First batch of 2,837 yatris leave for Amarnath

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Jammu, Jun 17 (UNI) Amarnath pilgrimage began today under tight security cover with the first batch of 2,837 pilgrims, including 778 women and 146 children, leaving Jammu base camp for the world famous cave shrine in the Himalayan mountains in Kashmir.

The two-month-long pilgrimage was formally flagged off by the Minister for Higher Education, Mr Gulchain Singh Charak at 0507 hrs, an official spokesman told UNI.

The caravan, including 59 buses and 29 small vehicles, was proceeded on the pilgrimage under tight security.

After raining for a couple of days, it was a clear morning for yatris, which also included 67 Sadhus in the first batch.

According to sources, the pilgrims will initially be allowed to go up to Chandanwari via Pahalgam, from where they will leave for the 14000-ft-high holy cave shrine.

The pilgrims were excited as the snow-formed Lingam of Lord Shiva is completed this year, which was a controversy last year.

Tight security arrangements were made in Jammu and Kashmir for the smooth and successful conduct of the two-month-long annual pilgrimage.

With intelligence inputs suggesting that the militants may target sensitive areas and disrupt the yatra, especially in Jammu, security agencies were taking no chance.

The winter capital city has been put on ''high alert'' with three-tier security arrangements to thwart designs of any anti-national elements.

More than 6,000 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel have been deployed for yatra purposes in the state, besides Army and state police, the spokesman said.

UNI VJ SK BD1253

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