Protected by multiple levels of security, the 40-day Amarnath pilgrimage began from here today with the first batch of 2,280 devotees leaving for the high altitude shrine.
Minister of State for Tourism Priya Sethi and Jammu and Kashmir Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh flagged off the convoy to the cave shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva in the south Kashmir Himalayas at about 5.30 am.
As the 72-vehicle convoy left Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas here amid chants of “Jai Bholay Nath” and “Bum Bum Bholay”, officials said intelligence warning had prompted the “highest level” of security arrangements.
These included satellite tracking systems, jammers and bulletproof bunkers, dog squads, CCTV cameras and quick response teams in addition to thousands of security personnel guarding the route in view of the increased threat perception and violence in the Valley.
The convoy of the first batch of pilgrims, including 1,811 men, 422 females and 47 sadhus, was escorted by Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) vehicles, an official said.
While 698 left for the Baltal basecamp in 25 vehicles, 1,535 pilgrims and 47 sadhus left in 47 vehicles for Pahalgam base camp from the Jammu base camp.
Singh said all security arrangements had been put in place to ensure an incident free yatra.
“The highest level of the security measures have been put in place. All important aspects like security, arrangements necessary for the road journey and base camp have been well taken care of,” the deputy chief minister added.
S N Shrivastava, special director general, CRPF, had said yesterday the annual yatra was a “big challenge” and elaborate security was in place to ensure the safety of the pilgrims.
The government has mobilised a heavy security blanket of over 35,000 to 40,000 troops, including the police, the Army, the BSF and the CRPF.
In addition to the existing strength of the CRPF in the state, the Centre has provided over 250 companies (25,000 personnel) of paramilitary forces to the state government.
The BSF has deployed over 2,000 troops for the yatra while the Army has provided five battalions (about 5,000 personnel). An additional 54 companies (5,400 personnel) of the police have also been mobilised.
“This Amarnath yatra will have the highest-ever security setup to ensure an incident-free yatra,” said Shrivastava.
A letter sent by Inspector General of Police (Kashmir Zone) Muneer Khan to the Army, the CRPF, and range DIGs in the state spoke of intelligence inputs received from SSP Anantnag that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials.
“The input is assessed to be a HUMINT (human intelligence) and it needs further corroboration,” the IGP had said in the letter that went viral on social media after it was leaked.
This year, the yatra will be eight days shorter than last year’s 48 days and will conclude on Shravan Purnima (Raksha Bandhan) on August 7.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder Valley, Amarnath shrine stands at 3,888 metres, 46 km from Pahalgam and 14 km from Baltal.
Mountain Rescue Teams (MRTs) of the state police along with rescue teams of various security forces have been pressed into service along with fire fighting teams at pre-determined points.