Srinagar: With only five days left for the annual Amarnath Yatra to begin, the authorities were today apprehensive about timely opening of the traditional Pahalgam route owing to heavy snow accumulation but expressed confidence that the pilgrimage through the shorter Baltal route will start as per schedule.
"The Baltal-Holy Cave (16-km) track is largely clear. The final stretch of about a kilometre up to the shrine is still fully covered with snow, and, as in the past years, on this stretch the pilgrims would have to walk on the frozen path," Chief Executive Officer of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) R K Gupta said.
Gupta, who returned here late last night after an on-the- ground assessment tour of the two yatra routes -- Baltal-Holy Cave and Panjtarni-Sheshnag-Chandanwari-Pahalgam -- on June 21 and 22, was briefing a review meeting chaired by Jammu and Kashmir Governor N N Vohra here, an official spokesman said.
The CEO said though it would be possible to commence the yatra along the Baltal route in Ganderbal district of central Kashmir from the scheduled date on June 28, the traditional 45-km Chandanwari route to the 3,880-metre holy cave from Pahalgam in Anantnag district of south Kashmir still poses a challenge as a large stretch is still covered under snow.
"As regards to the Chandanwari route, the track between Sheshnag-Wavbal-Mahagunus Top Poshpatri-Panjtarni is still heavily covered with snow. The snow level, particularly at Poshpatri-Mahagunus Top and Wavbal, is between six and eight feet," Gupta said.
He said the Pahalgam Development Authority staffers were working on this stretch on double shift basis to clear the snow. "In this stretch the yatris would have to walk on a snow track. It is not expected that the track would be free of snow before June 28," he said.
Governor Vohra, who is also the SASB chairman, would visit the holy cave, Panjtarni and Sheshnag camps on June 25 to take a call whether the yatra could, without any risk, commence on June 28 through the traditional route.
Vohra will also visit the base camps at Baltal and Nunwan to review all arrangements, the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, Jammu and Kashmir Director General of Police K Rajendra Kumar said the safety of the pilgrims was a major concern and it would be ensured at all costs.
"Security has been strengthened at all sensitive places including railway stations, bus stands and yatri bhawans as safety of pilgrims is a major concern which would be ensured at all costs," he said, chairing a high-level meeting of senior officers from police, paramilitary forces, intelligence agencies and civil administration here.
The meeting was convened to take stock of security and other arrangements for the yatra, the spokesman said, adding that during the meeting senior officers representing different agencies gave detailed briefing about deployment of manpower along the routes and the places for stay.
Highlighting the need for joint efforts of all concerned agencies for smooth conduct of the yatra, Kumar said the security agencies and civil administration need to maintain a close coordination.
Having briefed about the arrangements, the DGP asked for sharing of the inputs and adopting a common strategy to avert any "subversive attempt".
"Any eventuality caused by natural disaster needs to be kept in mind while finalising the arrangements," he said, adding that disaster management force and volunteers of different organisations could be kept in readiness to meet any emerging situation.
The DGP laid stress on seeking people`s cooperation at all levels and ensuring that the common masses do not face any inconvenience or disruption in their daily activities while arrangements are being made.
He asked the officers to ensure that only the registered pilgrims go ahead towards the cave shrine and all unregistered persons are stopped at the checking points established on both the routes.