The two-month-long annual Amarnath Yatra, for which 1.96 lakh pilgrims from different parts of the country have registered this year, will begin from Wednesday amid unprecedented security arrangements.
The first batch of pilgrims have already arrived at the Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas here, and will leave for the Kashmir Valley early on Wednesday in an escorted convoy amid multi-layered security.
Although extraordinary security arrangements have been witnessed during the Yatra ever since the ongoing armed separatist struggle started here in early 1990s, even by those standards, the heightened security to ensure smooth Yatra this year is unprecedented.
In addition to the existing number of security personnel deployed on overall security in the Valley, additional 213 companies of paramilitary forces have been brought in this year to secure the Yatra.
For this first time, radio frequency tagging of Yatra vehicles, surveillance through drones and motorcycle squads of commandos are being employed to assist hundreds of army, paramilitary and police personnel deployed along the Yatra route.
Electronic and human surveillance through intelligence sleuths in plain clothes are included, for the first time, in the special arrangements made for this year.
Around 40,000 security personnel from the army, paramilitary forces, state police and the National Disaster Response Force have been deployed on Yatra duty.
Hundreds of security personnel have been deployed on security at the Baltal (north Kashmir) and the Pahalgam (south Kashmir) base camps of the Yatra.
The Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), headed by Governor N.N.Vohra, which manages the affairs of the annual Yatra, has this year decided to restrict at 7,500, from each route, the daily number of Yatris to be allowed to proceed towards the Cave Shrine each day.
This however does not include those pilgrims who will use helicopter services from the two base camps to the Cave Shrine.
Situated at 12,756 feet above the sea-level, the Himalayan Cave Shrine houses an ice stalagmite structure that waxes and wanes with the phases of the moon.
Devotees believe the ice stalagmite structure symbolizes the mythical powers of Lord Shiva.
Pilgrims using the 36-km-long uphill Pahalgam route take four days to reach the shrine with stopovers at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarni, while those using the 14-km-long uphill Baltal route return to the base camp the same day after offering prayers at the Cave Shrine.
The Yatra will conclude on August 26 coinciding with the Shravan Purnima festival.