardiac arrests and pulmonary failures.

Mr Goyal stated that the Shrine Board had provided all required financial help and logistical support for the medical treatment of those injured, for the transportation of dead bodies to various parts of the country, and in arranging evacuation, wherever required.

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