How To Reach The Amarnath Cave

How To Reach The Amarnath Cave

Ways and means for the Amarnath Yatra

It is a journey steeped in fascinating mythology and cultural tradition imbued with religiosity and involves an arduous trek that both tests and reveals human spirit and faith as one undertakes this pilgrimage to Lord Shiva’s shrine in Amarnath Cave. 

Faith can move mountains. That clichéd adage becomes realty in Amarnath Yatra. People of all ages – within the restricted age group of 13 to 75 years – brave the arduous trek across Himalayan ranges to the Holy Amarnath Cave situated at an altitude of 12,756 feet, surrounded by glaciers and snow-covered mountains, to pray and seek blessings of Shiva.

How to reach the Holy Cave

There are two routes to the holy cave. The traditional one is through Pahalgam, which falls in Anantnag district, and the other is through Baltal, located in Ganderbal district.

There are several ways to make the trip. The traditional way, and the one favoured by most, is trekking: just walk the whole way. But if you are not up to it, there are other ways to enjoy the winding mountainous path, full of scenic beauty, right up to the holy shrine: you can hire a palki (palanquin), or ride a pony. 

You can also hire a porter or a pony to carry your luggage while you walk along – but be careful if you hire a pony. They move fast. The one advantage is this time is that there is no fear of losing them and your luggage with them because of RFID cards that are compulsory for everyone. Earlier, if you lost them, your luggage might also have been gone.

The elderly and infirm can hire a palki or hire “pitthus” who can carry them on their backs. 

Devotees in a rush, or those who find the trip over land arduous or boring, can also opt to fly there on helicopters. 

Earlier, one could hire a helicopter ride from Pahalgam or from Neelgrath near Baltal. The helicopter will drop you at Panjtarni helipad, which is around 6 km – a two-hour walk – from the Amarnath Holy Cave.

This year, for the first time, the Jammu and Kashmir administration added the new route– from Humhama in Srinagar to Neelgrath (Baltal) or Pahalgam and pilgrims can visit the shrine and fly back the same day.

This facility is also available for the devotees who want to travel only one way.

The one-way tariff is as follows:

    Srinagar to Neelgrath – Rs. 11,700/-

    Srinagar to Pahalgam – Rs.10,800/-

    Neelgrath to Panchtarni  – Rs.2,800/-

    Pahalgam to Panchtarni  – Rs.4,200/-

Helicopter rides are thus not very expensive, and you are likely to end up spending about the same amount during the three to five days you would need to spend in stay, food, porters, pony, or palki if you choose the land route. 

However, if you aren’t rushed for time and are fit enough to undertake a trek, do take the land route: it will give you an experience and stories to remember all your life – and life is as good as the stories it is made up of. This is called a “heaven on Earth”, so why fly over it instead of enjoying it? 

People from all parts of the country and various walks of life are coming for the yatra. The Ambani-Adani types have already been bestowed with the Almighty’s blessings to last several generations, but many of those who do come are not “ordinary people” at all, and there are some very interesting stories they have to tell, as we shall see as the story progresses. 

Pahalgam is the bigger base camp for the yatris. Despite a longer, over 45km route that takes three to four days of trekking, most devotees prefer to take this route. It is also the older, traditional route. Amarnath Yatra from Pahalgam starts from the base camp at Pahalgam to Chandanwari. This distance between them is approx. 16 km. Then from Chandanwari, a 13 km trek takes you to Sheshnag and a further 4.6 km trek to Panchtarni. From here, a 6 km walk will take you to Lord Shiva’s abode, Amarnath Cave.

The route from Baltal was opened later. It is much shorter – only about 14 km and can be completed in one or two days. It is also a harder climb, though. One may like to trek from Pahalgam to the Holy Cave and then trek down to Baltal – or book a helicopter ride back.

Quite a number of devotees, however, prefer to avail the helicopter service both ways. The chopper takes them to the holy cave within 15 minutes, and the pilgrimage is completed the same day. This does not include the time you spend waiting for the helicopter ride, which can be a few hours. Starting from a little after 6 am, the roar of helicopters continues till about sundown as a stream of them ferry passengers to and fro.

These quiet little places with relaxed life are buzzing with activity at this time. Apart from the shrine board and the tourism department, for everyone, the pony walas, palki walas, pithus, langars on the way, the yatra season brings a time to participate, and do business. Religious differences are nowhere to be seen. It is a time to celebrate. For everyone.

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