One of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living god. The most sacred and most ancient book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his presence in its hymns, Vedic Myths, rituals and even testify to his existance from the dawn of time.
Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of creation in a cave in Amarnath. Unknown to them, a pair of doves eavesdropped on this conversation and having learnt the secret, are reborn again and again, and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the doves pair when they tred the ardous route to pay obeisance before the ice lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva). Situated in a narrow gorge, the Amarnath Cave stands at a height of 12,755 ft. It is believed that in every lunar month, the icy Shivalinga in the cave begins to take its shape on the first day of the bright half of the month. It reaches its full size on the full moon day and on getting its fullest shape, begins to wane and disappear on the new moon day. This process repeats itself each month. Legends have it that Shiva made the gods immortal
by providing them with the celestial nectar, and resided here upon their request. This boon of immortality lent the name Amarnath.
Since it is believed that Shiva manifested himself first on the full moon day in the month of Shravan (July-August), this is the only time of the year when a journey is possible to this mountainous area. A tough and arduous trek is the only way to reach this holy shrine. Hundreds of pilgrims embark on the Yatra (Religious Pilgrimage) annually to achieve salvation.
Legends have it that Shiva narrated to Parvati the secret of immortality in the Amarnathji cave. Wanting to reveal the secret in an isolated place far from any living being, he chose this spot. In preparation, Shiva left his Nandi (the Bull), which he rode at Pahalgam. At Chandanwari, he released the moon from his hair, and on the banks of Lake Sheshnag, he set free the snakes. Son Ganesha was left at Mahagunas Parvat and at Panjtarni, Shiva left the Five Elements behind – earth, water, air, fire and sky – that make life possible. As a final precaution, Shiva created a Rudra named Kalagni and ordered him to set a fire and eliminate every living thing in and around the Holy Cave. Finally, Shiva and Parvati entered the Amarnath Cave where he began meditating on a deerskin. He then narrated the Amar Katha to Parvati. Unknown to them, a pair of mating pigeons overheard their conversation and having learned the secret, are reborn again and again,
and have made the cave their eternal abode. In fact many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay respects before the ice. The trek to Amarnathji, in the month of Shravan (July – August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva, in the form of a lingam, is formed naturally of an ice – stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two more ice – lingams, that of Parvati and of their son, Ganesha.
The origin of Amarnath Yatra dates back to the year 1850 A.D, when a Muslim shepherd from Batakot, named Buta Malik first discovered the cave in which lay enshrined the naturally formed Shivling made of ice. According to tale, there was once a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a sadhu. Upon reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact, contained gold. Overjoyed, Buta Malik rushed back to look for the sadhu and thank him, but on the spot of their meeting discovered a cave, and eventually this became a place of pilgrimage for all believers. So pleased was the Dogra king Maharaja Gulab Singh by this discovery that he proclaimed that a representative of the Malik family would always be present at the holy shrine, together with the other priests during the period of the pilgrimage each year. Further, one third of all the offerings made at the shrine each year were to be given to the Malik family as reward. Till date, a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to the descendants of Malik, and the remaining to the trust, which administers the shrine.
The trek to Amarnath, in the month of Shravan (July-August) has the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the image of Shiva, in the form of a lingam, is formed naturally of an ice-stalagmite, and which waxes and wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two more ice-lingams, that of Parvati, and of their son, Ganesha.
Located in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley, Amarnath stands at 3888 mts and 46 kms from Pahalgam and 141 kms from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage initiates the Yatra to be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin the journey from Chandanwari and cover the distance to Amarnath and back in 5 days. Pahalgam is 96 Kms from Srinagar. The trek from Chandanwari to the Cave is on an ancient though unfamiliar route. Pilgrims camp at Pahalgam or Chandanwari on the first night out.
The first day’s trek of 12 kms from Chandanwari is through magnificent primitive countryside, with the centre of attraction being Sheshnag, a mountain which derives its name from seven peaks resembling the head of a mythical snake. A gushing stream accompanies you with wild scenery unaffected by modern civilization. The second night camp at Wavjan faces the deep blue waters of Sheshnag Lake and glaciers beyond it. Campfires recount the tales of love and revenge associated with Sheshnag.
The second day 12 km trek steadily gains height winding across the Mahagunas Pass at 4600 mtrs and then descending to the meadow land of Panchtarni the last camp enroute to Amarnath Cave.
From Panchtarni to Amarnath the distance is 6 kms and an early morning start is recommended for there is a long queue awaiting entry at the cave. The same day devotees after darshans can return to Panchtarni in time for lunch and continue upto Sheshnag for a night halt.
The second approach to Amarnath is from Sonamarg via Baltal at 3000 mts. Sonamarg is situated on Srinagar-Leh road northeast from Srinagar. About 15 kms ahead lies Baltal which is a charming little valley lying in the foothills of Zojila Pass. The holy cave is just a day?s journey from here. The trek from here is very steep and therefore needs great caution and care. Some tea stalls are available at Brarimarg and Sangam top. Several snow bridges on the fast flowing streams are to be crossed and during rains the road becomes slippery. At sangam top the road meets Pahalgam
route. At Baltal Ponies and porters are available on Government approved rates.
For performing this Yatra, you are required to get yourself registered. Applications for registration should be sent to the nearest registration office, along with two passport size photographs duly affixed at the indicated places, a self addressed pre stamped envelope (for speed post) and a medical fitness certificate from an MBBS doctor. Each yatri has to submit a separate application for registration. Every yatri will be issued a registration-cum-identity slip by the registration authority, which they need to carry during the yatra period to facilitate a smooth passage.
In view of the hazardous nature of the Yatra, pilgrims are advised to get themselves insured suitably. It is advisable that insurance cover may be got done before leaving their place of residence.
Because this is an exhausting trek in prohibitive terrain and weather conditions, it calls for exceptional fitness levels. Evening walks or running for about 4-5 kms per day, at least two months prior to the Yatra should be good practice. Deep breathing exercises will also increase the body’s efficiency of using oxygen.
When to go
The Yatra takes place every year during July-August. The dates, however, vary every year according to the weather conditions and the Hindu calendar that follows lunar patterns.
Getting there and around
The nearest airport is in Srinagar. Daily flights operate to and from Delhi and Jammu.
The nearest Rail Head is at Jammu, which is 300 kms away, and from there National Highway NH1A connects the Kashmir valley with the rest of the country.
Jammu and Srinagar are well linked by road.Regular buses and taxis are available and can be hired on a daily as well as full-tour basis from the Tourist Reception Center, J&K Govt.
Things to Remember while doing Amarnath yatra
1. Please ensure that you are physically and mentally fit to perform the journey as the Yatra involves trekking at an altitude of 14000 ft. Get yourself medically examined and certified fit for the journey and forward the certificate to the registerin authority designated for your area of residence.
2. Do carry sufficient heavy wollens including sweaters, wollen thermal body warmers, trousers, monkey caps, mufflers and any other cold fighting apparels. Other items needed to be carried are wind cheaters, raincoats, sleeping bags, blankets, water proof shoes with sufficient grips, small water proof tents, torch with sufficient batteries and walking sticks. Ladies are advised to avoid sarees. Instead body hugging clothing like salwar kamiz, pants etc are advised.
3. Carry dry eatable stocks with you viz. biscuits, sugar, candies, chocolates, milk powder, assorted dry fruits, pickles, honey, lemons and tinned foods and other items suiting your palates. Water bottle, spoons, tumblers, saucers and plates may also be carried.
4. Ration and firewood quota is also made available enroute and can be purchased.
5. Registered ponywalla, porter, dandyman may only be hired. They are available for prefixed tariffs.
6. Ponies carrying luggage and eatables should remain with you all the time. At no point of time should you get out of touch with them. This is to avoid inconvenience.
7. Move slowly and steadily as this is a arduous pilgrimage and maintain discipline. Instructions of Yatra officer should be adhered to. Various officials are deployed by the Govt. for your help.
8. Carry sufficient money to pay for your accommodation at Pahalgam and meeting your other requirements.
9. All medical facilities during yatra are free. It is advisable to carry your own personal medical kit and First aid box.
10. Alcohol is strictly prohibited.
11. Don’t overstrain on steep gradients.
12. Don’t relax at places where warning signes are fixed.
13. Don’t break traffic discipline.
14. Do not pay more to any of the hired services for which the prices are fixed.
15. Yatries without registration card, Aged, infirm, ailing and ill clad persons will not be allowed to proceed beyond Pahalgam and Baltal.
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