As unprecedented security arrangements are being put in place to secure this year’s annual pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine of Amarnath, the goodwill and participation of the local Muslims in the successful and secured completion of Yatra 2022 is still the best security cover for the pilgrims.
Having remained suspended for two years because of the Covid pandemic, the absence of the Amarnath pilgrim has cost hundreds of locals their livelihood.
Ponywallahs, load carriers, roadside tea stall owners, taxi and tour operators and also hoteliers, handicraft sellers, furriers and others directly or indirectly connected with the Yatra, all of them have missed the pilgrimage as have the Yatris during the last two years.
This probably is the only reason that days before the beginning of the annual pilgrimage, tea stalls, handicraft shops, pavement sellers, and vendors of different local arts and crafts have already moved out on both the north Kashmir Baltal route and the south Kashmir Pahalgam route.
Especially the sledge operators, load carriers, and the ponywallahs have a big financial stake in the Yatra. Had tourism not picked up exponentially in 2022, it had become impossible for these families to keep the wolf away from the door.
On its part, the government has done everything possible to secure the passage of the Yatris as also to provide them all medical and logistic support.
70-bedded hospitals have been set up at both Baltal and Pahalgam base camps, oxygen facilities have been made available all along the route from Jammu to the two base camps.
A total of 1,500 medical staff, including doctors and paramedics have been deployed to work in three shifts to ensure better healthcare for the Yatris.
Transit camps have been set up along both the Yatra routes to ensure that there is no overcrowding at the base camps since the authorities are expecting very large numbers of pilgrims to come for the Darshan of the Holy Lingam of Lord Shiva inside the cave shrine this year.
The ice stalagmite structure wanes and waxes with the phases of the moon till the final Darshan and the Pratham Puja on the Yatra conclusion which coincides with the Raksha Bandhan festival on Shravan Purnima.
Amarnath Yatra 2022 begins on June 30 and will end on August 11. Those using the north Kashmir Baltal route will have to trek 14 kilometres to reach the Cave shrine. They will return to the base camp after having Darshan the same day.
Those using the traditional south Kashmir Pahalgam route will have to trek 48 kilometres spread over four days to reach the cave shrine.
Security forces, including the army, central armed police forces (CAPFs) and the local police have deployed hundreds of forces equipped with all the required security paraphernalia to secure the Yatra.
Days before the beginning of the pilgrimage, at an average distance of 20 metres, both the south Kashmir and the north Kashmir routes are dotted with the security forces drawn from the different organisations of the CAPF.
In addition to this, area domination in the higher reaches and the built-up areas along the two routes is being manned by the army.
At least three dozen camps of the paramilitary forces have come up in addition to the already existing ones along the two routes.
This is besides the two large camps at Baltal and Nunwan (Pahalgam) base camps. Transit camps, base camps and other places en route to the base camps have local police deployments in addition to the CAPFs.
Anti-drone systems connected with central control rooms have been deployed along both the routes and at the two base camps. RFID tags are being provided for the first time to the Yatris so that the vehicles carrying them are continuously monitored.
Security forces have been sanitised about the sticky bombs, which were recovered in J&K for the first time in February 2021.
Terrorists have used these small explosive devices to target the vehicles of the security forces at some places in the recent months.
Notwithstanding the extraordinary security arrangements put in place by the authorities, the goodwill of the locals is the best security cover for the Yatris whose arrival is eagerly awaited in Kashmir.
The eyes and ears of the locals are the best surveillance that will ensure that no pilgrim comes in the way of the harm as he/she engages in the religious duty to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva during Yatra 2022.