Part 2: Important information for the Yatra
Things to carry for Yatra:
Your journey shall involve trekking across high mountains, facing strong cold winds. You must carry
(i) adequate woolen clothing, a pair of inner (lower and upper) is must;
(iii) raincoat or/and a small umbrella;
(iv) Good trekking shoes (preferably waterproof);
(v) Torch (electricity is available at Sheshnag, Panjtarni and Holy Cave Camps only through generators and they are switched off at around 10PM )
(vi) walking stick (can be purchased from Baltal and Chandanwari );
(vii) Woolen cap (preferably a monkey cap);
(viii) Gloves, jacket and a pair of woolen socks;
(ix) Trousers (preferably a waterproof pair).
(x) Water bottle, dry fruits, roasted grams/channa, toffees,biscuits chocolates, etc for use during the journey.
(xi) Carry some cold cream/Vaseline/sunscreen to protect your hands /face against sunburn etc.
These items are essential as the climate is highly unpredictable and changes abruptly from sunny weather to rain and snow. The temperature can sometimes abruptly fall to 5 degrees Celsius or lower.
Tip: If you forget to bring any of these items, you can purchase these all items at Baltal, Nunwan and Chandanwari camps at some premium.
Different Tracks to reach the Holy Cave
“Situated in a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder Valley, Amarnath Shrine stands at 3,888 m, 46 Km from Pahalgam and 14 Kms from Baltal. Though the original pilgrimages subscribes that the Yatra (journey) be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin journey at Chandanwari, and cover the distance to Amarnathji. Pahalgam is 96 Kms from Srinagar. Amarnathji is considered to be one of the major Hindu Dhams. The holy cave is the abode of Lord Shiva. The guardian of the absolute, Lord Shiva, the destroyer, is enshrined in the form of an ice-lingam in this cave. This lingam is formed naturally, which is believed to wax and wane with the moon.”
It is clear from the above picture that there are two tracks to reach the holy Cave. They are
JAMMU – PAHALGAM – HOLY CAVE
Jammu – Pahalgam – Chandanwari – Pissu Top – Sheshnag – Panchtarni – Holy Cave
JAMMU – BALTAL – HOLY CAVE
Jammu – Baltal – Domail – Barari – Holy Cave
Base camp for both the tracks is at Bhagwati Nagar, Jammu and the Govt. controlled Yatra starts from Jammu only. Now we will discuss the different way to reach Jammu base camp or is it really required to reach Jammu?
If you are coming by train or bus:
The First destination of the Yatra is Jammu City if you are coming by train or bus. Jammu is the nearest Railway Station. Jammu is the winter Capital of Jammu & Kashmir. Also known as “CITY OF TEMPLES”, one may visit old temples such as Raghunath Temple, Mahadev Mandir and other temples. Railway station is very well connected and there are lots of express trains from various towns in India. Jammu is also connected through road. Buses and Taxies are available for this part of the journey.
After reaching Jammu, next destination is either Pahalgam or Baltal. It depends on which route you have selected while registration and it is shown on your Yatra permit. The people coming to Jammu by Bus or Trains are advised to report at the 3-storeyed Yatri Niwas at Bhagwati Nagar base camp at Jammu. There would be plenty of buses from there for Pahalgam and Baltal. This is the best, economical and secure way to reach Pahalgam or Baltal from Jammu.
How to reach Yatri Niwas:
To reach Yatri Niwas at Bhagwati Nagar (Base camp for Amarnath Yatra) you can find many Auto/ Vans from the bus stand opp. railway station. Fare is about Rs.20-30 per person. 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 (outside of Bus stand) you can find multiple options for Yatri Niwas. Bus stand lies in between Jammu railway station and Yatri Niwas. It takes 15-20 minutes to reach Yatri Niwas from railway station.
Yatri Niwas is a 3 storey, newly constructed building at Bhagwati Nagar, Jammu. The increased capacity for accommodation at Yatri Niwas, more langar facilities and additional canteen facilities for the large number of pilgrims in the Yatri Niwas Bhagwati Nagar has refrained them from going to nearby hotels and lodges. It has many neat and clean big halls, hygienic toilets and one store of Yatra items. There is also one food-court which provides the food items to pilgrims at subsidized rates. As far as the security for the pilgrims are concerned, the pilgrims in Yatri Niwas have been provided fool proof security by the CRPF personnel. CRPF has also provided a canteen facility for the thousands of pilgrims at the Yatri Niwas at very cheap rates.
To provide the lodging facilities to the thousands of pilgrims, the residents of local and nearby colonies are also providing paying guest facilities and these are available at different ranges. The rental for single or normal room is Rs 200 to Rs 300 per night where as to get some better facilities including Cooler and Television one has to shelve out Rs 500 per night for these rooms.
After reaching at Yatri Niwas, purchase bus tickets for further journey to Pahalgam or Baltal. Booking of bus tickets is available till mid night. Tickets are issued only after checking the Yatra permit. There is no shortage of buses for Pahalgam or Baltal from here. Buses are called as per requirement/ number of seats booked. The buses left for their destination in the next early morning. The convoy is escorted by the CRPF.
Tip: Generally, on the spot registration remains available at Yatri Niwas at Bhagwati Nagar, Jammu. Medical checkup facilities also remain available here. So, if you have missed the opportunity to register yourself in time, you can get it from here. Just bring the 4 photos and ID proof. If forget to bring photos, don’t worry. You can also get clicked your photo here.
Other option for Pahalgam and Baltal:
There are no direct buses or shared taxies available for Pahalgam or Baltal from Jammu city but you can hire private Taxi for Pahalgam. No direct taxi is available for Baltal. For Pahalgam you can also get buses or shared taxies up to Anantnag. From Anantnag, you will have to go to Pahalgam by some other means. All the Srinagar bound buses and shared taxies passes through Anantnag. From Anantnag, Srinagar and Pahalgam are in opposite direction.
For Baltal, first, you will have to reach Srinagar and from Srinagar you can get buses or shared taxies from TRC (Tourist Reception Center). Buses and shared taxies for Baltal are available only in the morning hours. Contact number for TRC Srinagar is +91-194- 2452691.
Normal Route Buses for Srinagar leave from the Jammu Bus Stand and the fare is around Rs. 400/- or so per passenger. Contact number for JKSRTC, Jammu is +91-191- 2473245.
There is lot of taxis available just outside the Bus Stand and they are readily agreed to go on shared basis, but their fare is fixed. It was Rs.600/- per passenger in 2012.The last option is TRC Jammu from where Deluxe Mini Bus leaves daily at 7 AM from TRC near Raghunath Mandir, mainly for the tourists. Its fare was Rs.530/- per head in 2012 and that it takes approximate 10-12 hours to reach Srinagar. Contact number for TRC, Jammu is +91-191- 2548172 /2520432.
Tip: it is advisable for Srinagar-bound travelers to stay in some city Hotels, close to main Bus/Taxi Stand near Raghunath Mandir. That would help them to have a hassle-free communication with their desired mode of transport i.e. shared taxi, JKSRTC bus or deluxe bus from TRC.
If you are coming by Air:
If you are coming by air, no need to come Jammu, reach straight to Srinagar. Taxies are available from Srinagar for Pahalgam and Baltal.
If you are coming by own/hired Vehicle:
If you are coming by your own vehicle or have hired taxi for the whole route, then no need to come to Jammu City. Try to reach Udhampur or some other next town on the highway. You can reach direct to Udhampur leaving Jammu besides. It can save up to 2.5 hrs and 55 KM of hilly area journey. For this you will have to catch Dhar-Udhampur road. There are three different ways to reach this road which directs to Udhampur without going to Jammu.
1. If are coming on NH-1A and have reached the Madhopur. After the Madhopur city, the River Ravi comes. As soon as you cross the bridge on Ravi river (boarder line between Punjab and J&K), you will find a police party waiting for you to check the vehicle documents. Just after this check post there is slip road on north side. Turn your vehicle right to come on this road. After a few kilometers you will be rewarded to choose this road. The Thein Dam and majestic Ranjit Sagar Lake is waiting for you. After passing these beauties this road merges into Dhar- Udhampur road. We came to this road accidently (marked AG in map) in 2010.
2. If you reached Lakhanpur Toll tax barrier, it means you have missed first road. No need to worry. There is two more option left. After crossing the Lakhanpur Toll tax barrier, keep travelling for around 33 KM, then you will find a very big Bhandara (Baba Barfani Sewa Mandal- Moga) on Left side of the road. You can have a break here for tea and snacks. Just 1Km after this place there is one slip road on right side of NH-1A.This place is called Dayalachak .This slip road is called Challa-Dayalachak road and it meets the Dhar-Udhampur road near Ramkote. The road passes through forest and small hills and is a beauty in itself. We have used this road 4-5 times (marked CD in map) specially while returning.
3. The third road is Samba-Mansar-Udhampur road and it is part of National highway. Distance between Dayalachak and Samba is about 25 KM. Take right turn at Samba for this road. The famous Mansar Lake lies on this road and is just 25 KM away from Samba. From Samba, Udhampur is 60 KM away via Mansar and 110 KM away via Jammu. So, still want to go via Jammu, No way. We went by this road in 2008 (marked EF in map) and enjoyed a lot at Mansar Lake.(Pictures shown below)
Many times during Amarnath Yatra period, these roads are closed for Amarnath Yatries for onward journey. Police personnel deployed at these crossings do not allow the vehicles to ply on these roads. Interesting thing is that vehicles having JK registrations numbers are allowed on this road. We enquired about this discrimination from the Police party and they replied that people having vehicles of JK registrations numbers are local and are going to nearby villages and all vehicles of other states are Amarnath Yatries and are not allowed to go by these roads. The main reason behind this is that administration wants to control the influx of Pilgrims through Jammu only. So, whether you are a Yatri or a tourist, you are not allowed on these roads during Yatra period. Silver line is that this practice is not followed every year. These roads were open in 2008 and 2010. We went via Samba-Mansar-Udhampur road in 2008 and via Ranjit Sagar Dam Road in 2010. I have no idea on status of these roads in 2011 and 2012, as I went by train.
Note: While returning there is no restriction on any road. You can choose any one.
Communication in J&K
Those who have Prepaid Mobile connection, they may please note that as soon as the train/bus/ your own vehicle leaves Punjab and enter in J & K State and immediately thereafter the prepaid connectivity would get deactivated automatically. Prepaid connection (all operators) from rest of India does not work in J & K State and vice–versa due to security reasons. Please switch off the prepaid mobile and switch on your postpaid connection. This will be your only mode of communication till the time you leave Jammu & Kashmir State.
So, do not forget to carry at least one “Post Paid Mobile” with you. I have seen people frantically trying to get a Post Paid Connection at Srinagar, but it is almost impossible to get one. Please bear in mind that phone here is not a luxury item, it is an extreme necessity.
Tip: Have you looked your Yatra permit carefully. If not, please look. It consists of four parts and one part is for taking temporary mobile connection in Jammu & Kashmir. You can buy these mobile connection from base camps of Yatri Niwas, Bhagwati Nagar (Jammu), Nunwan (Pahalgam) and Baltal.
This facility has been started for last 2 year. These connections have validity of 10 days only and it will deactivate automatically after 10 days or on leaving J & K State, which happens earlier. These connections are not available at other than designated places. It is also advised to take BSNL connection. BSNL is the only operator which provides the services at important points on both tracks of Pahalgam and Baltal. BSNL mobile service is also available at Holy cave. No other operator has services on these tracks.