Amarnath Yatra

Sanjit Das

Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims make their way up to the Amarnath cave, 3,888 metres above sea level in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, to visit one of the holiest sites in Hinduism.~~Every summer several hundred thousand devout Hindus from across India arrive in the mountainous and disputed territory of Kashmir, to take part in an arduous pilgrimage to a revered mountain shrine: the Amarnath~Cave. 2011 saw a record number of pilgrims - some 634,000 - recorded at the site. The cave contains a lingam, a phallus-shaped piece of ice, and is considered one of the most sacred places by Hindus.

The pilgrimage, or yatra, is made on foot, pony and occasionally by helicopter. It takes place close to the so-called Line of Control in Kashmir, the de facto border between India and Pakistan that was agreed upon at the end of a bitter war between the countries in 1972. The Indian army posts large numbers of soldiers along mountain ridges to guard against attacks by Pakistani or Kashmiri militants which are common in this part of the country. Given the high altitude, occasional bad weather and the large numbers of pilgrims involved, many of them ill-prepared, each year sees dozens of people die en route. In 2012, over 90 pilgrims died.~~The mountainous region is fragile and remote. The impact of so many visitors can be devastating for the local environment. Rubbish is strewn on glaciers, in rivers and half-burned or buried in heaps. The valley containing the Amarnath Cave is particularly badly affected with acrid smoke rising into the air from burning rubbish and camp fires. ~~Sanjit Das accompanied a group of pilgrims to this holy site.

 

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      A soldier patrols and provides security along the...

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      Shepherds with their flock along the Amarnath...

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      Hindu pilgrims ride ponies along the Amarnath...

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      Hindu pilgrims walk along the Amarnath trekking route...

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      The revered Hindu pilgrimage, the Amarnath yatra ends...

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      Hindu pilgrims walk along a mountain trail as they...

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      Employees of the state government clean up the mess...

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      Porters carry a pilgrim on a pallanquin along the...

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