Only one bus has left with Amarnath pilgrims from Valsad this year, whereas before the 2017 terror attack, over 17 tour operators would take the trip. The reason for the dwindling traffic is the fear factor and the rigorous procedures involved in clearing the yatra, both for the operators and the pilgrims.
On July 10, 2017, seven persons were killed and 19 injured when a Valsad luxury bus carrying 56 passengers was attacked by terrorists near Batinga village on the Anantnag-Srinagar national highway. The bus was driven by Salim Gafur Shaikh from Valsad who later won a bravery award from government for saving the life of the rest of the pilgrims during the terrorist attack.
Last year, not a single trip was made to Amarnath from Valsad, and this season only one operator has taken pilgrims. Shaikh said that he didn’t get any calls from tour operator. “There can be two reasons – the tour operators do not want to put life of pilgrims in danger and second the procedures have become a little tough. The passengers have to undergo medical tests at Civil Hospital in Valsad and they have to give names, addresses, and contact numbers of their two relatives to the tour operator who would hand these to the district collector. We also have to get our bus checked by RTO, driving licence verified, and the driver has to undergo medical examination,” said Shaikh, adding that he was ready for the trip but nobody had approached him.
Apart from the 2017 terror attack, the subsequent incidents, including the Pulwama attack, have deterred operators from venturing into Jammu and Kashmir. Before the 2017 terror attack, eight to 10 tour buses from Valsad would take pilgrims to Amarnath.
Yogesh Prajapati, partner in Om Travels of Valsad whose bus was attacked in 2017, said, “We will never forget that incident in our life. After that all the tour operators, including ours, decided not to take passengers to Amarnath. Even the rules have become stricter. This year, we got few enquiries for the Amaranth tour, but we denied. We have also found that the people are scared to go there.”
Valsad Tours and Travel Association president Atul Bulsara said, “It is quite risky to take pilgrims to Amaranth. After the 2017 incident, we all have decided not to make any more trips to Amarnath. Why put life of ourselves and the pilgrims in danger ? The decision was not mandatory but voluntary. This year only one tour operator – Raees Shaikh of Valsad – has taken passengers to Amarnath. We pray that they return home safe.”