Amarnath yatra 2020 updates
Amarnath yatra 2020 has been cancelled in the wake of the current pandemic situation.
is expected to start from 23rd July and go on till 3rd August 2020. The final decision regarding the yatra for this year will be taken in the coming days.
The details regarding the registration process, the date and the route selection will be available on the Shri Amarnath Yatra shrine board website.
Legend of the Amarnath yatra
To keep the secret safe from any eavesdroppers, the superhero chooses a place safely distant from any life.
En route, he lets go of all his companions. His ride, the bull at Pahalgam. The moon that adorns his hair at Chandanwari. The snakes around his neck at Sheshnag. The five basic elements at Panchatarini. His son Ganesh at Mahagunas Top. To finally reach a hidden cave.
This fascinating story is the legend of Amarnath yatra.
The cave where the superhero (Shiva) supposedly narrated the immortality lessons to his wife (Parvati) – the “holy cave” of Amarnath – has become a revered destination for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. The route that Shiva and Parvati took in this legend is the original Amarnath yatra route.
How did we prepare for the Amarnath yatra?
We were looking for a trek in Kashmir. The Amarnath yatra was about to start. Everyone suggested we make use of this opportunity. We are not too religiously inclined. But the prospect of a journey with hundreds of pilgrims and seeing the ice shivling; the world’s most renowned ice stalagmite excited us.
By then, we had spent a few weeks in the mountains in Kashmir. We did a few day treks in offbeat places in Kashmir like Chatpal and Yusmarg to increase our stamina and make ourselves fit for the 3-day Amarnath yatra trek. These day treks in Kashmir were enough to prepare ourselves for the Amarnath yatra.
Paper work for the Amarnath yatra
In Pahalgam, we decided to definitely go for the Amarnath yatra. Pahalgam is one of the starting points of the Amarnath yatra. Since we had not pre-planned this yatra, we had not registered for it and did not have the yatra permits. We made use of the on-the-spot registration for the Amarnath yatra.
We got our medical fitness certificates from the government hospital in Anantnag. We then went to the TRC (Tourist Reception Centre) office in Srinagar for the actual registration. Here we were allocated a date for commencing our Amarnath yatra.
Choosing our Amarnath yatra route
We chose the longer route for our Amarnath yatra, from Pahalgam. This is the historic Amarnath yatra route, retracing the steps of Shiva and Parvati. It is a 45 km trek from Pahalgam to the Amarnath cave. We reached the holy cave (this is how the Amarnath cave is commonly referred to) on the third day.
These days, the first 15 km, from Pahalgam to Chandanwari is just a two-hour drive. The actual trek begins only at Chandanwari.
There is another option, which takes only one day to reach the holy cave. This shorter Amarnath yatra route starts from Baltal. We will tell you in a while why we believe, the longer Amarnath yatra route is a better option.
Itinerary for the Amarnath yatra via Pahalgam
- This is the day before you starting date for the Amarnath yatra (as specified in your yatra permit).
- Arrival at the Nunwan basecamp/any hotel in Pahalgam.
- Start early in the morning from Pahalgam. Between 6 AM to 7 AM would be the ideal time to leave.
- Get into a shared jeep or bus for Chandanwari.
- Start the climb from Chandanwari to Sheshnag.
- The day ends at the Sheshnag campsite.
- Start early in the morning from Sheshnag, post breakfast.
- You cross the highest point of the Amarnath yatra at the Mahagunas top before lunch.
- The day ends at the campsite at Panchatarini.
- Start early in the morning from Panchatarini, post breakfast.
- Aim to reach the holy cave as early as you can to avoid the long queues.
- You get to spend a few minutes inside the holy cave.
- Once you are done with the darshan inside the holy cave of Amarnath, have your lunch and start the return journey to Baltal.
- Spend the night at the Baltal campsite or take a jeep to Sonamarg/Srinagar/Pahalgam, depending on the time you have.
On a horseback
- The itinerary if you are doing the Amarnath yatra from Pahalgam
Start of the Amarnath yatra
We had been in Pahalgam for almost a week by then. But the morning we were to start our Amarnath yatra was the first time the clouds cleared. From our hotel room in Pahalgam, we got a clear view of Pissutop. This was the first mountain peak we would climb. It is a fabled “toughest stretch” of the entire Amarnath yatra route. We took this as a good omen and set out.
The water of the Lidder river was bright and clear. The sun was out. The air was crisp. Weather, perfect.
The main road of Pahalgam was choc-a-bloc with people. Excited faces. Some apprehensive. Everyone looking forward to beginning their Amarnath yatra. For many pilgrims, this journey is a dream come true -a once in a lifetime event. Some get so hooked on to it, they keep coming back every year. It was a great chaotic atmosphere.
Dramatic scenes greeted us at Chandanwari. Refreshing welcome drinks were being served to the pilgrims. Fistfuls of dry fruits and chocolates were thrust into our hands. Food-wise, this was going to be a luxury trek!
Horses horses everywhere, not an inch to spare
A sea of horses surrounded us. They were waiting patiently as their owners went fishing for passengers.
We figured we would see more people on horses than on their feet during the Amarnath yatra. (For days after the yatra, the sounds of “bolo, ghoda?” – Do you want a horse – kept ringing in our ears.)
The 4 means of transport for accomplishing the Amarnath yatra: the helicopter, horse, palanquin or your own two feet!
Sadhus on the Amarnath yatra
The Amarnath yatra was our introduction to the ways and lives of the sadhus. These days, only the sadhus walk the entire route, from Pahalgam to the Amarnath cave. Every once in a while, we would see the sadhus take a break. A break always involved a round of their favourite smoke. (No, we didn’t dare ask what exactly was in it!)
This is what a sadhu-break looked likeWhile we wore layers of woollens and trekking shoes, the sadhus were dressed in a shawl and a dhoti.
Carrying all their worldly belongings on their shoulders, they trudged on.
At campsites, we stayed in simple albeit warm tents, with mattresses and blankets. This basic accommodation was too much of a luxury for them. They slept in the open air “sadhu shelters”.
The real sadhus were an epitome of simple living. Seeing them, was a study in cutting things down to the basics.
Any form of nicotine and alcohol is banned on the Amarnath yatra. Of course, these rules do not apply to the sadhus!
Sadhus thus become the exclusive source of cigarettes on the Amarnath yatra. Every night, post-dinner, they would be mobbed. Especially by young guys.
Addiction, after all, has a place in a person’s life, it appears!
Meet Chunnilal, the barefoot braveheart of Amarnath yatra
Chunnilal was a young sadhu. We had a long interaction with him through the three days of the Amarnath yatra.
These conversations were our first real contact with a sadhu. They gave us an insight into the life the sadhus lead.
This was Chunnilal’s second Amarnath yatra. Like the last time, he was trekking it barefoot. The first time was quite tough, he said. That year, there had been more snow along the Amarnath yatra route. But this second time, he was at ease, walking comfortably.
His ultimate dream was to spend his life in Vrindavan, where, he felt God has His true presence!
Landscape along the Amarnath yatra route
To say the landscape on the Amarnath yatra is breathtaking is an understatement.
Green and fresh is how the trek begins. The initial path is through a lovely pine forest and waterfalls.
The river Lidder gave us company all through the first day. The reducing size of Lidder was an indication of how high up we were.
The interesting aspect of this Amarnath yatra route, via Pahalgam, is the variety it offers. While there are steep ascents like Pissutop (day 1) and Mahagunas Pass (day 2), there are periods of a leisurely stroll as well. Some parts we walked next to a valley, some were through flat meadows. We crossed some glaciers, played in the snow and also waded through the freezing waters of the river at one point.
The biggest challenge we faced was from the horses. They were in large numbers. At times, we had to wait for them to pass and for the trail clear out for us to walk. Savouring such magnificent landscapes with the smell of horses and horse poo was a dampener.
The first night-halt was at Sheshnag. The emerald waters of the Sheshnag lake were a welcome sight, indicating a campsite close by.
At the campsites, tents, as well as facilities like warm water and electricity, are arranged by the locals of Kashmir. Rates for the tents are pre-decided each year and increase as you proceed higher up.
Food is provided by the devotee volunteers. Such organisations come from all over India. They run food stalls (bhandaras) throughout the period of the Amarnath yatra, serving food from breakfast to dinner – for free.
The owner of our tent at Sheshnag warned us of sub-zero temperatures in the night. For sure, it snowed heavily that night. We weren’t sure the yatra would commence the next morning.
We woke up to the sight of fresh snow on the Sheshnag mountains. It was an enchanting setting for brushing our teeth!
The weather in the morning was conducive to proceed. We were to cross the peak of the Amarnath yatra, the Mahagunas Pass at 14500 feet. The greens of the previous day gradually gave way to brown and barren mountains.
The colours of our surroundings were playing with our state of mind. The lively spring in our feet had turned into an intense climb. Realising we were in a place where nature didn’t intend for life to exist was a surreal feeling.
Mahagunas Top was lifeless, except for the pilgrims and the Indian army. Here, the army served us a welcome drink – warm water. The Indian army along with the Jammu and Kashmir state police does a remarkable job of handling this mega logistical exercise. Controlling the huge untrained crowds of pilgrims in remote high mountains, especially in times of bad weather is a dangerous job.
As a reward for making it through the peak of the Amarnath yatra, a small descent later we came to a five-star bhandara.
The variety served here could have put a wedding party to shame! To be served it all at nearly 14000 feet, was kind of bizarre!
The next campsite was at Panchatarini. This is also the disembarkation point for the devotees who prefer the helicopters. The helicopters operate over both the Amarnath yatra routes – from Pahalgam as well as Baltal.
After Panchatarini a short ascent on day 3, took us to the site of the “holy cave” of Amarnath.
Scenes around the Amarnath cave
A buzzing market around the area of the Amarnath cave belies its height of almost 13800 feet.
The locals have set up shops where you can buy the prasad and deposit your luggage (bags or gadgets are not allowed inside the Amarnath cave). They also provide hot water if one wants to bathe before darshan. Or a bed for a short nap.
Or maybe buy the “purest saffron”? We also saw shilajeet for the first time – a substance loaded with medicinal values found especially in the Himalayan mountains. Needless to say, their claims of purity should be taken with generous doses of salt!
On the other side is a row of “sadhus” who have set shop. A long queue then leads to the cave. Since photography isn’t permitted inside the cave, this was the closest we could capture the holy Amarnath cave from.
It was a stampede-like situation inside the cave. We saw the legendary ice shivling for a few seconds and headed out of the cave.
We returned through the shorter Amarnath yatra route via Baltal.
This is a straight path, with a steady ascent on the way to the cave. The base camp of Baltal is 14 km from the Amarnath cave. Thankfully we only had to descend this distance.
We were constantly walking next to a deep valley. The stunning vistas on the way up had spoilt us. Though beautiful, we found this landscape while descending to Baltal, rather monotonous.
Though this journey takes just a day, the continuous climb makes it extremely strenuous. For its variety and beauty, we highly recommend the Amarnath yatra route via Pahalgam.
Still confused on choice of route? WhatsApp Us! We will guide you.
The people of Amarnath yatra
As we had hoped, the Amarnath yatra was an excellent experience to meet all kinds of people. And as always, the people we met are our lasting impression of the Amarnath yatra.
There were healthy people who chose comfort as a way to holy darshan.
And some crazy ones whose reasons we will probably never know (and maybe never understand).
This man would move ahead on his four limbs, stand, fold his hands and chant a prayer. Then get down on all four limbs ahead.
We met him on Pissutop and have no idea if and when he did finally complete his Amarnath yatra.
And then, there were some whose memories will forever inspire us. Who made it through only on the strength of their faith.
They were the heroes of the Amarnath yatra, ageless devotees on a true pilgrimage.
Indian Army is a big help at the Amarnath yatra
Map of the Amarnath yatra route via Pahalgam
- Srinagar to Pahalgam is a two hour drive. You can hire a cab from Srinagar to take you directly to Pahalgam. If you want to save money, public transport is also a good option as Srinagar to Pahalgam is a pretty popular route. Take a shared Sumo from Srinagar to Anantnag, and another shared Sumo from Anantnag to Pahalgam.
- In Pahalgam, you can stay at the base camp in Nunwan. If not, Pahalgam is flooded with hotels. Rates will be escalated during the days of the Amarnath yatra.
- On the day you start your Amarnath yatra, start as early as you can from Pahalgam, preferably around 6 AM. Hire a shared Sumo or a bus to take you to Chandanwari.
- From Chandanwari, the actual climb of the Amarnath yatra commences. Pissutop and Nagakoti are the climbs on day 1. The first night halt of this route of Amarnath yatra, via Pahalgam, if you are on foot, is Sheshnag.
- On day 2, you will cross the Mahagunas Pass and Poshpathri. The night halt for day 2 is the campsite at Panchtarini. If you hire a horse, this is where you halt on day 1.
- On the morning of day 3, you will reach the Amarnath cave. Be prepared for a long queue.
- After your darshan of the ice shivling in the Amarnath temple, you can descend via the shorter route to Baltal. Halt for the night in the basecamp at Baltal.
- Facility of Western Toilets and Indian Toilets are both available enroute Holy Cave.
Map of the Amarnath yatra route via Baltal
- The route from Srinagar to Baltal goes via Sonmarg. The cheapest way of traveling from Srinagar to Baltal is to hire a shared Sumo from Srinagar to Sonmarg (you might have to break the journey at Kangan, on the way to Sonmarg).
- Halt for the night at the basecamp in Baltal.
- Start the climb early the next day. Be prepared for a long day. It is a steady climb of 14 km. After darshan of the ice shivling in the Amarnath temple, descend via the same route. Rest for the night again at the Baltal base camp.
Top tips for doing the Amarnath yatra
- The best and the safest mode of transport to do the Amarnath yatra is on foot. The pictures above will show it is not impossible.
- Alternately, there are tours available that take care of all the arrangements for the Amarnath yatra.
- Irrespective of your travel plans, prepare adequately before the yatra. Regular exercise in the months prior tot he Amarnath yatra will help. Practice climbing by trekking up a nearby mountain. If there isn’t one nearby, climb up the steps in the house or building.
- Respect the mountain. It is our privilege to be in the heart of the Himalayas on the Amarnath yatra.
- Most importantly, do not use the excuse of faith to flout the rules. Follow the dates and the times allotted. The rules are for our own safety. Many people do a tough job of ensuring our safety in these high mountains. Let us return this favour by being responsible ourselves.
- You can do what we did, it is in fact a common Amarnath yatra itinerary among the Amarnath pilgrims. Ascend via Pahalgam, the longer Amarnath yatra route and descend via Baltal. You can leave your excess luggage in the lockers in Pahalgam. The route from Baltal to Pahalgam will be Baltal-Sonmarg-(Kangan)-Srinagar-(Anantnag)-Pahalgam. You can stay in the Pahalgam basecamp at Nunwan.
- One way helicopter fare for Yatra is ₹1600 for the Neelgrath-Panjtarni-Neelgrath and ₹2751 (inclusive of all taxes) for Pahalgam-Panchatarini-Pahalgam.
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