Jammu: Amid chants of 'Bam Bam Bhole", the first batch of 2,234 pilgrims left a base camp here for the Amarnath Yatra as the annual pilgrimage to the 3,880 metre high cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas is scheduled to begin Monday.
Over 1.5 lakh pilgrims from across the country have so far registered themselves for the 46-day long yatra, which takes place from the traditional 36-km Pahalgam track in Anantnag district and 14-km Baltal route in Ganderbal district.
Advisors to the Governor K K Sharma flagged off the first convoy of 93 vehicles including three motorcycles, carrying the pilgrims, at the heavily-guarded Bhagwati Nagar base camp here for Kashmir in the early hours, asserting that all necessary arrangements are in place to ensure peaceful and smooth yatra.
The yatra is officially starting from the twin tracks in Kashmir Monday and is scheduled to conclude on August 15 coinciding with Raksha Bandhan. A total of 2234 pilgrims, including 17 children, left for the base camps of Nunwan-Pahalgam and Baltal, the officials said.
While 1228 pilgrims including 130 women, seven children and 45 seers preferred the traditional Pahalgam route, 1006 devotees including 203 women and 10 children and are undertaking the yatra from Baltal side.
The batch of pilgrims will reach the two base camps by evening and will stay there overnight before leaving for the yatra, marking the commencement of the pilgrimage to shrine housing the naturally formed ice-shivlingam.
"The yatra has commenced from here and all arrangements are in place throughout the route and we are sure that the yatra will take place smoothly," advisor Sharma told reporters.
As many as 2,85,006 lakh pilgrims had paid obeisance at the cave shrine last year, while the number of pilgrims was 3,52,771 in 2015, 3,20,490 in 2016 and 2,60,003 in 2017.
The Inspector General of CRPF, Jammu, A V Chauhan, said necessary security arrangements have been put in place all along the yatra route, base camps and halting stations for the safety of the pilgrims. "All security agencies are involved and our primary concern is the safety of the pilgrims," he said.
National Conference provincial president Devender Singh Rana and BJP MLC Vikram Randhawa had also come to the base camp to welcome and see off the pilgrims at the function, which was among others also attended by senior civil and police officers.
"We welcome the pilgrims on behalf of National Conference and the people of the state. We have always treated the pilgrims as our honoured guests and the whole Jammu and Kashmir is together for the success of the yatra," Rana said.
He said the people of the state are known for their hospitality and want more and more pilgrims to visit the shrine this year. The pilgrims were equally enthusiastic about their joining the pilgrimage and expressed satisfaction over the arrangements made by the government.
"I am very happy to join the yatra to fulfill my wish. I am satisfied with the arrangements especially the security and salute the forces for their service to the nation," a woman pilgrim, Shurswati Muzamdar from Durgapur area of West Bengal, said.
Sonika, a resident of Chandigarh, said she is undertaking the yatra for the 13th time and is accompanied by relatives and friends. "There is nothing to worry about... we are safe and satisfied with the arrangements," she said.
Narsingh Giri of Maharashtra said he is going to seek blessings of Lord Shiva to usher peace and prosperity in the country and a good monsoon especially in the drought-hit areas of his state. "There is no threat here. I am performing this yatra for the eighth time," he said.
Introduced last year to further strengthen the security of the pilgrims, a special motor cycle squad of CRPF personnel with cameras fixed on the helmet accompanied the yatra convoy.
"We have planned it with a twin objective to provide additional security and at the same time if there is a need they will use it as a mini-ambulance to evacuate patients to hospital," a CRPF officer said. He said the specially designed motorcycles were fixed with various life-saving equipment's and can carry one person at a time besides its driver.
Meanwhile, police issued a cut off timing for the pilgrims moving to Kashmir along Jammu-Srinagar national highway and said no RFID tagged yatra or tourist vehicles would be allowed to proceed after the cut off timing.