Yatris Flock To A Much Calmer Kashmir30 June 2011
The Indian Express
Srinagar: After three summers of tension, a calm Kashmir has greeted Amarnath Yatra pilgrims this year. For once, what was worrying the thousands of pilgrims on the Pahalgam-Chandanwari stretch was “inadequate facilities” rather than the situation in the Valley. Groups of men and women, young and elderly, and children with their backpacks walked up the winding steep gradient of the road to the cave shrine. A large number had to trek the road as vehicles from Pahalgam fell short. Halfway up to the base camp in Chandanwari, angry pilgrims staged a sit-in and closed the road for vehicular movement. “There are no vehicles,” said B J Aggarwal from Orissa, with whom are six members of his family including two women and two children. “How can the women and children walk up to Chandanwari?” At the other base camp, in Baltal, separatist leader Yasin Malik welcomed pilgrims and delivered a political message. Visiting the base camp for the first time, Malik assured pilgrims they were safe. At the same time, he said, “We are fighting for our political rights. This fight is not against the people of India but against the Indian rulers. We consider Indian citizens our brothers...” Though militancy is at its lowest in a long time, the government has made security arrangements. Police and paramilitary forces have been posted all along the 46-km stretch from Pahalgam to the cave shrine. On the first day of the one-and-a-half-month yatra, 22,000 pilgrims left for the cave shrine from the two base camps. These comprised 13,000 from the Baltal route, the shorter one, and 9,000 from Chandanwari. The first person to pay obeisance at the shrine was state Governor N N Vohra, also chairman, Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.