Barring sadhus, no pilgrims above 55 years of age will be allowed in the Amarnath yatra which has been curtailed to 14 days this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, officials said Saturday.
The pilgrimage to the 3,880-metre high holy cave shrine in south Kashmir has been re-jigged due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pilgrimage will now take place through the shorter route from Baltal to the Amarnath caves. The longer route from Pahalgam will not be used for the pilgrimage which will now begin on July 21 and end on August 3.
While Deputy Commissioner of Ganderbal, of which Baltal is a part, has already pressed men and machinery for clearing the tracks, officials of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) will start leaving Jammu on Monday for assisting in clearance of Baltal track and lay bailey bridges over streams.
The decision to shorten the span of yatra was taken during a meeting held by Jammu and Kashmir lieutenant governor GC Murmu last week.
“It will be regulated in view of the pandemic and all those undertaking the Yatra must possess Covid-19 negative certificates. The pilgrims will be cross-checked for Covid- 19 infection on entry into J&K before they are allowed to undertake the yatra,” said an official who did not wish to be named.
All pilgrims except sadhus will have to register themselves online. “No pilgrims above 55 years of age will be allowed,” he said.
“In a first of its kind SASB is also trying to telecast live ‘Aarti’ from the cave shrine in the morning and evening for the devotees,” he said.
“Since it would be a curtailed yatra, the SASB is also mulling to allow it via helicopters only,” another official said.
However, the lieutenant governor’s principal secretary and CEO of SASB, Bipul Pathak said, “Board is yet to meet and take a decision. When it is decided, media will come to know.”
On Friday, the exercise for the yatra got underway with the ritualistic Pratham Puja.
The government had decided in February this year to hold the annual pilgrimage to the holy cave shrine.
The Amarnath yatra was originally scheduled to begin from the twin tracks of Pahalgam in Anantnag district and Baltal in Ganderbal district on June 23 and end on August 3 on the day of Shravan Purnima (Raksha Bandhan).
Last year, the yatra was cut short following intelligence inputs of terror threats ahead of the Centre scrapping Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir. In 2018, the pilgrimage was held for 60 days.
Thousands of pilgrims either trek the traditional and longer 45-km long Pahalgam route or the shorter 14 km route through Baltal to the shrine every year.