Want to share my experience of Amarnath Yatra 2012 (24th June to 29th June 2012) with all.This is my first detailed write up for any journey.
This was my 12th Amarnath Yatra. First time I went in the year 1998 in Yatra Bus organized by some religious organization and then regularly every year since 2002.Usually I travel with a group of 7-8 friends and approximately half of them changes every year. Generally we hire the Taxi (Innova/ Tavera) from our home station (Ambala Cantt) for the whole tour. It takes us 6-7 days to complete the tour in Taxi. Hiring taxi for the whole tour is very comfortable, but more expansive.
As soon as the News of Yatra starts, I started planning for Amarnath Yatra with my friends. So, first of all we fixed the date of 24 June to start the journey as we wanted to have Darshan in the first week itself and when the registration starts in first week of May I arranged 5 registration form from J&K Bank for 26th June 2012.Two registrations were taken Online for the same date. Advantage of the registration form taken from the Bank is that you get blank form which can be filled later by the finalized members but for online; you have to fill complete details of Yatri on the time of registration itself. Now it was the time to finalize the persons for Yatra and the problem started here. Total 9-10 people became ready for this year Yatra; some were interested via Baltal route and others from Pahalgam route and it was not possible for all to travel in one Taxi (Innova/ Tavera). We were unable to reach an amicable end.So, I quit the group with one of my friend and permanent companion, Sushil Malhotra (it was his 10th Yatra and 8th with me) and decided to go via train. My friend gets ready for this new experience. So we finalized to catch the Sarvodya Express from Ambala which departs from Ambala at 8:00 AM and reaches Jammu Tawi at 2:45 PM. Time was too short to get confirm seats and we left all on Lord Shiva and decided to go in General compartment with “Jo hoga dekha jayega” attitude. So finally the date of 24th June came.
I get up early in the morning and asked my wife to prepare and pack lunch for two persons .Bag was already packed at night. I left home at 7AM. My friend had already reached Railway station before me and has bought the Train tickets. Train was running on time and we were mentally prepared for heavy rush in General compartment. The train arrived on time and we rushed to the General compartment. To our surprise there was no rush in the train and we got seats near window in just few minutes. We were relieved that now there is no tension till Jammu. The train departed on time. There are only three stoppages for this train for 400 KM journey. These are Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Chakki Bank. The train reached at JammuTawi Railway station at 3PM.After taking launch we searched for the auto/ Mini Van to reach Yatri Niwas at Bhagwati Nagar (Base camp for Amarnath Yatra). I have already searched the location of Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas on Google earth, so the location was in my mind. (In case you don’t get the direct conveyance from railway station for Yatri Niwas, there is second option; go to bus stand and from Jewel Chowk you can find multiple options for Yatri Niwas.) We found a mini bus which was going to Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas directly. I ask the fare from bus conductor and he replied that the fare is Rs. 30 per head, I offer him Rs 50 for two people and he became ready and ask us to take seats. Bus was filled with Amarnath Yatris in few minutes. In the Bus I came to know that he was charging Rs.20 per person from other people. Any way in just 15 minutes we reached at Bhagwati Nagar.
There was fool proof security at Bhagwati Nagar base camp. All bags and luggage were checked three times manually and one time by X-ray machine before entering the Yatri Niwas. Our registrations were also checked. JKSRTC has opened one counter at Yatri Niwas from where peoples were buying bus tickets for Pahalgam and Baltal route for next day morning journey. Tickets were being issued only after checking the registration cards and valid Yatra dates. We also bought two tickets for Baltal route. Person at ticket counter told us to take our seats in Bus before 3:30 AM.There was a huge rush of pilgrims in the Yatri Niwas. All basic facilities were available in the Yatri Niwas for pilgrims. Peoples were coming continuously at Yatri Niwas and rush was increasing. After buying tickets, we were roaming here and there, carrying our bags with us. Due to our bags we were not feeling comfortable. We found no locker facility at Yatri Niwas. We came out of the Yatri Niwas, to roam in the adjoining market. One person came to us and asked, if we want a room for Night. We decided to book a room so to get rid of our bags and roam freely. Another reason to book a room was to sleep peacefully at night. Actually resident of nearby colony offer their rooms to yatris at reasonable price. We checked the room. There was air cooler in the room so we booked the room for one night. We left our bags there and went to the market. After taking dinner at Bhandara (Community Kitchen) we returned to room at 9 PM. Around 11 PM we got sleep.
We wake up at 3 AM and left the room. Room was approximate 300 meters away from Yatri Niwas. After brushing teeth, we took tea and Rusk from Bhandara. Then we searched the Bus no. 3 in which we were allotted seats. We were the last persons to enter the Bus. Many buses and private vehicles were standing there and were waiting for start of convoy. After long wait, Convoy started at 5:15 PM. Convoy is headed by an army vehicle called pilot vehicle.5-6 more army vehicles were with the convoy. Around 9.30 AM convoy stopped near Kud for breakfast at one Bhandara .After taking breakfast our bus again started.
All the buses of convoy were running at slow speed. They are safest for hilly journey but take too much extra time. First 200 KM, from Jammu to Srinagar, is totally hilly area and the next 100KM (Kazikund to Srinagar) is totally plane area. Normally the taxies cover the distance of 300 KM between Jammu and Srinagar in 9-10 hrs. Our bus took complete 12hrs to reach Srinagar.
Our bus was stopped by one police party at Srinagar and asks to go back as there was some stone pelting incidence on the road. Later we came to know that some fire was broken out at some old Sufi Dargah due to which local persons were creating disturbances in the area. All buses returned 15 Km and took the Gulmarg Bypass road. All this exercise wasted one hour. I was sure that we will not reach Baltal in the evening because we were too late to cross Manigam Camp .Generally all the Yatra vehicles moving towards Baltal are stopped at Manigam Yatra camp after 5 PM. Manigam lies in Ganderbal district and 35 Km away from Srinagar. As feared our buses were stopped at Manigam camp. A lot of vehicles were already parked there. Our bus driver told us that the buses will leave for Baltal next morning at 6.30 AM. There were lots of tents available for night rest. 3-4 Bhandaras were also there for food and snacks. We took our bags and book one tent @100 per head. Then after taking dinner at Bandara we came to our tent for sleep.
We get up early at 5:30 AM and completed daily routines. Then we decided to take bath so that we may get ready for tracking after 2-3 HRS. The water was very chilled but we braved to take bath. Then we changed the clothes and wear the woolens. After taking tea and biscuits we rushed to our Bus. Announcements were already being made on PA system that convoy is ready to move, took your seats in vehicles. Convoy started at 7AM but there was heavy rush on the road and there were frequent traffic jams. It took us 4hrs to cover the next 60 Kms.
Around 1 km before Baltal, there was a security check post where every person and his belongings were checked thoroughly. Due to this check post there was a long traffic jam around 1.5 km long. We decided to walk up to check post because vehicles were not moving at all. After we came down from the bus all passengers from the bus followed us and started walking towards check post. We reached the check post and after checking we continued to walk and did not wait for the bus. After walking 1 more KM we reached at Baltal. There was one another check post at Baltal and we were again thoroughly checked. After checking we decided to start the tracking without wasting any time. It was 12.15 AM.
After half an hour we reached at Domel point. Domel is 2 Km away from Baltal bus stand where the CRPF has put a barrier. Barrier was closed and no one was allowed to proceed for Yatra. Around 100 odd peoples gathered at Domel barrier and were requesting them to let them go. After 15 minutes of persuasion CRPF personnel allowed us to proceed. We went to Barfani Sewa Mandal Bhandara, which is after barrier. We are associated with this Bhandara for last 13 years and are members of this. We took only raincoats and woolens with us in rucksack and left all other belongings in bag at the Bhandara. From this point (Domel), Holy cave is about 12 KM. the mountain track started from here. Snow and Glaciers were available besides the track. There are some steep rises & falls on the way, as compared to the Chandanwari route. Pilgrims can return back to base camp Baltal through this route only in one day if tracking can be started early in the morning.
After continued tracking we reached Barari at 4 PM and after taking rest for 15 minutes we again started tracking. There was a big Jam at one place due to a very narrow passage on one Glacier in route.
1K.M. after Barari, there are two way to reach the cave. First one is the old and is used by both pilgrims as well as by the mules. It is broad and safe but lengthy. Second one is new, shortcut, very narrow, steep ascend and descend and not used by mule but only by few pilgrims. We took the new short cut after Barari which bypass the Sangam Velly and reaches directly to Cave. Around 7 PM we reached the camps, which are situated 1 KM before the Holy cave. We were so tired that we booked one tent @ Rs200 per person for one night.
Darshan at Holy cave are stopped at 7PM due to aarti. Darshan are open again in the morning after 7 AM. SO this was rest time for Lord Shiva and for us also. Atmosphere was very cold and temperature was near freezing point. We took the quilts and laid down for sleep. It was very cold and I started shivering under single quilt so we decided to join our quilts. We were so tired that we could not go for dinner available at one Bhandara just 50 mts away. We both took Combiflame and slept.