Srinagar, June 28: With just a few days left for the annual Amarnath pilgrimage to commence, the sacred Shivling in the cave shrine, located at a height of 3,888 metres in south Kashmir, is higher thanks to heavy snowfall in the region but snow clearance along the traditional route the pilgrims take is proving to be a challenge, officials said.
The annual pilgrimage begins on July 2 and the holy Shivling (the traditional icon of Lord Shiva believed to have been formed through natural formation) is already at 13 feet, against an average of 10-11 feet in the past few years.
"This year the Valley has witnessed heavy snowfall and the temperature remained low, which helped the formation of the holy ling, which at this point of time it is in better form," Chief Yatra officer Basheer Ahmad Khan told IANS.
"This year, it is likely to remain for long, which will attract more than expected pilgrims," he added.
The Amarnath yatra will be of 59 days' duration this year, a long-pending demand of the Sangh Parivar organisations. A decision on this was taken earlier this year at a meeting of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board chaired by Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra.
But the heavy snowfall has its downside.
"The track opening is always a challenge for Amarnath Yatra, that too when weather does not cooperate with you. But we are sure we will restore the track and the snow will be cleared from the track before the commencement of pilgrimage," Reyaz Ahmad Wani, chief executive, Pahalgam Development Authority, told IANS.
Authorities faced hardships during the clearance and other arrangements due to fresh snowfall on the 32-km-long track from Chandanwari to the cave which was comparatively heavier than previous years.
But the authorities assured that arrangements are being made to ensure the track is opened in time.
"Every arrangement for the Shri Amarnath Ji yatra is in place. Even tent suppliers and langarwalas have installed their tents and langars at different padaws (spots) of the track up to the cave in Himalayas," Khan said.
"There are specific arrangements for electricity, water and medicine. The departments concerned have strict orders to follow the Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) of the yatra and every yatri will be facilitated in every respect," he added.
Security has always remained a challenge to tackle any kind of situation. The Indian Army has launched "Operation Shiva" along the Baltal and Pahalgam routes to esnure better coordination between its troops, the paramilitary CRPF and the local police.
This had led to a strong security grid being put in place along both routes to prevent any untoward incidents during the pilgrimage.
All arrangements are in place to ensure the security of the pilgrims, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Division) S.J.M. Geelani had said earlier this week, adding that security has been strengthened at all sensitive places including railway stations and bus stands.