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Holy Amarnath Yatra

Amarnath Yatris often end up saying “We would like to dedicate our successful Darshan Yatra to the people of Pahalgham & villages in & around Baltal who had to go through all kinds of restriction in movements, who were subjected to scrutiny by the Government  & Army and also whose lives had to practically come to a halt during the auspicious months of Yatra  between July to August”. The state as well as the Armed Forces have year after year facilitated for smooth conduct of the Yatra. But surely there is much more to it.

Every year for around 40 days in month of July & August, when the Kashmir is blessed with a pleasant weather, lakhs & lakh of people travel to the holy cave of Amarnath in South Kashmir to pay their prayers to the ice stalagmite, believed to be an embodiment of the Hindu Deity “Lord Shiva”, situated almost at an elevation of 12,756ft. Now, with things normalizing in Kashmir & Pakistan loosing its ground on creating unrest & maintaining its prominence, Amarnath Yatra is believed to be a big blockbuster & would surely add up in boosting tourism in the valley, especially when things have opened up & normalized post COVID, almost after a gap of two years.

The state has gone through unprecedented  changes in the last one & half  years & with the aid from the centre, enterprising youth of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir would be witnessing investment proposal  worth Rs 52,088 crore this year with Amarnath Yatra playing a major part in securing the deal. It’s a matter of pride that, this year alone the valley has seen an influx of around 80 lakh tourists in both South & North Kashmir.  Word of mouth & revenge tourism especially post COVID have a vital role to play here. The sense of being felt secured & safety cover provided by various central agencies of Govt to including Army, JKP, SSB, CRPF, other paramilitary forces & above all the local Kashmiris has spread amidst tourists and thus the administration here has managed to uproot the very ecosystem of terrorism.

Development of Kashmir

The ‘People of Naya Kashmir’ have much more to offer for Amarnath Yatris this year. People here have always welcomed pilgrims with open arms, the generosity as well as the hospitality of people is well known. The Yatra has been a depiction of Indian culture in the world forum which extremist do not want to popularize in the media. The Yatra this year is said to be much bigger & better, also its believed to be best of all time. Lt Governor of the UT of J&K, Mr Manoj Sinha has personally monitored the administration of Yatra this year. Top notch facilities with five tier security cover, recently upgraded roads & highways, safe drinking water, upgraded & reasonable  lodging facilities, spiritual theme parks, sky-walks the administration arrangement is all decked to give a new experience to Yatris this year. Furthermore, in order to closely monitor the pilgrims, they would be provided with RFID based wrist bands with enhanced traffic control. Checkpoint functioning has also been given a special consideration. Simultaneously, the state has left no stone unturned to dispel the rumors that Yatra is harmful & unsafe. Best of medical facilities en-route along-with regularized medical coverage of upto Rs 5 lakh will surely make explores, tourists & devotees to give it a try for Yatra this year.

Indian Army, NDRF, SDRF, Mountain Rescue Teams, BSF, ITBP & CISF would be in the most challenging terrain enroute to guarantee a safe pilgrimage. The security measures have been reviewed regularly by the Police & Army authorities at apex level. In total, the Naya Kashmir has much more to offer and a positive stories from the Yatris will help spread the word to the rest of the world. Valley dwellers have converted their homes into home stays with the help of Indian Army to boost tourism & economy. In the wake of spiritual tourism in the Country, the tourism department has started organizing events during major festival with the resurrection of Pracheen Pandava Gufa, Parashuram Temple, Raghunath Temple & Sheetala Mata Temple etc. The administration is hoping to attract tourist & exponentially boost tourism. Proper consideration will also boost the prospects of Budha Amarnath Yatra in Poonch & the regular tourist inflow in the valley. A new map can be drawn for boosting tourism in the state and new venues like Bhaderwah, Bani, Narannag, Kamal, Gurez, Poonch Nubra Valley and Zanskar could be developed without damaging the environment, natural beauty and jungle.

The logistic set up for the Yatra is in itself a humongous mountainous task. The basic amenities are looked after by the Govt whereas the travel, food, tents, horse/ponies,  porters, travel agents/ tour operators, helicopter services & the langars is looked  after by various organized & unorganized service sectors. Statistics says there are roughly around 5800 tents & 450 shops enroute along both Baltal & Pahalgham axis combined. The Shrine Board, however, now is taking up the onus of providing basic accommodation facilities.

Yatris from different age groups prefer to walk whereas some prefer to hire porter/ ponies/paalkis.  There are roughly around 9600 horse owners, 7950 dandi wallas and 6000 porters who have licenses/ permits from labour departments. Though, their tariff rates are fixed but this is the season where they make a good livelihood. Organized labours that include taxi owners, phone operators, tour operators, comprising of national, regional as well as local departments & helicopter service providers mint a good earning during this holy season. Yatra has also proportionately boosted the tourism in places like Pahalgham & Sonamarg. Hotel owners & shops here make hefty amount especially with the influx of pilgrims.

Some still believe tourism being the backbone of Kashmir’s economy is a myth. However,  Agriculture, Horticulture & Handicraft have traditionally been the main pillars of the economy.  But the Yatra has a direct & indirect impact on these traditional livelihoods. Finally, as due to COVID, the Yatra had not taken place in the past two years. The Yatra not only signifies the communal harmony but it is also boosting the economy of the union territory. With around 3.5 lakhs registrations so far, there is an expected footfall of around 9 lakh Yatris.  Furthermore, the administration has looped in the locals, which has resulted in gaining significant momentum, as locals have been providing services such as phones, dandies and pithoos. This would surely ensure that locals earn their livelihood from the Yatra.  It can be rightly be said that the Union Govt has left no stone unturned so as to conduct the Holy Amarnath Yatra smoothly & with much religious & cultural flavour.

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