Undeterred by Baltal tragedy, Amarnath pilgrims continue to throng Jammu in hordes
Several Amarnath devotees return home without paying obeisance
Jammu: Undeterred by the deadly “flash-floods” that have claimed at least 16 lives at Baltal, devotees thronged the Amarnath Yatra base camp in Jammu on Saturday with a “high degree of enthusiasm and devotion” for their onward journey to the cave shrine situated at a height of 3,880 metres in the south Kashmir Himalayas.
Expressing grief over the tragedy that occurred on Friday, the pilgrims said they have no fear as they have full faith in Lord Shiva, adding that it would be a great privilege for them if they die in the abode of the god.
The 43-day annual pilgrimage started on June 30 from the twin routes — the traditional 48-km route from Nunwan in Pahalgam in south Kashmir’s Anantnag and the 14-km shorter but steep Baltal route in Ganderbal district of central Kashmir.
Over one lakh pilgrims have paid obeisance at the cave shrine as the Yatra is scheduled to end on August 11 on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan.
“We reached Jammu on Saturday. We have no fear. We have come here taking the name of Lord Shiva. If God takes our lives here, we will accept it. But we have come to have darshan of Bholenath and nothing can stop us from doing that,” Anantajit, who has come along with his wife and two children from Tripura, said.
Pointing out that those who have been born will also have to die one day, he said, “If death occurs in the abode of Shiva, it would be the most pious thing to happen to anyone.”
Chanting “Bam Bam Bhole”, “Har Har Mahadev” and “Bholenath Ki Jai”, a group of 60 enthusiastic pilgrims from Rajkot in Gujarat entered the Bhagwati Nagar base camp here for their onward journey to the twin base camps of Pahalgam and Baltal on Sunday.
“We have no fear in our hearts and minds. Whether there is a cloudburst or flash floods, we will go to Amarnath with the blessings of Bholenath. We are enthusiastic to have darshan of the ice lingam as we could not visit the shrine in the last two years due to COVID-19,” Surinder Singh of Kanpur said.
Over 6,000 pilgrims have arrived in Jammu from various parts of the country for their journey to Kashmir to pay obeisance at the cave shrine. A heavy rush was seen at the registration counters, token centres and lodging centres, apart from the base camp in Jammu.
The shrine houses an ice stalagmite structure called the “lingam” that wanes and waxes with the phases of the moon. Devotees believe that the “lingam” symbolises the mythical powers of Shiva.
The flash-floods triggered by heavy rains have failed to alter the religious fervour and devotional mood in Jammu, officials said.
“Pilgrims devoid of fear and with high enthusiasm are coming in hundreds. There has been no fall in pilgrim arrivals,” an official said.
Over 3.42 lakh pilgrims had paid obeisance at the shrine from July 1 to August 1, 2019, before the Centre cancelled the pilgrimage midway, ahead of the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and the bifurcation of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir into Union territories.
At least 16 people have been killed while 15,000 pilgrims, who were stranded near the holy cave due to the flash floods, have been shifted to the lower base camp of Panjtarni, officials said.
A massive operation is on to trace the missing people.
Meanwhile, it was a case of ‘so near yet so far’ for several devotees who were waiting for their turn to pay obeisance at the holy cave shrine of Amarnath, when the cloudburst (“highly localised rain event”) swept away everything that came in its way, but had to return without having the glimpse of the naturally formed ice-lingam in south Kashmir Himalayas.
The pilgrims had made their way to the base camp established outside the holy cave and were waiting for their turn to have ‘Darshan’ at the evening ‘Aarti’ (prayer) when the “highly localised rain event” struck on Friday at around 5.30 pm.
“Only one person managed to have darshan. I couldn’t have darshan as we were standing just outside the cave shrine in a tent. When the water came, there was chaos, there was a landslide, we came out,” Subham Verma from Patna said while recalling the horror that followed the cloudburst last night.
As soon as Verma and his companions came out of the tents, a massive landslide hit the camp site.
“Just two minutes after we crossed, landslides came but we saved ourselves. Whatever losses in terms of our belongings we incurred, we are not pained by it,” he said.
Another pilgrim Rajan Soni said the rescuers gave them very little time to evacuate from the camp to safer places.
“Do we watch others or ourselves? We left our belongings there. When we returned, Army personnel told us nothing remained there. The Army told us to evacuate in 20 minutes and go to the safe zone. So, we reached the safe zone,” Soni said.
The group is leaving without having darshan but are determined to come back next year.
“We are leaving for home, without darshan. But, we will come back, for sure,” they said.
At least 16 persons have died and scores of others injured while many are missing after the “highly localised rain event” which were followed by landslides.
More than 15,000 pilgrims were at different stages of the arduous track to the 3,880 metre high cave shrine from both Pahalgam and Baltal routes but were asked to return to the base camp.
Massive relief and rescue operations have been launched by the Army, NDRF, ITBP, BSF, CRPF and local police to ensure the safety of the pilgrims.
Hand-held thermal imagers, sniffer dogs and night vision devices were put in service as the searches for missing persons continued through the night.
Helicopters could be making sorties as early as 6,45 am on Saturday, evacuating the injured to hospitals for better treatment while bigger choppers were used to carry the bodies of the deceased to Srinagar for their onward final journey to their native places.