The annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave in the Kashmir Valley started on schedule Friday morning despite inclement weather along both northern and southern routes leading to the shrine.
"About 7,000 pilgrims were allowed from the Nunwan base camp (in Pahalgam) to proceed towards the holy cave while an equal number of people left the Baltal base camp (in Ganderbal) for the shrine today (Friday), marking the beginning of this year's annual yatra," official sources here said.
This year 600,000 pilgrims have registered themselves for the yatra. Authorities have made it clear that no unregistered person will be permitted to undertake the journey that passes through some of the most treacherous mountain routes in Kashmir Himalayas.
"Four thousand unregistered yatris were turned back by us from Manigam transit camp this (Friday) morning," said Shahid Mehraj, Ganderbal's superintendent of police.
A three-tier ring of security manned by the army, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the state police has been laid around the two base camps and the three transit camps. Besides, heavy deployment of security force has also been made along the highways used by the pilgrims to reach the transit and the base camps.
Some media reports quoting the army and some intelligence agencies have said that the separatist guerrillas have plans to attack the pilgrims.
Though Chief Minister Omar Abdullah dispelled these reports as "alarmist", the forces have been instructed to take no chances with the security arrangements and safety of the pilgrims.
Dedicated to the Hindu god Lord Shiva, the Amarnath cave shrine is located at 13,000 feet above the sea level. The distance from north Kashmir's Baltal base camp to the cave shrine is around 14 km and the pilgrims are able to return after 'Darshan' the same day.
However, the traditional south Kashmir route from Nunwan base camp to the cave is 45 km passing through Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarni halting stations. The one-way journey to the shrine on this route takes three days.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor N.N. Vohra, who is also the chairman of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) that manages the affairs of the nearly two-month long pilgrimage, will visit the base camps of Baltal and Nunwan to take stock of the arrangements, an SASB official said.