Only 724 pilgrims left Jammu for the Amarnath cave shrine Monday, a month before the yatra officially concludes. With the Shivling melting earlier this year, the number of pilgrims has seen a decline, triggering apprehensions of an early end to the yatra.
Most of the non-governmental support staff has already left the twin base camps of Baltal and Nunwan. “We are seeing a drastic decline in the number of pilgrims every day,” said an official at Nuwan base camp in Pahalgam in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. “While most of the labourers helping pilgrims have already left, we are looking at ways to reduce the government staff at base camps and along the route.”
On Sunday, Governor N N Vohra, who is also chairman of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), visited the base camp in Pahalgam for a review after the “progressive decline” in number of pilgrims. “Issues arising from the steady decrease in daily number of pilgrims were discussed,” a spokesman said. “The Governor was informed that a good number of pony-wallahs and Palki-wallahas had withdrawn and 7 out of 10 Langar organisations in the base camp would also be leaving in a phased manner.”
Official figures reveal that till July 29, 2,58,487 pilgrims visited Amarnath this year. This is close to last year’s number of 2.6 lakh. However, last year, the yatra was only for 40 days. This year it started on June 28 and is scheduled to end on August 26, the day of Raksha Bandhan.
Officials said that one of the main reasons for the decline of pilgrims has been the melting of the Shivling. Bad weather in the initial days of the yatra also played spoilsport. The government now plans to rationalise the staff and support structure for the yatra. “The governor observed that the arrangements would be suitably rationalised after July 31 in consultation with all the authorities involved in organising daily convoys of yatris from Jammu,” said the spokesman. “He noted that this matter had already been discussed with security forces.”
The decline in pilgrims has triggered calls for cutting short the duration of the yatra to one month. Last week, a body of 125 langar groups, which provide free food to pilgrims, called for curtailing the annual yatra to one month. Shri Amarnath Barfani Langar Organisation (SABLO) argued that 90-95 per cent of pilgrims visit the cave shrine in the first 25 days of the yatra.