Jammu: More than 300,000 pilgrims have come to offer prayers at the revered Amarnath cave shrine in Jammu and Kashmir so far, with a month still to go for the yatra to conclude. Shrine officials said on Sunday that the arrivals this year could surpass previous records.
"On an average, almost 10,000 pilgrims a day have visited the shrine and if this trend continues, the number would surpass all previous arrivals," an official of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board told a news agency.
The pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine, situated at a height of 13,500 feet, started July 1 and will end Aug 25. The board`s official data collection centre has recorded 305,000 pilgrim arrivals.
The figure is expected to touch 600,000 - at least 100,000 more than last year`s arrivals, which was the highest. The shrine, which houses an icy stalagmite that is a symbol of Hindu Lord Shiva, saw 500,000 pilgrims arriving last year.
This year too, devotees have come in hordes from all over the country, despite the turbulent situation in the Kashmir Valley. Most of them have preferred the traditional route of Pahalgam-Chandanwari, Sheeshnag and Panchtarni to the cave shrine, avoiding Srinagar.
"We wanted to visit Srinagar, Gulmarg and other places in the Kashmir Valley, but returned because we were told that it`s unsafe over there," said Vidya Sharma, a pilgrim from Delhi.
Added Arvind Narang from Ferozepur in Punjab: "The primary purpose was to visit the Bhole Nath (Lord Shiva) shrine... it would have been better if the rest of the Valley would have been normal, then we could have visited Srinagar and had a shikara ride."
The valley has been virtually paralysed due to violent protests against civilians being killed in firing by security forces. Fourteen people, including a 25-year old woman, have been killed in firing by security personnel across the Kashmir Valley since June 11.
The Army was called in to help maintain law and order as the violence spiralled.