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Amarnath Yatra - A view from our expert author
Join the Hindu faithful on their long and arduous pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave.
The Amarnath yatra, or pilgrimage, is the principal draw for domestic tourists coming to this part of J&K: Baltal, not far from Sonamarg, is a popular starting point for the 102km trek through the mountains to the holy Amarnath Cave.
According to the Hindu texts, the Himalayas are the home of Lord Shiva, and it was inside the Amarnath Cave that he recounted the story of creation to his wife, the goddess Parvati. Inside the cave is a large ice lingam, a phallic structure that is associated with Shiva, as well as two smaller lingams, said to represent Parvati and Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Shiva and Parvati. This is one of the holiest shrines of Hinduism, and it is possible that it has been a place of worship since 300BC.
Sonamarg, near the start of the Amarnath Yatra – the long and arduous pilgrimage undertaken by the Hindu faithful © J&K Tourism
Pilgrimage to Amarnath is only possible from late June until mid-August due to the inclement weather in the mountains. Even so, the route is frequently closed for several days during this period for safety reasons, and people do die each year on the way. All would-be yatris (pilgrims) must register with the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (www.shriamarnathjishrine.com) prior to starting their pilgrimage.
Non-Hindus are welcome to complete the pilgrimage route too, but still have to register and provide a medical certificate confirming they are in good health. Huts and tents are erected along the route to provide shelter, and ponies and porters can be hired to carry your baggage. You must trek with a group, not alone, and due to the physical challenges, children under 13, adults over 75 and women who are more than six weeks pregnant are not permitted to participate.