Pilgrims' progress

On the road to Amarnath, the faithful trek under heavy security cover

The annual Amarnath Yatra began on Thursday, 29 June, despite inclement weather. Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra attended a prayer inside the Himalayan cave shrine, marking the formal start of the pilgrimage for 2017. Over 6,000 pilgrims were allowed to move towards the shrine from north Kashmir's Baltal base camp while 5,000 pilgrims proceeded from the traditional south Kashmir Pahalgam route.

Around 1.2 lakh pilgrims have registered themselves this year.

Unprecedented security arrangements have been put in place for the Yatra based on the threat perception. Among the steps are a satellite tracking system, drones, mobile bunker vehicles and road opening parties (ROPs) along the entire route from Jammu to Pahalgam and Baltal.

The Centre has provided an additional 40,000 paramilitary forces to assist the state government for a peaceful conduct of the Yatra. The Army, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Sashastra Seema Bal and the state police are providing multi-layered security to the pilgrims. Heavily fortified security force camps have been established both at Baltal and Pahalgam base camps.

It takes a pilgrim just a day to return to the Baltal base camp after reaching the shrine. But the same pilgrimage from Pahalgam takes four days. The distance from Baltal to the cave is 14 km and from Pahalgam 46 km.

The holy cave at Amarnath houses an ice stalagmite structure believed to symbolise Lord Shiva. The structure waxes and wanes, corresponding to the visible moon. The 40-day Yatra to the shrine in south Kashmir's Anantnag district will end on 7 August, on Shravan Purnima coinciding with Raksha Bandhan festival.

In this photo essay, Javeed Shah turns his lens on the Amarnath Yatra and the long roads pilgrims navigate under the watchful eye of the security forces.

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Yatris are seen on the Cave-Baltal route near Domail. Ponies are the main source of land transportation on this route.

At the police checkpoint near Baltal base camp, records are kept of every incoming and outgoing vehicle and person.

Army personnel and paramilitary forces have been deployed all along the stretch of the Srinagar-Baltal road, around the Baltal base camp, and by the route to the holy cave.

Paratroopers patrol the Baltal-Cave route. There is heavy army presence all along the route for the Amarnath Yatra.

Paramilitary troopers can be seen standing guard over even the remotest reaches of the Baltal-Cave route.

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Yatris on their way back to Baltal from the holy Amarnath cave.

Yatris make their way towards the Amarnath cave .

Paramilitary troopers along the Baltal-Cave route indicate the heavy security in the area.

A pony-wala takes rest near the Domail area.

The police checkpoint near Baltal Base camp, where Army personnel and paramilitary forces keep a watchful eye on the traffic of people, ponies and vehicles.

Paratroopers patrol the route from Baltal to the holy Amarnath cave.

Paratroopers keep vigil while on patrol.

Hundreds of tents have been put up at the Baltal base camp to accommodate the influx of yatris.

The tents for the yatris at Baltal base camp stretch for miles, with the mountains as their backdrop.

Yatris can be seen going towards, and returning from, the holy cave near the Domail entry point.

Whether it is bedding, or fuel to prepare food, every basic facility has been taken care of for the yatris visiting Amarnath's holy cave.

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A passenger helicopter goes towards the holy cave. Every few minutes, helicopters can be seen flying from Sonamarg towards the Amarnath cave and back. Due to low airfare and quick flying time, the air traffic is heavy on this route.

Yatris coming out from the access control gate at Domail. This is the main gate on the Baltal-Cave route where all the permissions are checked thoroughly and visitors frisked.

A look at the heavy security arrangements on the Baltal-Cave route.

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A paramilitary trooper can be seen guarding the remote hills near Domail. Army personnel and paramilitary forces have been deployed along the entire stretch of the Srinagar-Baltal road, around the base camp at Baltal, and along the route to the holy cave.

Paramilitary troopers are placed on duty by the remote hills near Domail.

Army vehicles patrolling near Baltal.

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Paramilitary troopers cast a watchful eye over the Baltal-Cave route .

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At the police checkpoint near Baltal base camp, security checks are carried out briskly and thoroughly.

Paramilitary troopers are spotted on the route from Baltal to the holy cave at Amarnath.

— With inputs from IANS

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