The Amarnath yatra attracts lakhs of pilgrims every year who visit the site during Shravani Mela in July-August (Shravan month in Hindu calendar) - the only time in the whole year when the Amarnath Cave is accessible. The cave is placed at an altitude of 3,888m, about 141 km from Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir and reached through Pahalgam town. The shrine has an important part to play in Hinduism and is considered to be one of the holiest shrines. The annual 'Amarnath Yatra' is marked by 'Pratham Pujan' which is said to invoke the blessings of Baba Amarnath. It is said that the 'lingum' in the holy cave grows and shrinks with the lunar cycle. Moreover, since the ice is collected from the water dripping from the top of the cave due to the melting of the ice on top of it, the 'lingum' reaches a maximum around July-August when the ice caps around the cave are melting. Water seeps into the rocks that form the cave and progressively fades thereafter. As per the religious beliefs, it has been claimed that the lingam grows and shrinks with the phases of the moon reaching its height during the summer festival.
Legend of Amarnath
The legend says that Lord Shiva had to give in to Goddess Parvati's demands of knowing the secrets of life and death but he couldn't risk anyone eavesdropping. So, they set on their way to a cave in the mountains - too difficult to be reached by any lesser person than the gods themselves. The secret was so sacred that all the companions also had to be left behind. So his ride - Nandi, the bull - was left at Pahalgam, the moon atop his head at Chandanwari, the snake around his neck at Lake Sheshnag, the 5 basic elements of life that he carried at Panchtarini and even his son - Lord Ganesha himself - at Mahaguna top. And, now Hindu devotees find themselves en route this perilous mountainous trek every year.
Amarnath Yatra 2020 - Dates
The Amarnath Yatra 2019 began on 1st July 2019 (Skandshasthi) and went on till 15th August 2019 Shravan Purnima (Raksha Bandhan). The beginning of the Amarnath Yatra starts with 'Pratham Pujan' to invoke the blessings of Lord Shiva. The best and the pleasant part of the yatra is between Guru Purnima and Shravan Purnima. The devotees reach the base camp from where the actual yatra starts.
The Amarnath Yatra 2020 will take place from 29 June 2020. The Amarnath Board has decided that 7500 pilgrims will be allowed to register for the Amarnath Yatra in 2019.
How To Reach Amarnath Yatra Base
Two Routes to Amarnath
The Northern route is 14 km long and is shorter. It is steep, hence difficult to climb. It starts at Baltal. The longer, easier and more traditional one passes through Srinagar.
The devotees start the Amarnath Yatra from Srinagar or Pahalgam on foot and take one of the two possible routes. The shorter but steeper trek via Baltal, Domial, Barari and Sangam is 14 km long and allows people to take a round trip in 1-2 days. However, ponies are not allowed on this route due to safety reasons. One has to either walk or be carried on 'Dandies' (carried on a seat atop shoulders of other people). This Amarnath Yatra route is considered more favourable for returning back from the shrine than on the way up as steep slope is said to cause serious health problems among un-acclimatised visitors. Young, healthy and people looking for adventure amidst the religious trip happen to take this trek.
The longer Amarnath Yatra route via Pahalgam is generally preferred by most of the devotees. The length of the trek varies from 36 to 48 km depending upon the devotion of the pilgrim. The trek usually takes 3-5 days one way. The Amarnath route is much wider than the Baltal trek and slopes gradually. However, one will also find it crowded by ponies for almost the whole of the route. Aged, sick or people with a past history of illnesses are advised to take this yatra route.
Both the routes, however, allow for the best possible facilities in the conditions, thanks largely to the efforts of Indian Army, Central Government and State Government Police Forces for both security and facilities. Apart from government provided facilities, various non-profit organizations and private companies also place stalls along the way which are the resting camps for the pilgrims. There is a continuous supply of food in these pandals. The overall organization of the yatra, however, is carried out by Shri Amarnath Yatra trust which provides for services like telecommunication, power supply, firewood etc. Mobile phones are of no use in the area and it would be wise to leave them behind. Online Helicopter bookings can be made in advance.
The efforts of the concerned agencies (both government and private) make the trek to Amarnath much easier than what it used to be a few years ago with the lack of any facilities at all. However, despite all the medical support, fair price shops and power utilities, the Amarnath Yatra Route is one of the harshest pilgrim routes in India and takes a toll on many lives every year. To minimize the losses, a compulsory health check-up is carried out for all pilgrims allowing only healthy people to go through. Despite this, the extreme weather, natural disasters and road accidents are frequent. None of this, however, deters the faithful followers of Lord Shiva from taking this perilous journey every year with joy.
Amarnath Yatra In Helicopter
Starting Point: Baltal helipad
For Pahalgam-Panjtarni-Pahalgam route
Provider name and website:
Himalayan Heli Services Pvt. Ltd - www.himalayanheli.com
Price: One-way ticket fare on this route- INR 2950 per person.
Starting Point: Pahalgam helipad
Timings for all rides are according to service providers and should be strictly adhered to.
Prices likely to differ this year.
A maximum of 5 bookings is allowed against a single debit/credit card. The same card cannot be used for booking for the next 3 weeks. The debit/credit card used for booking should be reproduced at the time of issuing a boarding pass.
For safety purposes, children below 13 years, elderly aged above 75 years and ladies more than 6 weeks pregnant are not allowed to undertake the pilgrimage.
Journey to The Cave From the Drop-off:
If opting for the helicopter ride, the pilgrim will be dropped at Panjtarni, which is a 6km (2 hours) walk to the Amarnath caves but with many pilgrims present, the walk will take up to 4 hours on easy terrain. Do note that it is a difficult walk as the temperatures are lower and also the altitude sickness which recommends a slower pace when walking to the caves.
There is the option of hiring a Palki as they will take you to the cave directly. Pony rides are available too but they will drop you off 2 kms before reaching the cave as the terrain gets a slight slope.
All pilgrims/travellers intending to avail helicopter services for Amarnath Yatra are required to furnish a Compulsory Health Certificate (CHC) for each individual, duly issued by authorised doctors/institutions, as per instructions laid down by Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB). The list of authorized doctors/institutions is made available on the official website well in time before the commencement of advance bookings.
No pilgrim/traveller shall be allowed to board the helicopter without submitting a CFC, issued on the specified date. Any CFC issued before/after the specified date will be rendered invalid.
The Amarnath Yatra, however, is not just a spiritual tour. The nearby places are equally tempting tourist attractions to even the most non-religious among us. Kashmir was once called the 'Paradise on earth' by Amir Khusro and rightly so. Some of the must-visit places that you can undertake in one trip include the likes of Srinagar, Gulmarg and Sonamarg.
Children below 13 years of age and adults above 75 years of age are not allowed, and pregnant women are also not advised to take this journey. Considering this trek is one of the most challenging tasks, a health certificate has to provided by each individual.