The Pilgrimage – Amarnath Yatra
Lord Shiva, the immortal hero was asked by his wife Parvati why he wears a garland of human heads. To this he replies that every time Parvati dies, he adds a head to his garland and it continues to increase. Parvati then wanted to know the secret of immortality (Amar Katha) so that she could be with her hero forever. Though Lord Shiva was reluctant to divulge the immortal secret of the universe, he had to give in to his wife’s incessant wish to know the secret. So he chooses a safe place which is away from humanity and life. On his way, he lets go of all his companions one by one – he leaves his ride Nandi, the Bull at Pahalgam. At Chandanwari, he lets go of the crescent adorning his hair, the snakes at Seshnag, the five elements at Panchatarni and finally his son Ganesha at Mahagunas Top to finally reach the secluded cave. Lord Shiva before narrating the Amar Katha to Goddess Parvati in this cave ensured that there are no living beings in the cave. Inspite of that, 2 white pigeons somehow managed to listen to the tale of immortality. It is said that even today those 2 pigeons are seen on top of the Holy cave. So runs the legend of Amarnath. The cave where Lord Shiva narrated the secret of immortality to Parvati is the place which is considered a sacred place to thousands of pilgrims visiting every year.
We had always heard about the beauty of Amarnath trek route. Though not very religiously inclined, we decided to go for the trek. Also the prospect of experiencing trek with so many people excited us. From 2014 onwards, Amarnath Yatris had to undergo compulsory medical examinations and obtain medical certificates. After obtaining all the necessary requirements we were off to visit the shrine.
Pahalgam, the starting point of the Amanath Yatra was full of people. The morning greeted us with gurgling sound of the Lidder river and a clear blue sky. Pahalgam was busy with hundreds of people waiting to start for the Yatra. Like others, we took a car to Chandanwari, from where the Yatra begins.
Chandanwari provided a totally chaotic picture with thousands of people gearing to start the Yatra. For some, it was a dream coming true. The devotees of Lord Shiva started the yatra with hope in their hearts and gleam in their eyes. And then there were horses around with their owners urging us to hire the horses for the journey to the cave.
As we reached the starting point, there were bhandaras or langars or community kitchens which provided food to the yatris for free. Throughout the trek, we did not have to think about our stomach urges. Whenever we were hungry, there seemed to be a Bhandara nearby with such a variety of food that could even put some restaurants to shame! Vegetarian items like rice, roti, curries, idli, dosas and even chowmein were available. And while we were leaving the bhandaras after filling our empty stomach, dry fruits and chocolates were given in our hands for the way.
The trek started from Chandanwari with the Lidder river beside us. The first 5 kilometers of the trek was a strenuous. It was a steep climb up to Pissu top.
But once we reached Pissu top, all our tiredness simply vanished. Beautiful, mesmerizing are understatements to describe the landscape. Our stop for the night was at Seshnag.
In between, the trek was relatively easier with some flat walks and meadows. Seshnag greeted us with a beautiful emerald green lake. There were camps nearby where we halted for the night. The next day greeted us with snow on the Seshnag mountains. Full of energy, we started for the day’s trek. On the second day, we had to cross the Mahagunas Pass at 14500 ft.
As we gained height, the greenery of the previous day gradually diminished and the landscape became barren and brown and lifeless. After a steep climb to Mahagunas Pass, there was a descent and a walk through the meadows. After a trek of 5 km we were greeted with the sight of colourful tents of Panchtarni campsite.
Panchtarni is the confluence of 5 rivers surrounded by the mountains. The serenity of the place is such that even amidst so many people, we felt calm. We decided against staying at Panchtarni and forwarded towards the cave. Panchtarni to the holy cave is another 6 km. The first kilometers was a rocky trail followed by a steep climb of 2 kilometers and then level walks. We reached the Amarnath campsite at around 5 pm.
The place was a colourful riot with shops, tents and bhandaras all around. We were spoilt for choices! These shops were temporary and were built on thick layer of ice. At many places the river comes out in the open and again enters the glacier.
The locals have set up shops where you can find delicacies of Kashmir like saffron, almonds and apricots. There were Sadhus all around telling stories about anything and everything. The place looked no less than a local bazaar. The way to the cave was through a climb of stairs. Photography was not permitted inside the cave. We went inside the cave and had a glimpse at the legendary Shivling, an ice stalactite grown naturally every year at that time.
We returned through the shorter route via Baltal. It is a 14 Km trek downhill and can be covered in a day. Though the landscape is quite beautiful, it falls short off the route through Chandanwari. So while going to the cave, we would suggest to take the Chandanwari route. In this way, you will be able to understand the legend of Amanath Cave as well as assimilate beauty of the route.
Doing the Amarnath trek was definitely a wonderful experience. We were no doubt enthralled by the scenic beauty of the place, but in this trek, we met different people which made a lasting impression on us. There were people of different ages and backgrounds. There were first timers as well as people who come back to do this Yatra every year. There were aged people and even handicapped people. They were full of hope and enthusiasm doing the Yatra to seek blessings from God. They completed the Yatra just on the strength of their faith. There were on the true pilgrimage.
We met a family who comes to Amarnath Yatra every year. They had brought their 5 year old daughter to the trek and the little girl had trekked all the way up! There were people who chose horses and palanquins for their visit to the cave and some others who would do the entire Yatra barefooted. Finally there are the locals who help the Yatris in every way possible. Religion never comes in between during the Amarnath yatra. The Muslims provide shelter to the Hindu pilgrims during the Yatra. A true picture of communal harmony! The pilgrims could never complete their journey without the help of the locals. They were the most helpful and smiling people we met. There were such memories of the Amarnath Yatra which we will always remember and will continue to inspire us.
How to reach:
There are two routes for doing the Yatra.
- Chandanwari route: Chandanwari – Pissu Top – Sesh Nag – Mahagunas Pass – Panchtarni – Sangam Point – Amarnath Cave. This is the longer and famous route (45 Km) and usually takes 2 to 3 days.
Chandanwari is near Pahalgam which is connected by road from Jammu and Srinagar.
- Baltal Route: Baltal – Sangam Point – Amarnath Cave. This is the shorter route (14 Km) and can be covered in a day.
Baltal can be reached by road from Srinagar.
Some important tips:
- Since 2014, Medical certificate from doctors prescribed by the Amarnath Shrine Board is required to do the Yatra. Also a certain number of Yatris are allowed to go for the Yatra on a particular date. So Yatris are allotted date beforehand. Please check the details and get the certificate ready.
- If you are planning to do the Yatra by foot, please prepare yourself. Increase your fitness by doing morning walk and light exercises. Amaranth is very much doable by foot. We strongly recommend completing the Yatra by foot.
- Do not worry about food and drinks. You will get the basic food in abundant.
- While on Yatra, please respect the mountains and nature. Do not litter or dirty the mountains
- Finally, please follow the rules. The Indian army does a tough job on the inhospitable mountains just to ensure our safety.