Jammu, June 28 (IANS) The first batch of Amarnath pilgrims left here for the cave shrine in the Kashmir Valley amid extraordinary security arrangements after intelligent inputs cautioned of militant attacks, police said.
The Amarnath Yatra begins on Thursday.
A total of 2,280 pilgrims left the Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas here for the Himalayan cave shrine in Anantnag district in 72 vehicles at 5.22 a.m., a police official said.
The pilgrim convoy consisting of 1,811 males, 422 females and 47 holy men was escorted by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) vehicles, he added.
Given the prevailing law and order situation in the valley, a multi-layered security arrangement manned by the Army, CRPF, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and the Jammu and Kashmir Police have been provided for the safe passage of the ‘yatris’ right from their entry into Lakhanpur in Kathua district.
Authorities have decided that no vehicle carrying pilgrims would be allowed to cross the Jawahar Tunnel on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway after 3.30 p.m.
“This has been done so that the yatris reach the Baltal base camp within seven hours from the tunnel. They don’t have to make a night halt midway. This will ensure that they don’t travel after nightfall,” the police official said.
Senior separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani has said the pilgrims are guests of the people in the valley and nobody would harm or obstruct the performance of their religious duties.
Authorities have heightened security for the 40-day long Yatra because of intelligence inputs that militants might attempt to disrupt it.
This year 2.12 lakh ‘yatris’ have registered for the pilgrimage to the Hindu cave shrine situated nearly 14,000 feet above the sea level.
The cave houses an ice stalagmite structure that waxes and wanes with the size of the visible moon. Devotees believe the structure symbolises mythical powers of Lord Shiva.
They approach the shrine both from the traditional Pahalgam route in the south and the Baltal route in the north.