www.pahalgam.com | Pahalgam and Amarnath Yatra 2004 in News
Snow in upper reaches of Kashmir
Tribune News Service Oct 11, 2004
SRINAGAR: Upper reaches in the Kashmir valley experienced fresh snowfall while the plains had heavy rains disrupting normal life.

Official sources said upper reaches of Gulmarg, border area of Keran, Karnah, Nowgam and Gurez had fresh snowfall since Saturday evening.

Reports said it was snowing at the upper reaches of Sonamarg and Baltal, the base camp for Amarnath pilgrimage.

About two feet of snowfall had been experienced at the holy cave shrine of Amarnath while six inches to one feet of snow was recorded at Sheshnag, Mahaguns and Pisso Top since last evening.

Life was disrupted in Sringar and other plain areas due to rains as well as power breakdown since the early hours on Sunday.
 
Army to set up Public School in Pahalgam
www.123bharath.com (PTI) Oct 6, 2004
Army to launch major initiatives in border areas: NCC :

India News Dehra Dun, Oct 5 : Buoyed by the success of watermills in the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir, the army today proposed a long-term partnership with a Dehra Dun-based NGO to elevating economic conditions of the people especially women in those areas.

Northern Command Chief Lt Gen Hari Prasad flew in to Dehra Dun this morning from Udhampur and held detailed discussion with an NGO having expertise in agriculture, horticulture, biotechnology and other related sectors.

He said the army is adopting a three-pronged strategy to fetch the desire results in order to bring the misguided elements to the national mainstream and achieve lasting peace.

These include a vailability of electricity and other facilities, empowerment of women and children, education in border areas of the state.

He said army would set up two public schools in Rajouri and Pahalgam in the state as part of operation goodwill. PTI
 
Plastic bags banned on Amarnath yatra route
Rediff.com (PTI) Sept 8, 2004
Use of plastic bags has been banned in Pahalgam, Baltal and en route to the Amarnath cave shrine as part of a master plan to check environmental damage and introduce eco-friendly facililies for pilgrims.

Jammu and Kashmir Governor S K Sinha, who took stock of the cleaning up operations on the yatra track and base camps in Nunwan and Baltal yesterday, said the master plan would focus on facilities for pilgrims and ensuring a pollution-free environment.

The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board will arrange for jute bags to be used during the massive pilgrim yatra, Sinha, who was accompanied by state Forest Minister Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Sofi, said.

Interacting with non-governmental organizations, the governor, who is also SASB chairman, said suggestions for disposal of waste would be taken into account while formulating the master plan. Sinha said the SASB has already planned to raise environmental friendly toilets and shelters at various points and at the base camps of the yatra. About 716 toilets were erected this year in a record period of 15 days, he said.

Forest Minister Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Sofi said the government would work in tandem with the SASB in preserving the environment along the yatra route and providing various facilities to pilgrims.

Sinha said the Amarnath yatra had been a grand success this year and hoped pilgrim arrival would be far higher next year, which would give a boost to the local economy. He hailed the local youth, particularly school children from various schools in Pahalgam, the Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering and Winter Sports and NGOs for their participation in the cleaning up operation which started on September 3, immediately after the two-month long yatra concluded.
 
Kashmir pilgrimage over - only the litter remains
Khaleej Times - AFP (http://www.khaleejtimes.com/ Sept 1, 2004
SRINAGAR, India - Their souls may have been cleansed, but record numbers of pilgrims trekking this year to one of Hinduism's holiest shrines in the Himalayas of India Kashmir have left unprecedented amounts of earthly trash in their wake.


In the aftermath of the annual 45-day pilgrimage to Amarnath cave, environmentalists are dealing with an ecological crisis and say the government has never done enough to make sure pilgrims leave as little evidence of their progress as possible.

'The government has never been serious in preventing littering of plastic, polythene and refuse along the pilgrimage track,' said Zulfikar Ahmed, a Kashmiri ecological activist.

A record 300,000 Hindus made the physically gruelling pilgrimage this year through the Himalayas to the 3,800-meter (12,800 feet) high Amarnath cave, considered an abode of the god Shiva.

Alarm sounded

But while the authorities were patting themselves on the back for ensuring the safety of the tens of thousands who engaged in the arduous climb - for the second year in a row the procession remained free of attacks by Muslim rebels - environmentalists were sounding the alarm.

'The waste has been piling up for years now, causing irreparable damage to the environment,' Ahmed said.

Leftover food, plastic bags and bottles, damaged footwear, tin boxes and assorted debris lies scattered along the Himalayan pilgrimage routes and in mounds around the camps where pilgrims were housed until the trek officially ended on Monday.

The majority of the pilgrims set out from Nunwun base camp, near Pahalgam health resort, on the 50-kilometre trek along snow-fed streams and through frozen mountain passes to worship an ice stalagmite they believe represents Shiva.

Other pilgrims opted for a shorter 16-kilometre trek from northeastern Baltal set higher in the mountains near the shrine.

Both routes have been equally trashed.

While some non-governmental organisations have in the past attempted to remove some of the garbage, lack of funds and of support from the government has seen them giving up the struggle.

'There is no system to clean up the tracks and the camps once the pilgrimage is over,' said an official from Kashmir's Pollution Control Board, who asked not to be named.

He said pilgrims litter the route to the cave with around 12,000 kilograms (26,400 pounds) of non-degradable matter every year.

'This year the quantity will be higher given the record rush,' he said.

Tremendous pressure

Environmentalists say the cave area is also under tremendous pressure.

'Tonnes of waste are spread all over near the cave and much more sees its way into mountain rivulets, polluting the waters,' said Syed Ishrat, who heads private environmental group Global Green Peace.

The Sindh River that passes through the foothills of Baltal is the main source of water to nearly a million residents of the summer capital Srinagar.

'Pollution of the hills around Baltal can cause problems for Srinagar residents,' said Ishrat, urging the government to take steps to clear away the refuse.

The state-run Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) has appealed to voluntary organisations to help it collect non-degradable garbage for proper disposal.

'Should the problem not be addressed right now, it will have an adverse impact on the entire eco-system of Pahalgam,' said Latief Deva, who heads the authority.

Aside from the problems of garbage, sanitary conditions along the trek are woefully inadequate to cope with the annual rush of pilgrims, security forces and civil officials.

With no proper disposal, the human waste is finding its way into the rivulets, the environmentalists warn.
 
Incident-free Amarnath yatra ends
Sify News (UNI) Aug 30, 2004
Incident-free Amarnath yatra ends


Monday, 30 August , 2004, 18:44

Amarnath: With special pujas by more than 5,000 devotees at the Amarnath cave shrine, the annual two-month long pilgrimage came to an end on Monday.
An all time record of over 400,000 devotees had visited the shrine, located 13,500 feet above sea level in the Himalayas, from July 2 when Jammu and Kashmir Governor Lt Gen (Retd) S K Sinha performed 'Pratham Pujari' at the holy cave.

On Monday morning, Gen Sinha joined the 'Chhari Mubarak' (silver mace of Lord Shiva) procession and offered pujas amid the chanting of Vedic hymns by Mahant Deepinder Giri, Mahamt of Dashnami Akhara, Pandits and Sadhus.

A stream of devotees kept pouring from the early hours to pay obeisance to the 'swayam bhu'(self-created) ice Shiva Linga. High pitched chants of Har Har Mahadev reverberated through the cave.

The Governor, who is also the Chairman of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) manning the affairs of the pilgrimage, prayed for peace and prosperity of the state.

He also prayed for the 68 yatris (pligrims) who died during the pilgrimage due to cardiac arrest or other factors.

The Governor was accompanied by Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Muzaffar Hussain Baig and his Principal Secretary Dr Arun Kumar who is also the Chief Executive of SASB.

The Governor announced that a magnificent 'Dwaar' (gateway) would be erected at the approach to the cave shrine with a plaque depicting the history of the pilgrim spot that has the unique distinction of being discovered by a Muslim shepherd Buta Malik and looked after for years by the Malik family in true pluralistic traditions of Kashmir.

"This is a secular pilgrimage, the only of its kind in the country, which is made possible by the enthusiastic assistance and cooperation of the local Muslim people," the Governor said while complimenting the people for extending hospitality and welcoming the pilgrims.

Gen Sinha said countrywide proposals would be invited for a suitable blueprint for the Dwaar, which would showcase Kashmir's composite culture.

A proposal to prevent melting of the ice Shiva Lingam for the duration of the pilgrimage season by using latest technology was also being considered, the Governor said. "This will be done without touching the Holy Lingam or interfering with its formation in any manner," Gen Sinha added.

"For the second consecutive year, the yatra has been peaceful," the Governor said complimenting the security forces, the police and the people.

He had a special praise for the local people for making available the puja material en route the cave shrine and providing logistical support to make the yatra successful.

The Bhandaras (voluntary kitchen service) from different parts of the country did yeoman's service in providing free food to the yatris, he added.

The Governor, listing the steps being taken for upgrading facilities on the yatra track from Baltal and Pahalgam, said a master plan had been formulated which for certain reasons could not be implemented this year. He was hopeful that next year better accommodation would be provided along with 710 prefabricated toilets with leech pits and bathrooms, which are for more environment friendly than the open deep trench latrines.

The Governor said that the Shrine Board was organising a cleaning up operation of the camp sites and yatra route from Tuesday.

On his instructions, NCC cadets, who had earlier carried out voluntary service both at Charar-e-Sharief and Amarnath, would also be assisting the Board in carrying out the cleaning up operations.

Replying to a question about prefabricated shelters destroying the forests and damaging the environment, the Governor termed such reports as misleading. The tree line in the Himalayas is at 9000 feet and there are no forests above that height.

As per plans of the Board not a single tree will be touched even at the base camp from which the yatra starts. As for prefabricated toilets with leech pits not being environment friendly and the open deep trench latrines being better, the less and about this the better, the governor said.

The CEO, SASB said that cash offerings of Rs 2.70 crore besides silver and gold ornaments were offered at the cave shrine. The development Commissioner, SASB, I C Jandial was also present on the occasion.
 
Tourists return to Kashmir, but India`s jewel lacks its old sparkle
http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/story.jsp Aug 28, 2004
By Miranda Kennedy in New Delhi
28 August 2004

In 1812, Thomas Moore asked: "Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere/ With its roses the brightest that Earth ever gave'". Since then, the Kashmir Valley has been a mecca of sorts for visitors. It's been called the "jewel in India's crown", "the Switzerland of Asia", and even, according to the tourism department, "paradise on earth".

But over the past 14 years, since separatists in the mostly Muslim region began waging a war against the Indian state, Kashmir has been known more as the sandbag and barbed wire capital of the world than as a valley of natural beauty. All the guidebooks to India mention the threat of terrorism in Kashmir, and some continue to urge against travelling to the region. But this year, neither the dangers nor the inconveniences of visiting a conflict zone seem to have stopped the tourists.

This summer, Kashmir received the highest number of tourists since the insurgency began more than a decade ago, according to state government figures. Some 230,000 tourists flocked to Kashmir's houseboats and mountain pastures - and another 200,000 Hindu pilgrims came to Kashmir's Himalayas to visit a holy cave this summer. In the hot months of May and June, hotels and houseboats were almost completely booked out.

Isabela Chen and her husband are among the adventurous souls who decided to take peace moves between India and Pakistan at face value. They came to Srinigar with 17 other Taiwanese tourists. But, amid the chaotic crackling of military walkie-talkies in the heavily fortified airport, the Chens weren't feeling confident about the decision just yet.

"We've heard this is a very beautiful place," Isabela said. "But we know there's sometimes a war between India and Pakistan, and we cannot go out in the evenings. I am a little worried."

While the warring factions in Kashmir are aware of the importance of tourism to the economy and have tended to leave tourists alone, the 1995 kidnapping and presumed murder of five foreign nationals brought to an abrupt halt the stream of holidaymakers. Tourist agents and houseboat owners say their businesses have never recovered.

Pahalgam, the Valley of Shepherds, is one of the biggest tourist draws in Kashmir, as well as the starting point for pilgrims visiting the holy cave. It's the landscape most often featured in Bollywood love scenes. Tourists wandering the hills in recent days said they had weighed the risks, but decided they simply had to see Kashmir at some stage in their lives.

Pahalgam's shepherds and goatherds, who give pony rides to visitors during the summer months, say they have had their best business in years this season, thanks to the steady flow of tourists from north and west India.

But Yael, a teenager from Jerusalem, who came to Pahalgam in a rented coach along with 15 of her Israeli friends, wasn't so impressed. It wasn't the threat of militancy that upset her - she says she is used to that in Jerusalem, and many of her friends had just completed their duty in the Israeli army.

"Kashmir is very beautiful," she said. "But the people don't have the attitude to be with tourists. They tried to cheat us."

But of course, it is not holidaymakers who have suffered the most from the near collapse of Kashmir's tourist industry - it is the local who relies on their income to feed his family.

The Houseboat Owners' Association in Srinigar was established in 1930 - the first houseboats were built to accommodate the British Raj - and has become an influential lobby of Kashmir's tourism industry. Azim Tuman, head of the association, says the houseboats are such an essential part of a Kashmiri vacation that the state's logo features a tiny boat floating on a lake.

But, he says, he and his fellow houseboat owners have barely managed to stay above water during the long insurgency. The last of seven Kashmiri houseboat hull-makers is in his late seventies, and there is no one to take his place when he dies.

"For 14 years we have survived by stealing, begging, and borrowing. And I am very sorry to say that, 40 years from now, you will not find any houseboats left on the lake," he said.

Mr Tuman's family has been in the business for 140 years, but he even goes so far as to curse his ancestors for having entered the business: "If they had just sold roasted lentils on the road, perhaps we would be able to survive."

A ride in a shikara, or Kashmiri gondola, across Dal Lake is all the proof anyone needs that Kashmir's tourism industry is dying a slow death. It is not only the industry standards that have been neglected. The lake itself, once the gleaming, magical heart of Srinigar, is clogged with water weeds and garbage. Turquoise-tailed kingfishers dart through the hanging lotus and vegetable gardens, but now rubbish mars the back waterways, and many of the houseboats are rotting in the water. A houseboat owner, on his carved porch, takes a long drag on his hookah and stares into the green muck coating the lake. "This used to be heaven," he says.
 
Operation Broomstick to clean up Amarnath route
Indian Express Aug 25, 2004
JAMMU, AUGUST 25: Men in olive green, along with hundreds of boys and girls, will soon pockmark the heights of Kashmir's Himalayan Range housing the Amarnath Shrine cave.

The operation, codenamed Broomstick, led by Col S. Shekhawat, principal of Jawahar Institute of Mountaineering (JIM), will be launched not to track down militants, but to clear the area of the accumulated garbage and filth that at places has gobbled the flora and fauna of the region.

The ongoing month-long yatra has left the route leading to the Amarnath cave filled with garbage. Pilgrims have been defecating in the open along the Lidder stream, and environmental experts say was responsible for the epidemic and giardiasis that broke out in the area earlier this month.

The ''Green Brigade'', led by JIM and NGO Al Sarwat Students Coordination for Environmental Planning, in coordination with the Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA), will throng different places on September 2 once the yatra is over. They have a mission: save the fragile ecology of the area.


 
Final Pujan of Holy Mace performed at Dashanmi Akhara temple
UNI Aug 21, 2004
Srinagar, Aug 21 (UNI) In the run up to the final phase of the Amarnath Yatra, the Holy Mace (Chhari Mubarak), symbol of the Lord Shive, was offered worship by Mahant Deepinder giri at a ceremony at the Dashanmi Akhara temple here this evening on the occasion of Nag Panchmi.

Head priest of the Akhara Mahant Deepinder Giri offered Puja to the Holy Mace amid Har Har Mahadev and chanting of vedic Hymns. A large number of Sadhus and devotees attended the Puja.

According to Mahant Deepinder Giri, the Chhari Mubarak would leave for the final phase of the Yatra on August 25 alongwith Sadhus and devotees.

It would perform Puja at the Holy Cave of Swami Amarnath on August 30 on the occasion of Sharavan Purnima. With this, the 45-day-long Amarnath pilgrimage would come to an end.

The Chhari was taken to the historic temple of Shankeracharya on of August 19 on the occasion of Samavati Amavasa and to the Sharika temple Hari Parbat on 20th August for performing pujan.

The Mahant said this year the largest number of 2.80 lakh pilgrims so far joined the Yatra which is the highest ever, though the official yatra was commenced on 15th of July.

Over 50,000 pilgrims have had darshan of the Holy Shivlingum.
 
The Amarnath Yatra in Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo
IndiaFM Aug 17, 2004
Tuesday, 17 August , 2004, 11:05
Having buried The Hero debacle, director Anil Sharma is gearing up for his November release Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo. His film stars Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar and Bobby Deol in lead roles. Anil Sharma recently canned the hugely popular Amarnath Yatra in Kashmir.

'The shoot was challenging, considering it had to be done in Kashmir. Shooting was conducted in top security atmosphere. We were flown in by choppers, and the media was completely uninformed' the Gadar man informs us.

Once Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayed green signaled the shoot, permission from the Amarnath trust body was taken. Also, protection from the BSF, Army and the local police was called in to ward off any unfortunate incident.

It was a three-day shoot. This sequence has 8-minute footage in the film. Sitting in his editing office, director Anil Sharma recounts, 'It was a very emotional experience, considering we were going to cover something as sacred as the Amarnath yatra, but shooting in Kashmir kept raising concern. "Main toh ketha hoon, har admi ko Kashmir dekhna chahiye'

The sequence is looking like a great cinematic experience for the moviegoers. Mounted on a huge canvas, the promos are expected to hit the air by 29th of this month.
 
Another batch leaves for Amarnath
The Hindu Aug 12, 2004
Jammu, Aug. 12. (PTI): The 26th batch comprising 1,017 pilgrims today left from here for the Amarnath cave shrine of Lord Shiva in south Kashmir, official sources said.

As many as 1,017 people, including 194 women and 18 children, left the M A M Stadium here at 5:00 a.m. for Pahalgam, the base camp of the Amarnath pilgrimage, they said.

Escorted by 300 BSF security personnel, the pilgrims left in a fleet of 34 vehicles, including 20 buses, 12 light motor vehicles and two motorcycles, they said.

The smallest batch of 966 had left Jammu for Pahalgam yesterday and largest batch of 5,187 pilgrims had left on August 1.
 
Hundreds stranded at Jammu railway station
Hindustan Times August 6, 2004
Jammu, August 6
HUNDREDS OF railway passengers, including scores of Amarnath pilgrims, are facing severe problems due to the cancellation of trains following flooding of the Ambala-Saharanpur and Ambala-Ludhiana railway sections.

According to officials at Jammu Railway Station, trains bound for various destinations have been cancelled due to the flooding of these tracks. 'We will be able to assess the damage to the tracks only after the flood waters recede,' the railway officials said. The Railways have set up extra counters to refund tickets as well as to allot seats in other trains.

'We are revalidating the tickets and giving reservations in other trains on the basis of availability. But many of them might not be able to get reserved berths or seats in those trains,' they added.

'Everyday we are adjusting about 600 passengers from the cancelled trains in various trains bound for Delhi, so that they can get their connecting trains,' the officials said.

The trains cancelled from Jammu include 403-404 Holiday Special Train till August 7, Shalimar Express till August 7, Rajdhani Express for the entire week, Malwa Express, Sialdah Express and Tata Mori Express till August 13.


>
 
Security tightened for Amarnath pilgrims in Kashmir
webindia123.com (ANI) August 4, 2004
Srinagar | August 04, 2004 8:39:34 PM IST
Paramilitary forces have tightened security along the Amarnath pilgrimage route to thwart any possible attacks on Hindu devotees trekking on foot to the shrine located in the hear of the Himalayas in southern Kashmir.

"As far as threat is concerned, it is there, it can occur anywhere and that cannot be denied. But, as far as the CRPF is concerned, I want to assure you that the task that has been given to the CRFF, we will do it with utmost sincerity," S.S. Rawat, the Inspector General of the force, told reporters here.

"Of late, the CRPF has deployed 22 companies, including one Mahila (Women) battalion for the security of the Amarnath Yatris (pilgrims). The task given to CRPF is basically to guard the Yatri camps. We have a camp at Numuar, one at Pahalgam, one at Chandanwari. We have a camp at Seshnag, one at Panchtarni then we have big camp at different access points. All these camps are being guarded by us," Rawat said.

Hundreds of paramilitaries and police have been deployed at vantage points along the steep and slippery 48-kilometre route. The shrine is located at a height of nearly 12,500 feet above sea evel and is 141 km from Srinagar. (ANI)
 
Second batch of pilgrims leave for Amarnath
webindia123.com (ANI) Aug 2, 2004
Jammu | August 02, 2004 4:44:13 PM IST
A second batch of around 3500 pilgrims left for the Amarnath shrine today, after two days of inclement weather.

Escorted by security forces, the 2236 men, 823 women, 85 children and 300 sadhus resumed on their journey in a fleet of 137 buses and other vehicles from their base camp at MAM stadium in Jammu.

Officials say that the convoy, which left from here at 6:20 this morning, is expected to reach Baltal later this evening. (ANI)
 
Pahalgam misses out on tourists
NDTV Aug 2, 2004
Monday, August 2, 2004 (Pahalgam):
The scenic hill town of Pahalgam was hoping to cash in on the revival of tourism in Jammu and Kashmir this year.

In fact, for the first time in 15 years, each and every room of Pahalgam's oldest and most famous hotel was booked in advance in the month of June.

But just a month later, only one room is occupied and the hotel staff is blaming that on extra time given to the Amarnath Yatra this year.

Tourist flow

"Tourists have the impression that Pahalgam is full of yatris. That is why they don't come here and go to other tourist spots," said Muzafar Ahmad, Manager, Pahalgam Hotel.

The reason why tourists avoid Pahalgam during the Amarnath Yatra is because the town used to be the old base camp for yatris.

Usually that would last for only three to ten days. But this year, it has been extended to one-and-a-half months.

Amarnath Yatra has ruined the tourism of this premier holiday destination. These days when other tourist destinations are full of holidaymakers, Pahalgam and Sonmarg are craving for tourists.
 
Suspension of Amarnath Yatra continues for second day
webindia123.com (ANI) July 31, 2004
Jammu | July 31, 2004 4:17:02 PM IST
At least 34,000 pilgrims have been left stranded on the route leading up to the Amarnath shrine because of inclement weather conditions.

The yatra remained suspended for the second consecutive day today.

Officials said that because of the rush of pilgrims, many have not been allowed to proceed from the base camp at MAM stadium for the onward journey. They further added, that the pilgrims would be allowed for their onward journey in batches only after the rush subsides.

The Deputy Commissioner of Police, Jammu Range, has reportedly convened a high level meeting of police and civil officials to review the situation and make necessary arrangements for the pilgrims. (ANI)
 
Amarnath yatra suspended
ChennaiOnline July 30, 2004
Jammu, July 30: Amarnath yatra was today suspended following heavy rainfall and fresh batch of devotees was not allowed to proceed towards the cave shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas from the base camp here.

The yatra has been suspended due to prevailing bad weather in Pahalgam and onwards to the cave shrine due to heavy rains, a police spokesman said here.

It has also been raining heavily in wide parts of Jammu division, including Jammu-Srinagar highway, he said, adding however, the national highway was open for vehicular traffic,

The authorities will take decision on resumption of yatra after receiving feedback about weather conditions from the valley, he said. (Agencies)
 
School kids to promote tourism
Express News Service July 30. 2004
Srinagar, July 30: Shaken by the fidayein attack on a hotel at the Kashmir's most scenic tourist spot on Tuesday and its potential to damage the tourist sentiment, the J and K government is roping in school children from across the country to serve as goodwill ambassadors who could dispel 'misimpressions' about tourist safety in Kashmir.

As part of J and K police Civic Action Programme, 200 odd students from India will tour Kashmir in next 10 days to see for themselves that `bullets aren't flying around everywhere.'

Kicking off Saturday, students from India's heartland would descend on the picturesque tourist spot in Pahalgam to begin a 10-day long interaction where 60 students from Kashmir would join the group.

'It's our way of promoting tourism. Small outside papers are spreading stories that bullets are flying around in Kashmir and it's not safe to visit there. We want to change that impression and our motive is to take these children around and then make them form their own opinion about Kashmir. They could be our goodwill ambassadors,' said SSP, Israr Khan, the co-ordinator of the programme.

The itinerary apart from visiting sights would include debate among students on environment, ecology and how to foster brotherhood.

'On July 4, all schools from the Valley would join the guests at Delhi Public School where cultural programmes would bring them together,'' added Khan.

Drawn from various private and government schools at Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, students would visit monuments and religious sites like Hazratbal, Maqdoom Sahib, Kheerbhawani, Chattipadshahi in downtown Srinagar.

'Apart from these activities we've sports and trekking too on the itinerary. Trekking programme at Pahalgam and its surrounding areas is there too. We'll hold cricket matches with local children of Higher Secondary school, Pahalgam in addition to the indoor and outdoor sports activities.'' Khan added.

J and K police's drive to take students on a tour of Kashmir follows BSF and Army's similar initiatives in taking Kashmiri children on a tour of India.

Past four years, students mostly from border villages of Kashmir toured the country as part of the drive to inculcate a spirit of integration and brotherhood in them.
 
Amarnath pilgrimage death toll rises to 17
sunnetwork.org July 29, 2004
Srinagar, Jul 28 - With the death of three more pilgrims to the holy cave shrine of amarnath in kashmir, the toll in this year's pilgrimage has gone up to 17, official sources said here today.
The deceased identified as Ari Nath Singh (65) of Boonia in Uttar Pradesh, Mathoo Ram (60) of Madhya Pradesh and Vijay Singh (66) of Amjeer, Rajasthan, died of heart failure, at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and the cave shrine, respectively, the sources said.

With this, the number of pilgrims who died natural death during the yatra so far has gone up to 17, the sources said. The annual 45-day-long yatra commenced officially on July 15.
 
Another batch of pilgrims leaves for Amarnath Yatra
The Hindu (PTI) July 25, 2004
Jammu, July 25. (PTI): The 11th batch of 3,457 pilgrims today left Jammu for Pahalgam base camp amid tight security, taking the number of devotees on pilgrimage to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath to 66,000 this year.

The pilgrims, including 2,447 men, 666 women, 75 children and 269 sadhus left from M A M stadium here around 4 a.m., officials said.

Escorted by BSF troops, they left in a fleet of 172 vehicles, including 123 light motor vehicles and 49 buses.

The pilgrims had crossed Batote by 9.30 a.m., they said, adding that they were likely to cross Jawahar tunnel by this afternoon.

The yatra, which started on July 14, was suspended on July 20 due to bad weather and heavy rains at Pahalgam. It was resumed on July 21.

Over two lakh pilgrims are expected to have darhsan of holy ice lingam of Lord Shiva at Amarnath this year, the officials said.

No untoward incidents have been reported during the yatra this year.
 
Stranded pilgrims allowed to proceed to shrine
KT NEWS SERVICE July 21, 2004
SRINAGAR, July 21: Over 8000 pilgrims, who were stranded en route holy cave from Pahalgam due to rain and snowfall were today allowed to proceed towards the shrine.
After remaining suspended for two days, the Amarnath yatra resumed again on Wednesday. Nearly 6000 yatries who were stranded near Pesutop and rescued by the administration have been allowed to proceed towards the cave today morning.
Similarly 2500 yatries stranded in Chandanwari were also allowed to proceed towards the cave shrine after the rains and snow stopped and sky became clear. Nearly 4500 yatries stranded in Pahalgam were also shifted to safe camps where they were provided blankets and other neccessary help.
Chief executive officer of Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) Abdul Lateef Dewa, who is also the Yatra officer said several thousands yatries were stranded on the trek due to the snow and rain who were later rescued by army and civil administration.
"Rescue teams of civil administration and army immediately swung into action and evacuated the yatries to nearby safe camps. They were provided accommodation. Plus blankets and other essential items were provided to them. As the weather became sunny, they yatries were allowed to proceed towards the cave shine", he said.
In a bid to avoid any mishap, the state government has decided to allow the yatries to cross the Pahalgam base camp by 2 P.M. Besides, the government has also banned the movement of yatries from Pahalgam to holy cave shrine.
"We have to remain extra cautious now because weather is changing after every half an hour. In order to remain on the safer side and avoid congestion, we have decided not to allow the movement of yatries from Pahalgam onwards to cave after 2 P.M. This will regulate the yatries traffic. Plus we have also banned the night movement of yatra. This will allow us to regulate the yatra in abetter way because sometimes there is a huge rush which hampers our operation", Dewa said.
Over two lakh yatries are expected to visit the cave shrine this year. So far over 65000 yatries have had dharshan of holy lingum at the cave shrine.
Meanwhile, 5000 yatries who were stranded in Jammu were allowed by authorities to travel to Pahalgam. The authorities in Jammu had stooped the movement of yatries for the last two days following the bad weather en route cave shrine.

Pilgrim dies, another missing
KT NEWS SERVICE
SRINAGAR, July 21: An Amarnath pilgrim died due to heart attack, while as another went missing.
Reports said that Baldev Bayaee son of Mohan Patil of Gandhinagar, Gujarat today suffered a heart attack near Sheshnag. He was referred to medical camp Sheshnag where he passed away. The deceased was returning after the darshan at the Amarnath cave.
Meanwhile another pilgrim from Madhya Pradesh suddenly disappeared and the police has no clue about him despite repeated searches.

 
Yatra resumes, 5,048 leave for darshan
The Excelsior July 21, 2004
JAMMU, July 21: The Amarnath yatra which was suspended for a day yesterday due to bad weather and heavy rains that lashed the Cave Shrine, was resumed today with 5,048 pilgrims leaving for darshan from M A Stadium base camp this morning.

This is for the first time since the yatra was officially declared open, that a record number of over 5,000 pilgrims left for the holy cave. Today's batch of pilgrims include 3,811 male members, 634 females, 108 children and 495 Sadhus. They left in a cavalcade of 304 vehicles including 87 buses, 213 LMVs and four trucks.

But the reports say that the actual number of pilgrims who left for holy cave today from here is over 7,000 as a large number of unregistered pilgrims were also allowed to leave for the holy cave by the authorities.

In addition to the actual capacity 10 more pilgrims were accommodated in some buses to enable the stranded pilgrims to have the darshan.

Meanwhile, the unabated rush of pilgrims continues with hundreds of devotees thronging the Jammu Base Camp daily for their onwards sojourn.

Though authorities have not taken any decision on resumption of registration for yatris at Jammu, 500 Sadhus were enrolled today by the security agencies. However, the number of Sadhus is surging day by day with hundreds reaching here daily from different parts of the country.

But there seems to be no end to the woes of Sadhus waiting here for the days together for their enrollment. Out of over 2,000 Sadhus reporting daily the Exhibition Ground Registration Counter in the morning, only 500 manage their enrollment while the rest have to leave the ground in utter disguise in the afternoon after the enrollment is closed.

These Sadhus have no word of appreciation for any body but they curse the administration for subjecting them to a lot of harassment and humiliation.

Some Sadhus who were waiting in the queue for days together alleged that the administration is a mute spectator to their problems. "We are reporting the registration counter in the morning at 7am for last 10 days and leave it at 3pm without getting ourselves enrolled", alleged Sadhu Rameshwar from Tamil Nadu.

Making a dig at the administration he said the entire Sadhu Samaj will come to streets if the administration continues such a rigid stand.

Meanwhile , a handicapped Sadhu Harbajan from Ambhalla who came here on cycle rickshaw from his hometown will leave for the holy cave tomorrow.

Sadhu Harbajan who has become disabled due to the polio attack in childhood has started his journey on the rickshaw on last Wednesday from Ambhalla along with his two disciples. He reached here yesterday.

His two disciples Muna Nath and Naga Giri said that they will assist him in his journey from Baltal to Holy Cave.

Muna Nath who has visited the holy cave four times in past said they will feel no difficulty in taking their Guru for darshan and are ready to bear all vagaries of nature.
 
Bad weather forces Amarnath yatra suspension
Rediff.com July 20, 2004
July 20, 2004 12:33 IST
The Amarnath yatra was suspended today due to inclement weather conditions in the south Kashmir Himalayas, official sources said in Jammu.

The authorities have decided not to allow the fresh batch of pilgrims to proceed towards the cave shrine from the base camp at MAM Stadium, the sources said.

So far, 1,610 yatris have left from Jammu on their onward journey via Pahalgam and Baltal routes since the commencement of the pilgrimate on July 14.

The yatra, which was stopped for a few hours due to inclement weather on Sunday evening, was allowed to resume yesterday.

Meanwhile, deputy inspecetor general of police (Doda-Udhampur range), Satveer Gupta, reviewed the security arrangements for Amarnath yatra at different poins on the national highway from Udhampur to Jawahar Tunnel sector yesterday.

Sector officers have been appointed to strengthen security arrangements, and the authorities have been requested to provide more officers of the rank of deputy superintendent of police to monitor the arrangements, Gupta told PTI at Banihal.

Gupta said volunteers along the national highway have set up a number of langars, but only a few authorised ones were being provided police security.

The police, army, Border Security Force, and traffic departments were coordinating to provide security to the Amarnath yatra pilgrims, Gupta said.
 
Amarnath: Undertaking a yatra clad in faith
Rediff.com July 20, 2004
Mukhtar Ahmad in Baltal | July 20, 2004 00:19 IST

Nature creates mountains, faith conquers them.

Mahesh Kumar didn't have proper clothes to brave lashing rains and unseasonal snowfall at the cave shrine of Amarnath situated 13,500 feet above sea level, but his determination to have a glimpse of the ice lingam, believed to represent Lord Shiva, was enough to keep his body and soul together.

"I have seen snow for the first time in my life, I have not experienced such cold ever before in my life' but my mind and eyes were fixed on my goal: to have a darshan of the ice lingam. While I was inside the cave, a strange warmth encompassed my whole being," he said.

Kumar, a resident of Maharashtra, was one of the 3,000-odd pilgrims to have a glimpse of the ice lingam late on Sunday when harsh winds accompanied by dust and snow had brought down the temperature to zero degrees Celsius.

"Not all the pilgrims were wearing warm clothes. It was sheer faith that gave them the needed warmth to continue the journey," said Kumar.

Starting from the Baltal base camp in north Kashmir, several kept up a chant of Bam Bam Bolay as they ascended the hill leading to the shrine.

Baltal is located in the foothills of the Zojila Pass, which leads to the Ladakh region of state.

Through this route, it takes just a day to complete the final leg of the pilgrimage but the treacherous route stretching over 16km comprises a serpentine pony track and is interspersed with glaciers making it a challenge even for experienced trekkers.

One of the major concerns is security since over 100,000 people undertake the yatra through the Baltal and Pahalgam, in south Kashmir, routes. Pilgrims come from various states and, if the yatra passes off peacefully, will end up acting as ambassadors for the state, which is still not completely out of the shadow of militancy.

Hence, the state administration has made all possible security arrangements but pilgrims say much more needs to be done in terms of facilities.

Some environment-conscious pilgrims like Sohan Lal, who had undertaken the yatra in 2003 too, were surprised to find that the plastic and garbage littered around the campsites last year were yet to be removed.

"This is hazardous. It will destroy the ecology of this wonderful valley. I think officials should have first paid attention to the clearance of last year's refuse on the Yatra track," he said.

"Yes, lodging facilities and sanitation facilities could do with improvement. All the concerned agencies are working in tandem to make the yatra as comfortable as possibly all along the sloppy and rugged mountainous route," admits Governor Lt Gen S K Sinha who heads the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB). "Based on this year's experience, further improvements would be made next year," he said.

"Tourism is the mainstay of the valley's economy. This aspect should not be undermined. Pilgrims could contribute in a big way to the state government's efforts to attract tourists," Sinha said.

While boarding the bus for Srinagar, Kumar took one long look at the mighty peaks surrounding the base camp at Baltal. The smile on his face said it all. The soul had prevailed over the shortcomings of the body and he went back backing in the warmth of the darshan.
 
Three Amarnath pilgrims die of heart failure
UNI, PTI July 13, 2004
Srinagar, July 13
Three Amarnath pilgrims died of heart failure as 'unofficial' yatra to holy Amarnath cave in south Kashmir continued despite the state government's refusal to extend the yatra period to two months as demanded by a number of Hindu organisations.

Official sources said a pilgrim died after suffering a cardic arrest at Baltal base camp while a woman and another devotee died near the cave shrine last evening.

The state authorities have already announced that it cannot provide any assistance or help to pilgrims who undertake the pilgrimage before July 15, the official date for the commencement of the yatra.

The sources said so far, more than 5,000 pilgrims had undertaken the pilgrimage at the cave shrine situated over 14,000 feet above sea level.

Meanwhile, a high-level meeting here emphasised that only those pilgrims, who are registerd with Jammu and Kashmir Bank and are carrying their requisite registration slips mentioning routes, would be allowed to proceed through Pahalgam and Baltal routes.

The meeting resolved that only 3,500 pilgrims per day would be allowed to proceed to holy cave. About 2,700 people will be allowed through traditional Pahalgam route while 800 will go through the shortest Baltal route.

More than 1,50,000 pilgrims have registered themselves for this year's pilgrimage to holy cave.

An official spokesman said the divisional administration is fully geared up for the yatra. He said adequate quantity of foodgrains, kerosene oil, gas cylinders and sugar have been kept at the halting stations.

Proper lighting arrangements would be ensured within the periphery of camping sites from 6.30 pm to 4.30 am and more generator sets arranged by the Power Development Department.

Adequate arrangements have been made to ensure the availability of drinking water for the yatris at the camp sites. Medicare facilities would be available at the camp sites and mobile medical teams with sufficient quantity of drugs would be deployed en route the holy cave.

It was also decided at the meeting that night stay will not be allowed at the cave site keeping in view the environmental hazards and high altitude.

Meanwhile, a pilgrim on way to Amarnath cave shrine was today arrested for possessing charas, foreign currency and fake registration forms.

Rakesh Sharma was arrested by the police at Aishmuqam, 70 km from here, after over a dozen fake registration forms, some Saudi Dinars and charas was seized from him, official sources said.
 
Additional forces for Amarnath yatra
Tribune News Service July 13, 2004
Jammu, July 13
As many as 64 additional companies of the BSF and the CRPF have been deployed in Jammu and Kashmir in connection with the Amarnath pilgrimage amid reports that terrorists might try to disrupt the 'yatra'.

The pilgrimage will begin tomorrow when the first batch of pilgrims would leave for Srinagar tomorrow. Bomb disposal and dog squads have also been deployed at strategic points.

The Maulana Azad (MAM) Stadium is overcrowded with a large number of sadhus occupying every available space. The pilgrims sleept in the open last night.

The Inspector-General of the CRPF, Mr C. Balasubramanian, said here today that 32 companies each of the CRPF and the BSF had been deployed in the state in connection with the pilgrimage. While 10 companies of the CRPF have been deployed here, 22 companies have been deployed in the Kashmir valley.

Twentyseven companies of the BSF have been deployed in the valley and five in the Jammu region.

He said the CRPF commandoes had been deployed at the MAM Stadium to meet any eventuality. CRPF personnel had been deployed at strategic points and the 20 lodging centres for pilgrims here.

The Director-General of the CRPF, Mr J.K. Sinha, recently held a meeting with senior officers of the CRPF and the Army to ensure a smooth and peaceful conduct of the pilgrimage.

Mr Subramaniam said six companies of the CRPF were deployed at Katra, the base camp of the Vaishno Devi pilgrimage for the security of pilgrims.
 
A 'running' pilgrimage to Amarnath
Sify - Agencies July 13, 2004
Amritsar: Kamal Kishore, is out to prove that he can do the impossible.
A devout Hindu, this 44-year-old handloom worker living in Amritsar, has started a 675-km-run to the holy shrine of Amarnath, 12,500 feet above sea level.

This would seem ordinary to most, but Kamal plans to achieve this feat in one week, clocking on an average 96 kilometers per day. That is 13 hours of daily running.

"The entire pilgrimage is nearly 675 km and I will run 100 km every day and complete the pilgrimage in seven days. And by Lord Shiva's blessings, I am hopeful there will be no hindrance in it," Kishore said.

Kishore has reportedly prepared well for the run, building up his leg muscles with special altitude training in anticipation of the low pressure and the biting cold.
 
Amarnath yatra: Sadhus await shelter
Zaffar Iqbal, NDTV.com July 12, 2004
Monday, July 12, 2004 (Jammu):
Every year hundreds of sadhus gather in Jammu ahead of the Amarnath yatra in the state.

Usually the administration makes arrangements but this year with most of them arriving in the city several days ahead of schedule, most facilities are lacking.

Monsoon rains are in full flow and the stranded sadhus in Jammu are desperate for shelter.

The lone flyover is the only roof over them for the time being.

Looking for shelter is part of their problems besides coping with other day-to-day issues. 'Our problem is that, we don't have a place to stay and we don't have anything to eat,' said Mahant Kapil Dev, sadhu.

Cause for resentment

During the Amarnath yatra, Jammu city is the home of hundreds of sadhus but this year the problem is further compounded because while their registration will begin from July 13, many of them reached the city ahead of schedule.

'Our registration has been stopped and we can't make any movement. This is a big problem as we don't get anything to eat or wear,' said Narayan Das, sadhu.

Every year the sadhus are generally accommodated in the government community halls but these will be thrown open when the yatra officially takes off, something which is becoming a source of resentment for the sadhus.

'If the administration says that they need the halls then we are in a position to open them. We do not have any problems. The yatra officially starts from July 15,' said D R Kapoor, CEO, Jammu Municipality.

And as the official yatra dates come closer, the number of sadhus is only bound to increase.

The greatest challenge before the administration would be to provide facilities to these people.
 
85,426 Amarnath pilgrims registered
The Tribune July 8, 2004
Srinagar, July 8
The number of intending pilgrims registered by various branches of Jammu and Kashmir Bank for this year's Amarnath yatra has reached the 85,426 mark during the first three days.

According to the Deputy General Manager of the bank, Mr N.A. Shah, Nodal Officer for registration, 63,022 pilgrims have been registered for the traditional Pahalgam-Chandanwari route and 22,404 for the Baltal route, an official spokesman said.

The maximum registration of 13,019 has been made in Delhi followed by 11,935 in Punjab, 10705 in Uttar Pradesh and 9,153 in Maharashtra.

In Madhya Pradesh, 8,258 pilgrims have got themselves registered while their number in Gujarat is 7,914 and Haryana 7,082.

In Jammu and Kashmir itself, 3,154 pilgrims have so far themselves registered for the yatra.

The 45-day yatra will commence from July 15 this year and continue till the end of August.
 
Mufti govt's decision on yatra challenged in HC
Tribune News Service July 3, 2004
New Delhi, July 2 The Jammu and Kashmir Government's decision not to advance the official date for the commencement of the Amarnath yatra was today challenged in the Delhi High Court by the Delhi-based Amarnath Yatra Welfare Organisation (AYWO) today even as some overenthusiastic pilgrims and Sadhus started their symbolic march this morning from Srinagar.

The AYWO's counsel mentioned the petition before the vacation Bench of Mr Justice R.C. Chopra and Mr Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, seeking an interim direction to the Jammu and Kashmir Government for advancing the yatra date from July 15 and pleading for an urgent hearing of the matter.

The Bench, however, declined to pass any interim order today and fixed the hearing for Monday when the court will reopen after the summer vacation.

AYWO president Anant Kumar Gupta in the petition accused the Mufti Sayeed government of 'unnecessarily' interfering in the Amarnath yatra and sought the court's immediate intervention in the matter.

Though the high court two years ago had laid down certain guidelines for the smooth conduct of the annual Amarnath pilgrimage and had asked the state government to open the other route through Baltal from Srinagar to Leh to enable more pilgrims to go to the cave shrine, yet the authorities had failed to implement the order, it said.

Since the passing of the Jammu & Kashmir Shri Amarnathji Yatra Shrine Act, 2000, the entire authority to conduct the pilgrimage had been given to Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board and the role of the government had been reduced to the minimum in the affairs of the annual pilgrimage, it said.

The organisation also alleged that the main purpose behind confining the yatra period to a specific timeframe was aimed at permitting a 'limited' number of pilgrims to go to the shrine.

It was not for the state government to decide when the yatra should start as it was the 'religious right of Hindus' and according to their religious calander, it should start on 'Aashadh Purnima', which falls today, the petitioner organisation said.

The AYWO has also taken objection to Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minsiter's alleged statement that the yatris create pollution en route and affect tourism in the state, contending that such utterances by politicians 'hurt the religious sentiments' of the Hindus.

Instead of blaming the yatris, the Mufti government should concentrate more on providing adequate security and electricity, water, lodging and sanitation facilities to the pilgrims on the way, the petitioner said.

The organisation also sought a direction to the state government to permit voluntary organisations to set up 'langars and bhandaras (free kitchen)' on the way for the benefit of pilgrims as it would only supplement the efforts of the authorities.
 
Amarnath yatra begins with special puja
Tribune News Service July 2, 2004
Srinagar, July 2 The Jammu and Kashmir Governor, Lt Gen S.K. Sinha (retd), flew from here to the holy cave shrine of Amarnath on the occasion of 'Vyas Purnima' to perform the special puja today. He along with his wife and several devotees participated in the aarti at a solemn function organised on the auspicious occasion of Vyas Purnima, symbolising the commencement of the yatra.

The Ministers of State, Mr Yogesh Sawhney and Choudhry Gharu Ram, besides Mr Prem Sagar, legislator, were among those who participated in the puja.

Concurrently, Mahant Deependra Giri, Mahant Charri Mubarak conducted 'bhumi pujan' and 'dhwajarohan' ceremonies, which mark the opening of annual pilgrimage, at Pahalgam this morning in the presence of a sizable number of devotees. Puja was also performed at the historic Martand Temple, Mattan near Anantnag.

The Governor told mediapersons that the unofficial yatra to the holy cave started in early June soon after the melting of the snow on the Baltal route. The state government by starting helicopter service from June 27 to the cave has virtually given recognition to the unofficial yatra. However, the religious commencement of the yatra took place today. Service yatra is commencing on the Baltal route from July 7 and official yatra on both Pahalgam and Baltal routes from July 15. As the final decision about the extension of the yatra was taken only on June 29, necessary deployment of the security forces and the construction of minimum essential infrastructure on both routes was not possible before July 15, the Governor added.

When asked why the SASB decided to extend the yatra by two months while ignoring the security and weather conditions, the Governor said the board had only been making recommendation from October, 2003, to this effect to the state government, which alone had the prerogative to take such a decision. As the state government on May 22 initially decided against extending the yatra, the board urged it to reconsider the matter emphasising the religious consideration behind the need for doing so. 'I am happy that the government ultimately agreed to extend the yatra to 45 days, he added.

To another question about the security, General Sinha said he was fully aware of requirements of the security. 'I humbly submit that I have long experience in dealing with militancy, starting from Indonesia in 1946, for several years in the North-East from 1958 and again for years in Kashmir. No one in Jammu and Kashmir, serving or retired, and a few in the country had such long experience of dealing with security in militancy environment'. He added that last year he had personally coordinated security arrangements for Amarnath and visited the yatra route four times.

Speaking on the occasion of puja at Pahalgam, Mahant Deependra Giri said the people of Kashmir valley irrespective of their caste, creed or religion, had been cooperating and encouraging the pilgrims and sadhus. He also urged all to preserve the age old tradition of communal harmony and hospitality and to make this yatra a grand success.

The Management of the Mahadev Gir Dashnami Akhara Trust, Srinagar has made all arrangements for the sadhus who intend to join the holy mace, the mahant said.

Meanwhile, the police prevented at least 125 sadhus from proceeding towards the Amarnath cave shrine via Pahalgam. These sadhus had left who had started from Jammu yesterday to undertake the annual pilgrimage in the upper reaches of south Kashmir.

The sadhus led by Rama Kanth Dubey were, however, allowed to proceed via Baltal after a night halt at Pahalgam this afternoon, to undertake the yatra. Senior police officials said the sadhus were prevented from proceeding on the 48-km-long trek to the cave from Pahalgam because the area had not been sanitised. They were allowed to proceed via Baltal on the Srinagar-Zojila axis on the road to Ladakh, which does not require much deployment of the security forces. Several yatris have been visiting the cave shrine over the past couple of weeks via the Baltal route without intervention of the police and road opening parties.

2 Ministers stranded at Amarnath, airlifted
Jammu, July 3 Having been left stranded at the Amarnath cave shrine (12,000 ft) last night, two Congress ministers Mr Yogesh Sawhney and Mr Garu Ram, today accused the Chief Minister, Mufti Sayeed, of being responsible for the incident.

The two ministers had gone the Amarnath shrine with the Governor, Lt Gen S.K. Sinha, yesterday to mark beginning of the yatra. The spouses of the two ministers also accompanied them.

The situation took an ugly turn when the two helicopters carrying the Governor's entourage returned to Srinagar without waiting for the ministers and their families.

Mr Sawhney told this correspondent over the telephone from Srinagar that he had flashed several SOS to the Chief Minister's office and the police control room from 1.25 p.m onwards yesterday for evacuating them in a helicopter. However, there was no response and they had to spend the night in the freezing cold without any security.

Mr Sawhney said the Deputy Chief Minister, Mr Mangat Ram Sharma, has brought the matter to the notice of the Congress high command. Mr Sawhney was among the four ministers who had recently resigned following the controversy over the duration of the yatra.

The two ministers and their spouses were airlifted from the cave shrine this morning.

Meanwhile, an official spokesman clarified that the helicopter sorties were not operated when the temperature at the cave rises above 15C. At high temperature, at an altitude of over 12,500 ft, the performance of the helicopter's engine deteriorates tremendously and makes the flight unsafe.

The Raj Bhavan had requisitioned two helicopters for flying to the cave shrine. The first sortie of both helicopters took off as per schedule at 7.30 am in which two ministers and an MLA among others flew to the holy cave. The Governor returned to Srinagar at 12.50 pm, while the other helicopter carrying three persons returned at 1.10 pm.
 
Yatris swear by baba, as forces stand by
The Pioneer (Rana Ajit) July 2, 2004
New Delhi July 02 Even as Amarnath pilgrims continued their march towards the holy cave on the second day without any security cover, in defiance of the Jammu and Kashmir Government's decision to officially start the yatra only from July 15, over 60 companies of Central paramilitary forces are ready and waiting for the official opening day of the yatra.

A top Border Security Force officer on Friday told The Pioneer that over 32 companies of BSF was ready for deployment along the yatra route, but is forced to wait for July 15, when the yatra officially opens. Around an equal number of Central Reserve Police Force is also awaiting the official opening day to provide security to pilgrims.

Expressing concern that the pilgrims are exposing them to security hazards, a BSF officer said the J and K Government has ordered for BSF deployment from July 15 only, and accordingly the BSF companies would be reaching Jammu by July 10. Meanwhile Jammu and Kashmir Governor S K Sinha had a darshan at the holy shrine on Friday along with his wife. Which means that he, too, jumped the official opening day of the yatra.

"There is no question of us taking a decision on the yatra. The Yatra is a matter of security connected with law and order. It is the prerogative of the State Government to take the decision," he said when he was asked whether the yatra could be extended to a duration of two months as sought by the pilgrims and various religious bodies. The second batch of defiant 200 pilgrims left Jammu on Friday for Pahalgam, the base camp of the pilgrimage in south Kashmir.

The yatris left Jammu in the morning in buses and light vehicles like Tata Sumo and Toyota Qualis punching the air firmly as they shouted slogans har har Mahadev and bolo barfani baba ki jai and shanker bhagwan ki jai".

The main concern is the security of the pilgrims that the Government would provide from 15th July when the pilgrimage officially starts. The registration of the pilgrims is to begin from July 5.

Convener of the Amarnath Action Committee Inderjeet Khajuria warned that "in case of any mishap, the Government would be held responsible". He also said that the Congress ministers who had resigned from office over the Amarnath yatra duration, should not take their resignation back as the issue was unresolved.

The pilgrims were not concerned about the security. "Bhole Nath (Lord Shiva) will take care of our safety," said Sheetal Sharma, a middle-aged housewife from Delhi.
 
Amarnath pilgrimage finally gets 15 days extension
KT NEWS SERVICE June 29, 2004
SRINAGAR, June 29 The Amarnath yatra related controversy was permanently resolved today with chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed agreeing to extend the pilgrimage by 15 days. The yatra will now begin on July 15.

The extension in the yatra has been also accepted by the governor Lt Gen S K Sinha, who is also the chairman of Amarnath shrine board. Infact he has appealed the people including leaders from Jammu to give up their agitational path and accept the 15 day extension.

Governor has especially thanked chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed for " readily and graciously accepting his proposal of permitting the religious rituals of Pratham Darshan and Pujan (ceremonial prayers and obeisance to the holy ice lingam) at Amarnath shrine on July 2.

Sources said in view of the recommendations made by the governor and requests made by Jammu based Congress leaders and union parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, the chief minister this morning agreed to extend the yatra by 15 days. He subsequently, informed Azad, deputy chief minister Mangat Ram Sharma, with whom he flew to Jammu for a visit, and governor about the further extension.

Earlier, the state government had agreed to extend the pilgrimage by only 10 days in view of the security and weather concerns. But the Jammu based Congress leaders mounted pressure and even four ministers of state sent their resignation letters to Azad. But Mufti remained adamant and the union parliamentary affairs minister agreed with his view that extending the pilgrimage beyond 10 days was not possible. However, chief minister changed his mind today and decided to extend the pilgrimage by 15 days.

According to a statement issued by directorate of information governor as chairman of Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) will perform the Pujan on Vyas Purnima along with a limited number of devotees at the cave shrine on July 2.

In a statement, governor thanked the religious leaders particularly Mahant Deependra Giri, head of Dashnami Akhara and Mahant Chhari Mubarak (holy mace) to accept the agreed arrangements for the ritual and commencement of the Yatra. The governor also appealed to the people who have been agitating in Jammu and elsewhere in favour of a two-month Yatra not to press with their agitation and to accept these concessions.

Gen Sinha hoped that the yatra would take place with religious fervour and solemnity by all sections of the people associated with the pilgrimage leading to its successful culmination as per the glorious traditions of Kashmir. He appealed to all to observe the solemnity of the occasion without any further controversy or agitation.
 
Notice to Amarnath board officer
Tribune News Service June 17, 2004
Jammu, June 17 The Jammu and Kashmir High Court today issued notices to the Chief Executive Officer of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board and others in connection with the curtailment of pilgrimage to the holy cave shrine of Lord Shiva from two months to one.

Taking cognizance of a public interest litigation filed by A.N. Sharma, President of the Shri Amarnath Seva Dal, Mr Justice S.K. Gupta issued the notices and directed the registry to list the case before the vacation judge.

Mr Sharma, in his petition, had challenged the state government's decision to confine this year's yatra to just a month instead of two months.

The petitioner's counsel pleaded that once the Amarnath Board took a decision of allowing the yatra for two months, the state government could not overrule the decision.Further, no reason was given by the state government in restricting the yatra to only one month, he said. The petition submitted that 'unnecessary and unconstitutional interference' by the state government in the working of the board was 'absolutely illegal and arbitrary'.

The petition prayed for the direction to the respondents to extend the yatra for two months from July 2 to August 29 and also sought directions for the registration of yatris at Chandanwari and Baltal only. ' PTI
 
Blast toll 5; Mufti assures tourists
Tribune News Service June 13, 2004
Pahalgam, June 13 The grenade explosion targeting tourists at a hotel here yesterday has temporarily dampened the flow of tourists to this picnic spot. The authorities, however, claimed that the incident hardly hit or scared away tourists, who have been pouring into the valley in large numbers this year compared to previous years.


Meanwhile with the death of one of the three seriously injured persons at the SMHS hospital in Srinagar this morning, the death toll has gone up to five. The deceased was identified as Mohit, son of Kanya Lal, from Ahmedabad. Others killed in the incident have been identified as Neelu, an eight-year-old girl, 10-year-old Rahtik and his father, Bahvesh from Mumbai, and Danish Halwai. Out of the injured persons evacuated to Anantnag, SKIMS and SMHS hospitals in Srinagar, 18 were discharged after treatment, while three seriously injured are undergoing treatment in Srinagar.


Even as there were a few tourists seen in the area today, the booking in various hotels, huts and government hutments had not been cancelled by tourists following the incident.


Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, accompanied by his daughter and PDP president, Ms Mehbooba Mufti visited the spot today and asked for details of the incident. He also interacted with tourists and organisations connected with the tourist trade. He told visiting media persons here that investigations into the cause of the incident were on and did not rule out the possibility of security lapse. He appealed to tourists not to get scared by the incident. He also referred to the recent attack on a convoy of the BSF at Lower Munda on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway in which 29 BSF men and their family members were killed. The Mufti expressed happiness over the approach of various sections of society who want an end to the sufferings of the people of Kashmir. He said that adequate security measures were already in place for the safety of the tourists.


The Tourism Minister, Ghulam Hassan Mir, who also visited the area today, said the explosion did not dampen the spirits of the tourists. 'The tourists do not feel scared and they are moving happily not only in Pahalgam, but at other tourist spots like Dal lake, Gulmarg, Sonmarg and Yusmarg', Mir told TNS. This, he said, was because of the changed atmosphere over the past couple of years in the valley in particular and in the state in general.

 
Plea to extend yatra
The Tribune June 3, 2004
Jammu, June 3 Several Hindu organisations and those connected with the hotel and transport businesses have renewed their demand for extending the period of the annual Amarnath yatra by a month.

At a meeting here last evening, several leaders, including those belonging to the VHP, the Brahmin Pratinidhi Sabha, and the Rajput Sabha, made a fresh plea to the government for allowing pilgrims to visit the holy cave of Amarnath for two months instead of a month. They argued that 'as per the Hindu calendar the annual yatra period needed to be extended by a month because of an extra (Purshotam) month from July 2 to August 30.'

However, government sources said the recommendations of the Amarnath Shrine Board for extending the yatra by a month could not be accepted as it involved deployment of several columns of the police, paramilitary forces and the Army for the yatra duty.'

A senior government functionary said here today that by extending the duration of the yatra by a month, it could bring additional revenue not only to the government but to traders and transporters. But the government is more concerned about the security of the pilgrims than about monetary benefits that may flow from the two-month yatra period.

He said, 'A large number of police and paramilitary personnel have to escort pilgrims for 30 days daily from Jammu to the cave. Besides, the troops and the paramilitary forces have to guard the 300-km-long Jammu-Srinagar highway against any rebel attack.'

He said in case the yatra period was extended, several companies of the security forces would get tied up with the yatra management, leaving a small force for carrying out anti-insurgency operations.

Besides security-related problems, pilgrims face a lot of ordeals while searching for suitable board and lodging facilities as the government has limited accommodation, even though school buildings and tents are kept at the disposal of the pilgrims.

Leaders of several Hindu organisations have, meanwhile, urged the government to stop charging Rs 10 as registration fee and Rs 20 for insurance cover from the pilgrims. The government, they argued, should pay for the insurance cover.

They demanded end to restrictions on philanthrophists who set up stalls for distribution of food and other eatables to pilgrims free of cost. Goods, including rice, flour, ghee, pulses and other items, which these philanthrophists transported from Punjab, Haryana and Delhi, should not be taxed at the Lakhanpur barrier.

 
Hotels unavailable, govt pitches tents for tourist
By Jehangir Rashid, Kashmir Times June 2, 2004
SRINAGAR, June 2: Following increasing rush of tourists the state government has started tented accommodation for the visitors in Kashmir.

Because of the heavy influx of tourists, the lack of accommodation has emerged as a big problem. The occupation of 34 hotels by security forces and 38 by move employees became an issue with the people associated with trade demanding that the hotels should be vacated for tourists.

However, tourism minister Ghulam Hassan Mir said the lack of accommodation is not such a big prolem as is being projected by media. "We are happy over the increasing rush of tourists and are making every possible effort to provide all required facilities to them", he said.

According to him, hundreds of private houses have been turned into guest houses by the people in Raj Bagh, Nishat, Shalimar and Gagribal. Large number of house boats have been renovated and 80 rooms of Centuar Hotel thrown open for visitors. One block of JKTDC has been vacated for tourists, the minister added.


Mir said the tented accommodation has been started on Boulevard in Srinagar, Pahalgam and Gulmarg. He stated that this type of accommodation would be increased in coming days.


Referring to the occupation of hotels by security forces, Mir said security is also important. "Security personnel are needed in present situation. They too have to live in hotels. We can not shift them from there overnight. The process has to be carried out in phased manner", he said.

According to the figures available there are 34 hotels which are being occupied by the security forces and the surrenderred militants. Most of these hotels are located in the Dalgate area and the Boulevard area. These hotels have turned into security barracks.

"If the security forces vacate the occupied hotels today it would take at least a year to renovate them. These hotels have turned into security forces camps and their condition has deteriorated over the years" said a person whose hotel is under the occupation of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) at Dalgate.

He added that it would be better for the government to vacate these hotels during the winter so that they get a chance to renovate them by the time next tourist season starts. This person who was not willing to disclose his identity said that if the hotels are vacated today then it is bound to lose them the amount which they are getting today from the security forces.

"The hotel owners have been forced to accomodate the security forces since there was no tourist who was willing to come over here. This made it sure that the families of the hotel owners do not face starvation and die of hunger as well as poverty" said Ghulam Mohammad, a hotel owner.

In addition to the hotels being occupied by the security forces there are 38 hotels which have been hired by the Estates department accomodating the move employees. These hotels are accomodating the move employees from the last many years and it is due to the huge rush of tourists that a need has been felt of more and more accomodation.

The house boat owners who are expected to do a good business during the tourist season are also worried since they are not being allowed by the government to fix the rates. These house boat owners say that the government has forced them to fix a nominal rate for their house boats.

According to Mohammad Azeem Tuman, chairman House Boat Owners Association, the house boat owners have not been given a chance to fix the rates of super deluxe and other classes of house boats. "A hotel owner can fix the rate but the house boat owner cannot do so since the government has not authorised them to do so" said Tuman.

He added that the house boat owners have also suffered since they are getting tourists as part of the package tours from the various travel agents of the country. "Although, the tourists are coming but they are mainly sent by the tour operators on package tours and there are very few who come on their own" said Tuman.

Although, the house boats are usually taken on a night basis but what is happening these days is that the house boats are taken on lease for a week or a specified period of time. "If the individual tourists come then we may have a very good season, otherwise there are not much chances of reaping the profits" said Abdul Kabir, a house boat owner.

Some of the house boats owners while talking to this correspondent said that they have to pay a hefty sum towards the travel agents with the result that they earn very less on account of the package tours. They urged the government to ensure that the individual tourists should be encouraged so that they are able to make good the losses which they have been facing during the last 15 months.
"Since we have taken loans from various banks that is the reason that we are offering our house boats on nominal rates. This minimal income which we are getting would ensure that we do not become defaulters of the banks" said Mohammad Akbar, who has his house boat next to the Nehru Park.

When asked about the rush of the tourists the chairman of House Boat Owners Association said that the house boats are booked upto the end of this month. He added that they have alreay informed the travel agents across the country about the non-availability of the space in the house boats.

It would be in place to mention here that the tourists who are on tour to the Kashmir valley are mostly sent by travel agents. These tourists prefer package tours since it becomes cheap for them in comparison to the tours which would undertake on individual level.
 
Registration begins for Amarnath yatra
KT NEWS SERVICE June 2, 2004
SRINAGAR, June 2: Jammu and Kashmir government has decided to register the pilgrims for annual Amarnath yatra through Internet and post offices.

This will be in addition to the registration of yatries conducted by Jammu and Kashmir Bank in different parts of the country. Chief Executive Officer Shri Amarnath Shrine Board Dr Arun Kumar said the notification for registration of pilgrims would be issued within 10 days.

"We are working out modalities and hopefully it will take us 10 more days to finalize all the details. For the convenience of yatries we have decided that the Internet would be used for registration purposes. The yatries can access the internet and register themselves. Plus the post offices, which are in every district of the country, will also be allowed to register the yatries. This will be apart from the J and K Bank that has been registering the yatries for the last few years", Dr Kumar said.

Chief executive officer of SASB added that every day the 3000 to 3500 persons will be allowed to have a dharshan of the holy Shiv Lingum at the cave shrine.
Divisional Commissioner Kashmir Khursheed Ahmad Ganai said that Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) is currently constructing a website which is expected to be ready within a week. He said besides Jammu and Kashmir Bank, some more banks would be allowed to register the pilgrims across the country.
Gania said that the dates for registration of the yatries would be announced shortly and it will be highly publicized so that the pilgrims will have no problem whatsoever in registering themselves.

"It has been decided that the annual yatra would commence from August 1 and conclude on August 30. This year the yatries can register themselves through internet. The SASB is currently constructing a website which the yatries can access and register themselves for yatra. This year the SASB will allow other banks apart form the J and K bank to register the pilgrims across the country. However, the notification in this regard will be issued separately", Gania said.
Dr Kumar on the other side noted that they are yet to work out details with other banks in this regard. "We have not had any meeting with any other banks so far for registration purpose. We will see what could be done in this regard. If it is possible to rope in some more banks we will think over it", he said.

Jammu and Kashmir Bank, which is a nodal agency for registering the yatries, has yet to receive final word fro the government for registering the yatries across the country.
"Some of the officials discussed with us the modalities of the yatra but no date was given.

 
Tourists come in hordes, Pahalgam is hot favourite
By Jehangir Rashid, Kashmir Times May 31, 2004
PAHALGAM, May 31: The controversy on the duration of the annual Amarnath pilgrimage may be boiling, but going by the huge number of tourists visiting this health resort this issue seems to be a non-issue with very few people paying attention to it.

The number of domestic tourists is more than the local ones and people coming from different parts of the country are enjoying their stay upto the hilt here. These domestic tourists have out scored the locals thereby suggesting that more and more outsiders are willing to visit this place.

"It is quite marvelous to stay at this beautiful place. It seems as if we are in heaven " said Rakesh Kumar, a resident of Lucknow. He added that the scenic beauty at this place is breath taking and it is difficult to find a place like Pahalgam.
The locals are also turning up in good numbers in general and more so on Saturdays and Sundays. The locals assume that this health resort would be out of bounds for them as soon as Amarnath yatra gets underway. This year the yatra is scheduled to start from August 1 and likely to culminate on August 30, with the darshan of the holy lingam on the occasion of Raksha Bandhan.

The amusement park which has started functioning from this year has added a new dimension to the beauty of this health resort. It is expected that the coming up of this park would lead to revenue generation for the state government. This has also given a fillip to the facilities being provided at this health resort.

"The opening of the amusement park gives us a feeling that we are somewhere in Delhi or other metropolitan city. It is quite amazing as well as exciting to see that the Kashmir valley can boast of the facilities which are otherwise witnessed in selective parts of the country" said Shafat, a resident of Srinagar city.

The huge rush of the tourists has gladdened the hearts of the people who are directly involved with the tourist trade here. The hotels which used to present a scene of wilderness have started to show a lease of life since the tourists are thronging in good numbers to book their places in the different hotels.

The hotel owners are expecting that they would reap rich benefits due to the huge tourist influx. "From the last 15 years we had been left jobless as very few people turned up to visit Pahalgam. This year we hope that there would be brisk business so that we are able to make good the losses which we were incurred by us from the last 15 years" said Mohammad Subhan, one of the hotel owners of Pahalgam.

Similar is the case with the pony wallas who come from the far flung areas of Anantnag as well as Pulwama districts to earn a livelihood. These pony wallas are expecting that they would be able to fill the bellies of their family members as they have suffered over the years due to low number of tourists.
"Lagta Hai Ki Allah Miyan Ki Meharbani Hum Pe Hui Hai, Mujhe Umeed Hai Ki Iss Saal Hum Achha Kam Lenge" said Mohammad Ayub, a pony walla. Ayub, a resident of Aharbal area added that he and his family members have suffered a lot during the last 15 years when very few people dared to visit this health resort.
 
Row deepens between CM, Governor over Amarnath Yatra
Tribune News Service May 29, 2004
Jammu, May 29 The row between the Governor, Lieut-Gen (retd) S.K. Sinha, and the Chief Minister, Mufti Sayeed, over the forthcoming Amarnath pilgrimage has taken a new turn with some miscreants having reportedly breaking open the iron gates of the protected cave shrine and the state government authorities allowing certain influential individuals to pitch about 300 tents outside the shrine to 'fleece' the pilgrims. The controversy was getting snowballed as various Hindu religious organisations accused the Mufti of trying to 'sabotage' the pilgrimage. The Governor was likely to despatch a team of functionaries of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board to the spot to verify the facts.

Sources said today that there were reports that the miscreants had also broken open the locks of the offerings box. Tension had been brewing between Mr Sinha and the Mufti, as Mufti earlier this week had overruled decisions by the Amarnath Shrine Board to increase the period of the pilgrimage this time to two months and also shift the base camp to Pahalgam from here. These decisions were taken in a meeting of the Board that was presided by the Governor. Irked over the attitude of the Mufti, Mr Sinha yesterday fired a letter to him in which he accused the Chief Minister of 'interfering' in the affairs of the autonomous board. He wrote that the government was trying to put brakes on the pilgrim traffic to the Amaranth shrine. The strong-worded letter warned the Mufti that his unwarranted interference would defeat the whole purpose of setting up the autonomous board for the cave shrine of Amarnath in South Kashmir. The Governor was apparently annoyed over the silence of the Mufti to his earlier communications pertaining to the Amarnath shrine and rejection of the proposal without formally consulting the Raj Bhavan. The Governor came to know of the government's decision only through newspapers.

Meanwhile, reports had come that while the government had so far not allowed the board to start preparations for the pilgrimage that would begin on July 1, the local authorities in Anantnag had permitted certain private individuals to pitch about 300 tents outside the cave shrine. These people had been minting money by allegedly fleecing the pilgrims. A source regretted that the authorities did not allow the board to carry the pre-fabricated toilets for being installed at various places enroute the three-day trek to the shrine, but the private individuals had already occupied the prime places for pitching tents. He said that the board was contemplating to preserve the ice Shivlingam in the shrine, but if the private individuals were allowed to interfere in the functioning of the board and begin the 'puja' earlier, the ice lingam would melt soon and the pilgrims would not be able to have 'darshan'. The government had also turned down the proposal of the shrine board to increase the pilgrimage by one month because of security reasons. Terrorists had earlier twice struck on the pilgrimage route. A fresh security strategy would be required for stretching the pilgrimage and there was not enough time for doing so this time. The president of the Baba Amarnath Yatri Trust, Dr Ramakant Dubey, has strongly reacted to the issue and accused the Mufti of trying to sabotage the pilgrimage by interfering in the affairs of the board. Dr Dubey alleged that on one hand the Mufti was talking of restoring normalcy by increasing tourism in Kashmir, but on the other hand he was trying to put 'hurdles' in the way of pilgrims to the Hindu shrine. He warned that the issue would be highlighted throughout the country to expose the 'true face' of the Mufti. The number of pilgrims to the Amarnath Shrine had been picking up even during terrorism and about 1.73 lakh pilgrims were allowed to visit the shrine in one month last year. The board was of the opinion of lifting the restrictions on the pilgrimage and allowing people to go to the shrine without prior registration. The government failed to work-out a hassle-free system of registering the pilgrims and a large number of them were not allowed to proceed beyond here every year. This had been causing resentment among the pilgrims who were lathi charged by the police several times. Meanwhile, the state BJP chief, Dr Nirmal Singh, has asked the state government not to interfere in the functioning of the Amarnath Shrine Board and assist the board in implementation of its decision to extend the pilgrimage to two months. In a statement, he warned that the people of Jammu would not tolerate any interference and attempts of scuttling the pilgrimage. Dr Nirmal Singh said that the government's rejection of the steps to improve the pilgrimage indicated its 'obstructionist' attitude.
 
Disconnect within Govt over conduct of Amarnath yatra
KT NEWS SERVICE May 25, 2004
JAMMU, May 25: Either it is willful or there is a serious disconnect within the state government over the conduct of the Amarnath pilgrimage.

First it was proclaimed that there will be no registration and the pilgrimage would be two months long, within a few days of this proclamation the government backtracked and has stated that the pilgrimage will be just one month long and registration of the pilgrims is not being done away with. It has also announced that as many as three lakhs pilgrims will be allowed.

The number too is a clear violation of the recommendations of the Nitish Sen Gupta committee, which went into the conduct of the pilgrimage after the tragedy in 1996 when hundreds of lives were lost due to snowstorm and blizzard. The committee had recommended that not more than 1.30 lakh pilgrims be allowed if the entire exercise has to be carried out properly and with the welfare of the pilgrims in mind.

The state administration has been completely stretched on all fronts related to the conduct of the pilgrimage. Be it security of the pilgrims, transportation, sheltering them along and managing the number of vehicles which everyday area few hundred strong.
Registration of the pilgrims too has been a major issue and despite years of experience and experimentation the government has not got it right and every Yatra has thrown up new problems.

The state government this time has assured that matters will be well coordinated but given the spate of contradictory statements it portends ill. The numbers itself is a serious issue as three lakh pilgrims in thirty days could mean ten thousand everyday.
If monsoons cause a delay of a few days there would be anything between twenty to thirty thousand pilgrims either camping in Jammu or enroute, the chaos can be easily imagined. Given the ham-handed manner in which the Yatra has been conducted even with half the number of pilgrims everyday the government has its task cut out and the pilgrims will have to keep their fingers crossed.
At present the pilgrims camp within and around the MA stadium, which becomes an administrative nightmare with people sleeping, eating and defecating in the open. It was with exactly this in mind that the Yatra Bhawan at Warehouse was proposed.
However, the brusque cavalier manner in which the government has denied the very existence of the Rs 20 crore central package for the construction of the Yatra Bhawan in Jammu in the ware house area too has taken everybody surprise and as expected it is being viewed in Jammu as another conspiracy hatched by the "kashmiri leadership."

Making the denial even more suspicious is the fact that the announcement of the package was made back in October 2003 and at that time; it has been extensively reported in the press and hailed in all quarters.
Local hoteliers meanwhile have already gone to town proclaiming that the Amarnath Shrine Board is hampering the conduct of the Yatra.
 
Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo to be shot at Amarnath
IndiaFM News Bureau May 24, 2004
May 24, 2004: Anil Sharma's multi-million film Ab Tumhare Hawale Watan Sathiyo is getting bigger by the day. The film looks promising not only for its star-cast power of Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar and Bobby Deol (in a double role) but also for its rich production values.

Sharma initially picturized a song 'Sarpe dupatta mere pyaar ka' on Bobby Deol and Sandali Sinha amidst the colorful Jaisalmer festival in Rajasthan. The director has even incorporated a desert storm that happened there into his film. Other important portions at the film are shot local scenic venues of Chandigarh and Manali apart from exotic locales of New Zealand and South Africa.

And now Sharma's destination next is the naval base of Visakhapatnam where he plans to shoot an action sequence with four naval ships and helicopters for which he has already acquired the navy's permission.

Add to it another action sequence, which Sharma plans to shoot at the Amarnath yatra in July. The film shows a militant attack at a transit camp of pilgrims on their way to the Amarnath cave pilgrimage and Sharma wants to shoot the scene at the actual location. The scene will be shot on Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar and forms an important part of the film.

Hard-hitting action has always been a forte of Anil Sharma films (Gadar, The Hero) and all his huge plans for ATHWS just raises our expectations towards the film.


 
Amarnath yatra to be for one month this year: SASB
Excelsior , KT , Times of India May 24, 2004
Srinagar, May 24: In the wake of the decision taken by the Jammu and Kashmir Government, Shri amarnath Ji Yatra will officially open for one month from August 1 till Ausgust 30 this year from both Sonemarg and Pahalgam routes. With approximate 5000 yatries having Darshan of the holy ice lingam every day, their number is likely to touch 1.50 lakh during the month long yatra.

Reacting to reports appearing in a section of press today, a spokesman of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board said that the registration process is proposed to provide for both advance and current registrations. Efforts are on to make the process as yatri friendly as possible by placing the same on the Internet.

For security reasons, the spokesman said that the advance booking slips, which the yatries obtain from the internet and print on their computers, are proposed to be checked and exchanged to a more detailed computer-generated slip, at counters located at various places in Jammu and Kashmir, that would digitally incorporate the yatri's photograph on the slip. This data is also required for providing free accident insurance cover of Rs. one lakh for each pilgrim, he added.

Elaborating, the spokesman said that it is proposed to continue using the J and K Bank network for providing this updated service to the yatries.

About, the receipt/promise of Rs. 20 crores for a yatri camp in Jammu, the Spokesman clarified that the Amarnath Shrine Board has no knowledge of it. It needs to be appreciated, however, that with the train services being extended to Udhampur this year and to Srinagar by 2007, it may not be possible for any agency to force yatries to treat Jammu as their base camp. This aspect would have to be taken in consideration for future yatras for the 2004 Yatra, however, the usual facilitation services for Amarnath yatries would continue to be provided at Jammu.

The spokesman said that the proposals/decisions of Shri Amarnath Shrine Board are shared in routine with the government at various levels.

In view of the difficult terrain, weather and security considerations, it needs to be appreciated that Amarnath Ji Yatra's date or the number of yatries to be allowed every day can be modified at a very short notice, the spokesman said, hoping that yatries would help the Shrine board execute such decisions. 'All decisions/proposals of the board have the welfare of the yatries uppermost in their scheme of things', he added.
 
3 lakh Amarnath pilgrims expected in 2004
KT NEWS SERVICE May 23, 2004
JAMMU, May 23: The Amarnath yatra, commencing on August 1 will now be a month long affair, keeping in view the security considerations, prevalent in the state. Around three lakh yatris would be allowed to undertake the yatra this year which now will be thrown open through pre and post registration.

This was disclosed by Chief Executive Officer of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, Dr Arun Kumar in a press conference here today. He informed that the department had made adequate arrangements for the yatris, keeping in view the estimated rush and pointed that like previous year the department would have medical and insurance schemes for the people.
On the issue of security arrangements, Kumar assured that it is the top priority of the government and adequate measures would be taken in this regards.

He also informed that around 56 lakh tourists visited the state in 2003-04 and keeping in view this encouraging number, the department is expecting revenue generation of over Rs one crore. He stated that the department is ensuring that large number of people are able to undertake Amarnath Yatra since the registration process and other formalities have been simplified. Apart from on the spot registration, the pilgrims can register themselves at the branches of Jammu and Kashmir Bank as well.

He further added that Jammu would be base camp of the yatra.

When questioned about the traffic and civic arrangements, Kumar stated that it was for the respective departments to look into. Without detailing about the security arrangements he stated that the issue would be discussed at the government level as the board does not deal with it.

He further maintained that the permanent base came at Jammu for Amarnath yatries was not in the pipeline as no money has been received in this regards.

While speaking on the performance of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Kumar informed that the board would soon computerise Yatra Management System by using bio metrics ( finger prints and plastic card with photo). He pointed that this facility will contribute towards upgradation of security.
He stressed that in order to provide better service to the people, the board would train it's officers on Quality Management System. Apart from that in order to enhance the site of Himkoti, the board will set up an ice temple in the form of a snow dome, to potray mythological depictions of gods and goddesses.

Facility of donations too have been upgraded which will now be through J and K Bank network. He said that efforts are being made to have similar tie ups with UTI Bank, HDFC and Bank of Punjab.
Elaborating on other projects of the Shrine Board, Kumar informed that a passenger ropeway on 450 meters between the Bhawan and Bhairon Temple would be constructed at the cost of Rs 18 crore. An All Weather Material Ropeway between Katra ( Seri) to Himkoti will also be constructed.
The Shrine Board will also remodel the Bhawan complex for the weaker section of the society which will comprise of 700 beds. The prices would be nominal keeping in view the paying capacity of the people, he stated.
Other yatri friendly facilities provided by the board include, 'Prasad by Post', alternate packaging for gold and silver coins, replacement of plastic packaging with eco- friendly cloth bags for prasad and construction in Baridar inhabited villages under the Baridar Welfare Scheme.
Rohit Kansal, Additional Chief Executive Officer of Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board also attended the press briefing.
 
Govt flayed for not extending Amarnath yatra period
Excelsior May 23, 2004
JAMMU, May 23: All Jammu Hotels and Lodges Association today strongly criticised the State Government for not extending the Amarnath yatra for two months as announced by the Amarnath Yatra Board headed by Governor of the State.

President of the Association Inderjeet Khajuria also criticised the Government decision to continue pre-registration of Yatries by the Jammu and Kashmir Bank branches thereby overriding the announcement of the Amarnath Yatra Board.

"This step is aimed to restrict number of Yatries which is against the economic interest of the State particularly of those connected with pilgrimage", he said and added that allowing of large number of Yatries would mean improvement in the economic condition of the people connected with pilgrimage.

The excuse of the Government that law and order scenario still not conducive for extending yatra to two months is contrary to the claims of the Government that militancy has receded considerably, Mr Khajuria said. He, however, appreciated the decision to continue base camp of yatra at Jammu.

Mr Khajuria demanded that steps be initiated to set-up permanent base camp at Jammu and to develop the site selected for the purpose for which Rs 20 crore have already been sanctioned by the Central Government.

He also regretted the delay in undertaking the project for establishing permanent base camp of Amar Nath Yatra at Jammu City.
 
Amarnath yatra duration may be doubled
Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar, Rediff.com May 20, 2004
For the first time, the annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine of Amarnath may be thrown open for two months as against the usual practice of one month so far.

This is likely to enable more pilgrims to visit the shrine. Authorities expect a record number of 300,000 pilgrims this year as compared to approximately 175,000 last year.

This proposal will be implemented by allowing pilgrims to take the Baltal route to the cave shrine from July 2 onwards. This route is shorter but a difficult one.

The traditional Pahalgam-Chandanwari route, with halts at Seeshnag and Panchtarni, will be opened for the annual yatra from early August till Raksha Bandhan (August 30).

In view of the militant threat, appropriate security arrangements will be put in place on both the routes.

However, weather and security considerations would ultimately determine the duration of the pilgrimage, according to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board chief executive officer Dr Arun Kumar.

In another significant move, the SASB is contemplating scrapping the procedure of prior registration at various centres in the country. Instead, pilgrims will be allowed to reach the base camp at Jammu and proceed to Pahalgam and Sonmarg on their own, depending on the route they intend to take.

A helicopter service from Baltal to the holy cave is also likely to be introduced this year. "To enable this, infrastructure will be created to station helicopters, with pilots and other staff at Baltal itself. Arrangements would also be made for emergency aerial evacuation of pilgrims as and when required."

A constant complaint, by about half the pilgrims each year, is that they are denied darshan of the ice shiv linga, which begins melting after the first ten days of the yatra.

"SASB has requisitioned the services of reputed organisations like Defence Research and Development Organisation and IIT Delhi to work out the most optimal solution for preventing the meltdown and prolonging its life without in any way interfering with its formation," he added.

Near the Amarnath cave, where pilgrims camp for some time before visiting the shrine, the SASB is building infrastructure like insulated prefabricated huts with hot water facilities for bathing, filtered drinking water and adequate number of toilets with innovative measures to eliminate foul smell.

The prefab insulated huts with cushioned bunk beds will replace ordinary tents and are being built in phases. "In the first phase, we have ordered the construction of 60 such huts, each of which can accommodate at least 50 pilgrims. The target is to accommodate at least 5,000 pilgrims in such huts."

For the first time, barbed wire fencing and searchlights are being installed at the camp sites 'to provide fool-proof security at the camp sites'.
 
Amarnath Yatra Takes IT Route To Security
BV MAHALAKSHMI, The Financial Express May 19, 2004
HYDERABAD, May 19, 2004: Here is some relief for those Amarnath pilgrims who feared attacks from militant groups enroute the chilly terrains of Jammu and Kashmir. Thanks to the latest technology 'yatra management system,' which will identify the intruders among the pilgrims using the fingerprinting method.

Bartronics India Ltd (BIL), is in the process of installing access control systems with biometric solutions at Mata Vaishno Devi temple and Amarnath temple.

All along the journey towards Amarnath shrine, security personnel are always on the alert mode to ensure that no intruders trespass in between the pilgrims. Despite security checks, every year there are reported deaths caused by militant tensions. Hence the boards of these temples have decided to use biometrics using fingerprints right from the check in to check out point.

'These steps are expected to increase the safety of the pilgrims from terrorists through identification from registration. The first of its kind of project in the country is expected to be implemented before the yatra for the current year is to be undertaken in July,' Bartronics managing director Sudhir Rao said. The Amarnath Shrine Board is expected to sign an agreement with Bartronics India to upgrade the security measures to address the convenience and safety of pilgrims.

Bartronics India, a provider of automatic information and data collection (AIDC) solutions, has suggested a fingerprint and image recognition solution to the board based on its experiences in implementing biometrics solutions at the Tirumala Tirupathi Devasthanams.

The company's yatra management system also has related activities like booking special poojas, room reservations or advance registration counters, etc, besides security. Mr Rao said data of over 40,000 persons are collected and verified every day. The database stores records for 60 days and the fingerprint and image of the pilgrims registering at remote locations is transferred to Web servers for facilitating verification.

Amarnath, one of the holiest Hindu shrines situated a few kilometers from Srinagar, is open for pilgrims during the months of July and August. For the rest of the year, the shrine is inaccessible due to heavy snowfall and landslides. The pilgrims start their journey from Srinagar on to Pahalgam and then to Baltal passing through about 22 kms of treacherous trek before they reach the holy shrine. The trek is dangerous from the point of view of harsh climatic conditions as well as threat from terrorists.

All along the trek, other pilgrims usually have 'langars' or 'voluntary meal houses,' as about 1.5 lakh pilgrims make their way to the shrine. The pilgrims who wish to undertake the journey are required to register themselves beforehand.

The current system requires them to fill up forms and attach proofs before the applications are scrutinised and accepted.

As per the revised system, registration facility would be made available at various locations which is yet to be decided across the country whereby the pilgrims who wish to undertake the pilgrimage can register themselves using their fingerprint and photo image.
 
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