The first batch of 2,995 pilgrims, including 120 sadhus, left the Jammu base camp in 110 vehicles on Wednesday morning for the holy Amarnath shrine in south Kashmir. The convoy was escorted by security forces.
K Vijay Kumar and BB Vyas, both Advisers to the Governor, along with Chief Secretary BVR Subrahmanyam flagged off the first batch of pilgrims. A traditional puja was performed before the flagging off ceremony at Bhagwati Nagar here.
This year, two convoys departed from Jammu — one for Chandanwari at Pahalgam and another for Baltal in south Kashmir.
The convoy heading for Baltal comprised 971 pilgrims, including 780 men,190 women and one child. It left the base camp at 4.45 am in 49 vehicles, including 18 buses, 27 light motor vehicles (LMVs) and four motorcycles. The second convoy for Pahalgam comprised 2,024 pilgrims, including 1,554 men, 330 women, 20 children and 120 sadhus. They left at 5.40 am in 61 vehicles, including 36 buses and 25 LMVs.
After flagging off the first batch, Vijay Kumar said, “All arrangements for security, basic amenities, medical facilities and other things have been made for the smooth conduct of the yatra.”
He said Governor NN Vohra, who is also Chairman of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), had worked hard to ensure improved arrangements for the pilgrimage.
The pilgrims of the first batch started their journey amid chanting of ‘Vedic mantras’ and singing of bhajans.
“I am visiting the shrine for the past five years and the arrangements have improved a lot. This is all because of the blessings of Baba Barfani (holy ice lingam) and the efforts of the shrine board,” said Shyam Sunder Singh, a pilgrim.
Many pilgrims are visiting the shrine for the first time while many others are regular visitors.
“There is no question of fear. We are going to pay obeisance at Lord Shiva’s shrine, no one can dare to harm us,” said Mukesh Kumar of Meerut.
“The security has been increased as compared to the last year and we have full faith in our security forces,” he added.
To make the yatra more secure and comfortable, the administration has installed GPS tracking chips on all vehicles leaving Bhagwati Nagar in Jammu, so that the agencies can track their location.
The bike squad along with bike ambulances have also been added this year for security and safety of the pilgrims.
Briefing about the security arrangements, CRPF Inspector General AV Chauhan said, “We have deployed sufficient number of troops for security of the pilgrims. Special attention is being given to the highway and Yatri Niwas.”
“The bike squad has been added this year for more security. The bike ambulances will be helpful as they can move faster in hilly terrain and during traffic chaos,” he added.
The 60-day yatra will commence from Chandanwari and Baltal in south Kashmir on the auspicious day of Purshotam Purnima on Thursday as per the Hindu calendar. It will conclude on August 26 on Shravan Purnima (Raksha Bandhan).
Meanwhile, the Governor held a meeting on Wednesday to review the status of the yatra. Umang Narula, Chief Executive Officer, SASB, and Bhupinder Kumar, Additional Chief Executive Officer, briefed the Governor during the meeting.
Narula said the first batch of yatris left in two convoys for Baltal and Nunwan base camps to ease the movement of traffic. The Governor exhorted close monitoring of the movement of convoys and stressed on timely arrival of yatris in the base camps in order to ensure that yatris take adequate rest before they embark on the yatra next morning. The convoys reached the Pahalgam and Baltal base camps in the Valley late Wednesday evening.
BJP MLAs skip ceremony
Jammu: While the first batch of Amarnath pilgrims was flagged off on Wednesday, BJP leaders were conspicuously missing on the occasion. Except for one MLC, no other BJP MLA, former minister or leader was present on the occasion. However, no reason was given by the party for their absence. The only other MLA who was present on the occasion was Devender Singh Rana from the National Conference who was accompanied by some senior party leaders.