Chamba (Himachal Pradesh): The 16-day annual arduous pilgrimage to the glacial-fed Manimahesh lake in Himachal Pradesh began on Saturday.
The authorities are expecting over 500,000 devotees to take part in the pilgrimage, an official said.
The pilgrimage dedicated to Lord Shiva is considered as arduous a trek as the one to the Amarnath cave shrine in Jammu and Kashmir.
"The first official batch of the devotees left for the lake this morning (Saturday). We are expecting over 500,000 devotees to perform the pilgrimage this time," a government official associated with the pilgrimage told IANS.
Every year, the pilgrimage begins on Janmashtami, the festival celebrating Lord Krishna`s birth and concludes on Radhashtami (the birth of Lord Krishna`s companion Radha).
This year, it will conclude on September 21.
The devotees trek to the oval-shaped lake located in Bharmour Valley to take a dip in it and catch a glimpse of Mount Kailash, believed to be the abode of Lord Shiva, from there.
The traditional `Chhari Yatra` or the procession with the mace of Lord Shiva, will start from the over 1,000-year-old Lakshmi Narayan temple of Chamba, 120 km from Punjab`s Pathankot town, on September 15 on its onward journey to the lake.
The journey on foot starts from Hadsar at a height of 6,000 feet and concludes at 13,500 feet at the lake, a distance of 14 km.
The state government has allowed two private heli-taxi operators to ferry people during the pilgrimage.
The choppers ferry devotees between Bharmour town, the base camp of the pilgrimage known for the stone craft Chaurasi Temple of 84 `yogis` or sages, and Gauri Kund, just one km short of the lake.
The Mount Kailash is believed to be the unconquered peak. Some of them dared to climb it is said to have never returned.