Amarnath Yatra is a magical journey to the holy cave at 14000 feet above sea level on the Himalayas where Lord Shiva is in the form of a Lingam formed by a stalagmite. Nestled in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder Valley, Amarnath Cave is 140 KMs from Srinagar in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and attracts thousand of Pilgrims every year despite the hostile conditions. Here is a Pilgrim's account of this unforgettable expedition along with some travelers tips.
The most convenient way of reaching Amarnath is to reach Srinagar. Srinagar is connected to all major cities in India by flight. Take a taxi or bus from Srinagar to Baltal. This 100 Km journey will take you around 3 hours by Road. Halt overnight at Baltal. Accommodation is available at the Amarnathji Shrine Board Huts. Food is provided at the Langars nearby. The final stretch from Baltal to Amarnath Cave is 14 KMs and has to be done on foot.
There is a helicopter service also available from Baltal to Amarnath Cave and back. Ponies are the other option for the trip from Baltal to Amarnath Cave.
Jul-Aug is the only period when one can visit Amarnath. The window for amaranth Darshan is from Ashard Purnimashi to Shravan Purnimashi. The Cave is inaccessible during rest of the year.
We arrived at Baltal from Srinagar in the morning itself. The idea was to have sufficient time to acclamitize ourselves to this altitude.
We spent the the first night of our expedition in Tents at Baltal. It was a memorable experience surrounded by the elements. The biting cold was unforgettable!
The trek from Baltal to Amarnath Cave is 14 KMs long. It is a good idea to start early in the morning after a light breakfast. It is a rough terrain but the journey is made easy by the cheerful company of fellow pilgrims. The journey takes 8-11 hours depending on fitness levels.
So we started at 6am after a quick breakfast. The weather was mostly cool and dry with occasional drizzles. The panoramic view of the Himalayas kept us spellbound and we began our incredible expedition.
It is a magnificent experience to climb up over a thousand meters from Baltal to the Amarnath Cave. The landscape is stunning and the beauty of the surroundings makes this tough trek a little easier!
You also pas a magnificent snow bridge over a river on the way to Amarnath Cave. The last big milestone before you reach Amarnath Cave would be Satsing Pass. The Pass is situated 3.5 KMs before the Amarnath Cave.
Finally when the Amarnath Cave appears, make it a point to take a holy dip in the Amarnath Stream which flows just outside the cave.
The Amarnath Cave’s origins go back to antiquity and were rediscovered during 15th century by a Shepherd called Buta Malik. Legend says Buta had received a bag of coal from a Saint. Upon reaching his house Buta discovered to his amazement that the coal had turned into gold. He ran back to the mountains to thank the Saint. However, the Saint was nowhere to be seen. Buta stumbled upon the Amarnath Cave and word spread to the surrounding villages. Overtime, Amarnath Cave has become one of the most important pilgrimage trips of a Hindu.
Shiva is in the form of a Lingam 40 meters tall, made of Stalagmite. The formation is natural and interestingly the structure waxes and wanes with the lunar cycle. What is even more amazing is that there are 2 more stalagmite formations near the Lingam of Goddess Parvati and Lord Ganesh!
As per a legend, Lord Shiva revealed to Goddess Parvati the secret of Creation inside the Amarnath Cave. However, this event was eavesdropped by 2 pigeons that ever since have been reborn over time and have made the Amarnath Cave their permanent residence!
I also saw one of the loveliest Sunsets of my life during this phenomenal journey.
Located at an altitude of 14000 feet on the Himalayas, you will encounter cold winds as well as rain. So it is critical to carry woolens clothes like sweater, monkey caps, woolen trousers and rain gear like waterproof boots and rain coats. Sleeping bag, torches and a walking stick are also handy for the Amarnath Yatra. While Medical Posts are provided along the Yatra, it is prudent to carry first aid and any prescribed medicines on your person.
You need to register yourselves for the tour at least a month in advance. Registration can be done online at www.amarnathji.com
Arrive early in the day at Baltal so you have a full day to acclimatize yourself. This will make the trek the next day much easier.There is ample security in the form of Police all the way up to the Amarnath Cave during the Yatra period.
For my pilgrim diaries on other pilgrimages across India, visit Great Pilgrimage Ideas.