Press Trust of india

Amarnath pilgrims start reaching Jammu

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Jammu: A group of six devotees from Ranchi in Jharkhand has reached here with a hope to pay obeisance at the 3,880-metre-high holy cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas.

The initially proposed 42-day Yatra was scheduled to commence from the twin tracks of Pahalgam and Ganderbal in Kashmir on June 23 but was delayed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Though the Jammu and Kashmir administration announced its plan to undertake the Yatra in a “restricted manner” this time and only 500 devotees will be allowed by road per day from Jammu to the cave shrine, the High Court on July 15 had directed the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) to take an urgent decision on holding the pilgrimage while ensuring that the right to health of every person is at the highest pedestal.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Saturday visited the holy cave shrine and offered prayers there.

Singh, who was accompanied by Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and Army Chief Gen MM Naravane, spent about an hour at the temple complex.

There has been a spike in coronavirus cases over the past couple of weeks, especially in Kashmir, forcing the local administration to reimpose the lockdown in different parts of the Valley, including summer capital Srinagar.

“Despite coronavirus casting its shadow on the annual Yatra, we are hopeful of offering our prayers at the shrine in the coming days,” Deepak Choudhary, who along with his five friends has reached here, said.

The group from Jharkhand is staying at a hotel near the Bus Stand here after they were allegedly denied permission to stay at the Yatri Niwas, the base camp for the pilgrims at Bhagwati Nagar locality of Jammu. The Yatri Niwas, which was earlier turned into a COVID care centre, is being prepared for the pilgrimage which is likely to start later this month for a two-week duration.

“I have been performing this Yatra for the last 11 years. We used to be part of a strong 150-member group but this time we are only six friends visiting the shrine,” Choudhary said.

He said they were subjected to screening on their arrival at Lakhanpur, the gateway to Jammu and Kashmir, bordering Punjab. “We were also sampled for COVID-19.”

Manoj Kumar Jaishwal, who is part of the group and is coming for the Yatra for the 26th time, said, “We are looking forward to a positive response from the government.”

Sumit Kumar said he will pray for “corona-free India” besides offering prayers for the safety and welfare of his family during his visit to the shrine, which houses the naturally formed ice-shivling.

The SASB, which manages the annual Yatra, has made arrangements for carrying on the regular religious rituals at the shrine.

To facilitate the ‘Darshan’ this year, the government had also started a live telecast of ‘Baba Amarnathji Arti’ on Doordarshan National and live streaming on Youtube so that the devotees can have the glimpse of Lord Shiva without joining the Yatra.

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