Stranded for the last three days at Pahalgam and Baltal after having darshan at Amarnath shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas, nearly 25,000 pilgrims returned to Jammu under tight security cover on Monday.
Similarly, almost an equal number of pilgrims who have been putting up at various places in Jammu since Saturday, are likely to leave for Baltal and Pahalgam in the Valley on Monday night. “After purchasing tickets, the yatris have started sitting in buses and they will be leaving anytime now,’’ said an official at Amarnath Yatri Niwas in Bhagwati Nagar in Jammu.
There had been no upward movement of yatra convoy from Jammu side to Valley and vice versa for the last three days in view of continued violence in Valley following killing of Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani by police and security forces.
All the Valley bound vehicles carrying Amarnath pilgrims were made to return to Jammu from Udhampur by the authorities earlier during the day as tension spread to Doda and Kishtwar districts, where people on Monday observed bandh in protest over the killing of civilians in police and security forces firing in the adjoining Valley during violence following the gunning down of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.
Senior police officers told The Indian Express that nearly 25,000 pilgrims left Baltal and Pahalgam in 375 buses and 1,300 small vehicles and they crossed Jawahar tunnel during the wee hours of Monday morning. Apart from them, another 2,000 load carriers also crossed the tunnel from Valley side amidst tight security, they pointed out.
With this, almost all the Amarnath pilgrims stranded in the Valley have been brought back to Jammu except 7000-8000 who were reportedly returning to their respective base camps after having darshan at the shrine. They too will be escorted to Jammu on Monday night, officials said, adding that there were only 300-400 pilgrims who were staying at Pahalgam of their own.
Meanwhile, following call for bandh by various organizations, including Anjuman-e-Islamia and Imams of local mosques in protest over the killing of protesters in retaliatory action by police and security forces against stone pelting violent mobs in the Valley, all the shops and other business establishments remained closed and vehicular traffic off the roads in the hilly Doda and Kishtwar districts during the day. However, no untoward incident was reported during the bandh in view of elaborate security arrangements made in both the districts.
Nearly 20 protesters have so far been killed while an over 200 policemen and security force personnel injured in clashes between the two sides during the last three days following killing of Burhan Wani resulting in suspension of mobile internet services all over the state. The facility has been suspended in Jammu to check spread of rumours by anti-social elements on WhatsApp and other social networking sites so as to disturb situation in the otherwise peaceful region.
In view of uncertainty prevailing over the resumption of Amarnath yatra convoys from Jammu to Pahalgam and Baltal in view of continue violence in the Valley, the Tourism Department has pressed into service buses for carrying stranded pilgrims to places of tourist interest in R S Pura tehsil along the international border between India and Pakistan. This is being done to keep stranded Amarnath pilgrims busy as also to promote border tourism among people living elsewhere the country, sources added.
Similarly to clear the highway of traffic jams, the authorities have also started allowing load carriers with Valley registration numbers to move towards Banihal for crossing the Jawahar tunnel during night. However, a decision about vehicles carrying Amarnath pilgrims will be taken only after review of the situation in Valley, a senior police officer said.
Meanwhile, in the absence of any yatra convoy to Valley for the last three days, the number of pilgrims stranded at Jammu reached nearly 25,000. Though there has been no official word as to when they will be allowed to proceed to Valley for their onward pilgrimage to Amarnath shrine, none of them was willing to return home without having darshan at the cave shrine.