Amarnath cave is a Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft), about 141 km (88 mi) from Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir and reached through Pahalgam town. The shrine forms an important part of Hinduism, and is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. The cave is surrounded by snowy mountains. The cave itself is covered with snow most of the year except for a short period of time in summer when it is open for pilgrims. Thousands of Hindu devotees make an annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave on challenging mountainous terrain to see an ice stalagmite formed inside the cave. The legend says that Lord Shiva had to give in to Goddess Parvati’s demands of knowing the secrets of life and death but he couldn’t risk anyone eavesdropping onto it. So they set on their way to a cave in the mountains- too difficult to be reached by any lesser person than the gods themselves. The secret is so sacred that all the companions also had to left behind. So his ride – Nandi, the bull – was left at Pahalgam, the moon atop his head at Chandanwari, the snake around his neck at Lake Sheshnag, the 5 basic elements of life that he carried at Panchtarini and even his son – Lord Ganesha himself – at Mahaguna top. And now Hindu devotees find themselves enroute this perilous mountainous trek every year.
The Amarnath yatra route attracts lakhs of pilgrims every year who visit the site during Shravani Mela in July-August (Shravan month in Hindu calendar) – the only time in the whole year when the Amarnath cave is accessible. The annual ‘Amarnath yatra’ is marked by ‘Pratham Pujan’ which is said to invoke the blessings of Baba Amarnath. It is said that the ‘lingum‘ in the holy cave grows and shrinks with the lunar cycle. Moreover, since the ice is collected from the water dripping from the top of the cave due to the melting of the ice on top of it, the ‘lingum’ reaches a maximum around July-August when the ice caps around the cave are melting. The Amarnath Yatra 2017 is scheduled to begin on 29th June 2017 (Skandshasthi) and will go on till 7th August (Shravan Purnima).
The devotees start their yatra from Srinagar or Pahalgam on foot and take one of the two possible routes. The shorter but more steep trek via Baltal, Domial, Barari and Sangam is 14 km long and allows people to take a round trip in 1-2 days. However, ponies are not allowed on this route due to safety reasons. One has to either walk or be carried on ‘Dandies’ (carried on a seat atop shoulders of other people). This Amarnath Yatra route is considered more favorable for returning back from the shrine than on the way up as steep slope is said to cause serious health problems among un-acclimatised visitors. Young, healthy and people looking for adventure amidst the religious trip happen to take this trek.
The longer Amarnath yatra route via Pahalgam is generally preferred by most of the devotees. The length of the trek varies from 36 to 48 km depending upon the devotion of the pilgrim. The trek usually takes 3-5 days one way. The Amarnath route is much wider than the Baltal trek and slopes gradually. However, one will also find it crowded by ponies for almost whole of the route. Aged, sick or people with past history of illnesses are advised to take this yatra route.
Both the routes however allow for the best possible facilities in the conditions, thanks largely to the efforts of Indian Army, Central Government and State Government Police Forces for both security and facilities. Apart from government provided facilities, various non-profit organizations and private companies also place stalls along the way. The overall organization of the yatra however is carried out by Shri Amarnath Yatra trust which provides for services like telecommunication, power supply, firewood etc. Mobile phones are of no use in the area and it would be wise to leave them behind. Online Helicopter bookings can be made in advance.
The book Rajatarangini (Book VII v.183) refers to Amareshwara or Amarnath. It is believed that Queen Suryamathi in the 11th century AD gifted trishuls, banalingas and other sacred emblems to this temple. Rajavalipataka, begun by Prjayabhatta has detailed references to the pilgrimage to Amarnath Cave. Other than this, there are further references to this pilgrimage in many other ancient texts.
It is reckoned that Baba Bholenath call out to his devotees to Amarnath cave, where he generously showers blessings and grant prayers and wishes of the people. Perched at an elevation of around 3,888 m and 45 kms away from Pahalgam, Amarnath Temple is believed to be the earthly abode of Lord Shiva. Legend has it that the Amarnath Cave was chosen by Lord Shiva to reveal the secret of creation of the world and immortality to his consort Goddess Parvati. After leaving behind all his ornaments, he entered this holy cave along with Goddess Parvati with the intention to let out the secret. It is believed that while he was letting out the secret, a pigeon’s egg over heard it and became immortal. It is also believed that the pair, which was born out of the egg, can still be seen in the cave.
It is believed that after the Middle Ages, this cave was forgotten by people before it was discovered by a shepherd in the 15th century once again. Another story relates to Bhrigu Muni. Long time ago it is believed that The Vale of Kashmir was submerged under water and Kashyapa Muni drained it through a series of rivers and rivulets. Therefore, when the waters drained, Bhrigu Muni was the first to have Darshan of Lord Amarnath. Thereafter, when people heard of the Lingam, it became an abode of Lord Bholenath for all believers and a pilgrimage which is done by lakhs of people each year. As we well know Francois Bernier, a French physician accompanied Emperor Aurangzeb during his visit to Kashmir in 1663. In his book “Travels in Mughal Empire” he writes while giving an account the places he visited in Kashmir that he was “pursuing journey to a grotto full of wonderful congelations, two days journey from Sangsafed” when he “received intelligence that my Nawab felt very impatient and uneasy on account of my long absence”. The “grotto” he refers to is obviously the Amarnath cave as the editor of the second edition of the English translation of the book, Vincient A. Smith makes clear in his introduction.
Time To Travel :- This year, the Amarnath Yatra will start from 29th June, which will be till 7th of August.The devotees visit every year during the 45-day festival of Lord Amarnath to see and visit them. Most devotees come in the month of July and August only during the Shravani Mela, the most sacred Shravan month of Hindus is also coming.
How to Reach :-
By Air : The Srinagar airport, which serves all major airlines is at a distance of 70-odd km from Pahalgam. You can take the Govt. run bus services or hail private cabs to reach Pahalgam from where you commence the journey to Amarnath. Major helicopter services like Hans ply to and fro Baltal (near Pahalgam) and Amarnath.
By Road : Amarnath is on a very treacherous terrain, hence it is not very well connected by road. One can travel to Jammu and then one has to go by road to Srinagar and then to reach Baltal or Pahalgam. Baltal is the shortest trek on the way up to Amarnath, but slightly difficult. Pahalgam trek is longer and relatively safer and more suited for families and elder people. People can also hire ponies and palkies to counter the strenuous terrain. From Baltal, it is a 1-2 day trek (15 km) to reach Amarnath. However, the Pahalgam route is relatively longer and takes around 3-5 days (36-48 km).
By Train : There are no direct trains to Amarnath. The nearest station is Jammu, at a distance of 178 kms from Amarnath. From Jammu, one can hire cabs to reach either Baltal or Pahalgam. From Baltal, it is a 1-2 day trek (15 km) to reach Amarnath. However, the Pahalgam route is relatively longer and takes around 3-5 days (36-48 km).