JAMMU: Amid tight security, the first batch of nearly 3000 pilgrims today left the base camp here for the annual 60-day pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas.
Advisors to the Governor K Vijay Kumar and B B Vyas flagged off a fleet of 107 vehicles and four motorcycles carrying the pilgrims from the heavily-guarded Bhagwati base camp in the City of Temples around 4.30 am.
They said all necessary arrangements are in place to ensure a peaceful and smooth yatra.
"A Total of 2,995 pilgrims of which 2,334 are men, 520 are women, 21 children and 120 'sadhus' left for the base camps of Nunwan-Pahalgam in Anantnag and Baltal in Ganderbal districts in 107 vehicles and four motorcycles," officials said.
They will reach the twin base camps later in the day and would start their onward journey to the 3,880-metre high cave shrine by foot on Thursday, marking the commencement of the pilgrimage.
While 1,904 pilgrims have opted for the traditional 36-km route from Pahalgam, 1,091 others are registered for the shortest 12-km route from Baltal.
The pilgrimage is scheduled to conclude on August 26 coinciding with the 'Raksha Bandhan' festival.
"Amarnath yatra is a very significant event and attracts the entire nation. It is a very prestigious programme for Jammu and Kashmir in particular," Kumar told reporters after flagging off the vehicles.
He said Governor N N Vohra, who is also chairman of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) which manages the yatra, has worked to further improve arrangements for the pilgrimage.
"With the cooperation of the public and good interaction with all forces and development agencies, we hope to give them (pilgrims) good security and good facilities," he said.
Vyas said all necessary arrangements including adequate security are in place for the success of the yatra.
National Conference provincial president Devender Singh Rana and BJP MLC Vikram Randhawa had also come to welcome the pilgrims in the state.
"First and foremost we welcome the yatris to the state of Jammu and Kashmir and we pray to the Almighty to ensure their safety and security. They are our guests and we are very hopeful it will be a successful yatra," Rana said.
The NC leader expressed hope that people would welcome the pilgrims with traditional hospitality.
The pilgrims were enthusiastic about undertaking the pilgrimage and expressed satisfaction over arrangements made by the government.
"We are here because of the blessings of the lord and we are satisfied with arrangements made by the state government," Maidha, a resident of Uttarakhand, said.
Accompanied by her husband Sajan Agarwal, the couple said this was their first visit to the shrine to seek blessings of Lord Shiva.
"We were called by him and he will take care. We are initially scared but on reaching here and seeing the arrangements and enthusiasm of others pilgrims, we are confident of a successful pilgrimage," she said.
According to official figures over two lakh pilgrims have so far registered for the yatra. The government is for the first time using radio frequency (RF) tags to track Amarnath-bound vehicles, while the CRPF has introduced motorcycle squads with cameras and various life-saving equipment.
Around 40,000 security personnel from Jammu and Kashmir Police, paramilitary, National Disaster Response Force and the Army, have been deployed for this year's pilgrimage.
A total of 2.60 lakh pilgrims offered prayers at the shrine last year. Considering the carrying capacity of the existing tracks and other available infrastructure in the pilgrimage area, the SASB has decided to allow 7, 500 pilgrims on each route daily. This will exclude pilgrims traveling by helicopter.