Annual pilgrimage drives livelihood of locals in J-K
Pahalgam, June 25 : The annual pilgrimage to Amarnath Yatra undertaken by hundreds of thousands of Hindus from across the country in summer, comes as a boon for owners of mules and ponies, guides, taxi operators, shopkeepers and hoteliers in militancy hit Jammu and Kashmir to augment their incomes.
People living in Pahalgam, Chandanwari, Baltal and Sonamarg hill resorts enroute the holy cave shrine, wait eagerly every year for the two month long pilgrimage, as it is an important source of income for them.
"Our business was good last year. This year also I am hoping that tourists will come in large numbers, which will increase business prospects even more," said Mohammed Altaf, a tent owner.
The residents are expecting good business as this year the ice stalagmite, seen as symbol of Lord Shiva, is in full length unlike last year.
As per the official estimates, about 187,000 pilgrims have already visited the cave shrine since the commencement of the pilgrimage on June17th.
The residents expect that the number of pilgrims visiting the cave shrine this year would far exceed the official estimates of 283,000 devotees.
"Last year the pilgrimage was for two months and this year also they have fixed it for the same period. We are hoping for tourists to come in large numbers. Our entire business pony business, cars, shawls and everything else is dependent on tourism and the tourists are coming in large numbers this year, so it will be good for us," said Basharat Ahmad, a Hotel owner.
Hordes of pilgrims trek along a treacherous mountain track to the Amarnath shrine, located at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,700 feet) deep in the Himalayas where they worship an ice stalagmite, seen as a symbol of Lord Shiva.