Jammu: The annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Amarnath in Jammu and Kashmir is set to take place from June 25 to Aug 2, but some Hindu groups and businessmen have again said its duration should be not less than two months.
The Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) announced the schedule Feb 25. But groups like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and the Hoteliers Association say the duration is too short and cannot accommodate an ever-rising number of pilgrims.
VHP state chief Rama Kant Dubey has described what he calls "curtailment of the yatra to little over five weeks" as a conspiracy to reduce the number of days and pilgrims for the pilgrimage.
Around 632,000 visited the shrine, located at a height of 3,888 meters, in 2011 when the yatra went on for more than one-and-a-half months. Most pilgrims travel by road and stop over in Jammu before proceeding to the Valley.
Inderjeet Khajuria, a leader of Jammu hoteliers, told a press conference Tuesday that the shortened duration would mean less business for the hotels in Jammu.
But given the scale of snow that has covered the Kashmir Valley this year and the experience of the past years when the snow could not be cleared from the mountainous tracks leading to the cave shrine, and hostile weather conditions, the SASB decided the pilgrimage would start June 25 and conclude Aug 2.
From two base camps at Baltal and Pahalgam, the pilgrimage involves a treacherous trek to the shrine. According to SASB, 107 pilgrims had died last year.
SASB has to seek the help of the state government, army and paramilitary forces to facilitate the pilgrimage, for clearing the mountainous tracks and for security reasons as well.
"It is not just a 39-day-affair. It is a much longer affair, putting up of facilities takes time and that is a huge task," an SASB official told IANS.
Tarsem Sharma, a regular visitor to the shrine, said: "It would be better if matters were left to the organisation that manages the affairs of the shrine (SASB), rather than to those whose interests are well known."
Another pilgrim, who identified herself as Sheila Devi, a retired teacher, asked: "What`s wrong with the schedule? SASB has no role in the amount of snow that has fallen this year."