Shri Amarnath Yatra – travel to the holy cave

28th July 2014 :
This day has been a very special day in my life. We undertook the holy yatra with much excitement and eagerness, which can be compared with nothing. We woke up early in the morning and got ready. Most of the luggages were kept in the cloak room of the hotel, since we had continuous booking there. I took my rucksack and my mother had a handy pack filled with independent items essentially required for the journey. I prefer to do complete home work by going through as many websites as possible for getting maximum information. You don’t know, what information is going to help you in the hour of crisis. So, based on informations collected, we carried woollen garments, gloves, umbrella, complete rain suit, first aid items, important medicines, dry fruits, ORS, fruit juice, LED torch, some amount of cash, additional pairs of garments & socks etc. in separate packs, apart from original yatra pass and voter ID.

From Sonmarg to Domel on 28th July 2014
As soon as we completed light breakfast, Izaj bhai reported with Xylo with his smiling face. We followed the same route, through which we went yesterday. Just before Baltal we left Zoji La and took the right diversion. We crossed the helipad. The road to Baltal yatri camp area was lonely. Only some army men seen to be patrolling here and there. I saw an off duty sardar armay jawan doing pranayama, sitting on the top of a rock, keeping his eyes closed. After a few kilometre, we were stopped by security personnel. We reached Baltal. Security men checked our yatra pass and bags. We departed the car and started walking. I negotiated with a group of doli-bearers for carrying my mother from Baltal to Amarnath cave and back. It was a four bearer doli. Two of the bearers were Hindu and other two were Muslim. They agreed for Rs.9,000/- for the to & fro journey. I started walking and my mother started the journey sitting on doli right at 8.30 am. As it was a bright sunny day, I was in an ordinary full sleeve cotton shirt and jeans. Mother was in normal churidar suit. As the road was dusty, I purchased dust proof musk (lookalike of the ones used by doctors in OT) and a walking stick for the forthcoming journey.

As I started the Yatra

As I started the Yatra


Mother on doli

Mother on doli

From Domel to Barari on 28th July 2014
At Domel, my luggage was X-Ray checked and full body checking was done. I passed through the check post and got into the mountainous road. After some distance, I crossed a BSNL tower.

BSNL tower on the way

BSNL tower on the way

Then the way got narrow. There was a frozen river on the right side. Melted water was flowing slowly under the stock of ice.

The partly frozen river

The partly frozen river

The road was going upward consistently. I made a small stopover and took hot kheer and gazar ka halwa from a young sardarji serving from a wayside bhandara.

Sardarji providing snacks to yatris

Sardarji providing snacks to yatris

After some distance, my rucksack appeared to be heavy. I thought that I had over-estimated the list of essentials. So, I took a little bit of rest, then again started walking. But the Domel route is famous for being strenuous. The portion between Domel and Barari, measuring apprx 5km, is very steep. Soon I met my mother and the doli bearers, who were waiting for not having seen me since we departed at Domel. They suggested to get a pitto (local coolie) to carry my heavy rucksack. I got a boy named Arfiq and started walking together. My mother also started simultaneously, but went too fast than me.

Arfiq, the pitthoo boy

Arfiq, the pitthoo boy

I started gossiping with Arfiq. He was a teenager boy, who lost his father recently. He with his elder brother helped their mother to run the family consisting of other brothers and sisters. In the absence of industrial activity or any regular job, people like them depend heavily on tourism, particularly Amarnath yatra. Starting from Sonmarg, the entire area used to go under heavy snowfall from November upto end of March. So they are left with no option but to make their livelihood during balance months of the year. Arfiq told that he came from home without having any food. I gave him some of the apples I bought from Sonmarg yesterday. He ate up immediately and we moved on again. After giving me company for apprx. 2 km, he departed at around 10.15 am. I gave him Rs.250/-. He became so happy, that he almost flew down the road. That part of the journey finished too fast.

I became alone again and started walking. Soon I met with my mother, sitting on a roadside stone alongwith doli bearers, waiting for me with tension. We had some dry food and fruit juice. From here, I took a ponny upto Barari. Road upto Barari from here was extremely steep and challenging. This is the first time I sat on a ponny, as I always prefer walking. I read earlier in so many articles, that Shankaracharya and Swami Vivekananda travelled entire India mostly on foot. But I decided not to allow my energy level to fall quickly, as a long way was waiting ahead, which was full of uncertainty.

Ponny riding appeared to me to be risky. In spite of having so much room in the road, they take unnecessary risk by walking just along the outside boundary. Any slippage would have resulted into catastrophe. Initially I kept my eyes closed and just sat on it quietly. Gradually I adjusted myself with the ponny and took out my camera and started taking photo. Soon we reached Barari at 11.50 am. I was happy that steepest part of the journey was complete.

From Barari to Sangam on 28th July 2014 :
There were some langars (bhandara) at Barari. I took some snacks and ORS which I was carrying and started walking. In this part of journey, I met an army jawan, who was on pilgrimage tour just like me. We started walking together. On way, at around 12.15 noon, there was a small glacier, maintaining a link between two hills. It was melting and a rivulet was created out of it. We crossed it carefully.

Standing in front of a glacier

Standing in front of a glacier

On the glacier, with stock of ice

On the glacier, with stock of ice

The road was downward at this point. Then around 12.30 pm, we found at a waterfall. It was coming down from the left hill.

With the jawan in front of a spring

With the jawan in front of a spring

We paused to have some snap. I took rest this place, as I was feeling tired. The jawan preferred to continue walking and departed. I checked that my stock of ORS and dry fruits emptied out.

At around 1.05 pm, the Sangam top was seen for the first time. The green top of the hill was facing me.

Long view of the Sangam top

Long view of the Sangam top

Sangam top, a close view

Sangam top, a close view

Yatris coming from Chandanwari were seen on that hill. River Amaravati was coming from my left. Down below, there was sangam of three rivers, who joined together to form a single river flowing towards the right.

Sangam of the rivers

Sangam of the rivers

At apprx. 14000 feet, I stood there to have full view of the scenery. It was simply magnificent. Behind the sangam hill, there was a very high mountain far away, which was fully covered by snow.

Background view of Sangam top

Background view of Sangam top

It was a bright sunny day. Entire surrounding was glowing with bright sun shine. I carried almost all essential items with me, but I forgot sunglasses and sun screen lotion. Now, I felt absence of these items. I took many photographs of the area. And suddenly, a big surprise !!! On the left hill, there was a natural sculpture of Ma Kali.

Natural Ma Kali idol

Natural Ma Kali idol

God created the surface of the hill in such a way that a full body idol of Ma Kali was clearly evident. The head, chest, two hands kept with the body, two long legs and feet – every body part was distinctly visible in dark shade, whereas rest portion of the hill was in yellowish grade. It was simply astonishing and inexplicable creation of the God. That was around 1.15 pm.

From Sangam to Holy Amarnath Cave on 28th July 2014
This part of the journey was apprx. 5 km. From here, the way took left turn towards Amarnath cave. And from this point, downward journey started. Upper surface of River Amaravati was in frozen state. Water was flowing from down under.

As I went on further, the Chandanwari route, which was on the hill placed on the right side, got closer to us, keeping Amaravati river in between.

Amaravati river

Amaravati river

Soon I found a wider glacier, which was to be crossed. I wore a trekking shoe and all along I depended on the walking stick. These two items helped me a lot, especially in this area. The upper surface of the glacier was slippery. I was walking very carefully. I saw some of the yatris, who wore sports shoes, fell on the icy surface. So I became more careful.

A selfie, while crossing the glacier

A selfie, while crossing the glacier

Gradually I was getting more and more tired. My energy level was dropping. There was no place to sit. Entire area was under ice. After the glacier, the way got more downward. So I became more cautious to check any possible fall. From this place, I had the first view of the holy Amarnath cave.

First view of holy Amarnath cave

First view of holy Amarnath cave

Broader view of holy Amarnath cave

Broader view of holy Amarnath cave

Another view of holy Amarnath cave

Another view of holy Amarnath cave

It was still far away, but the first glimpse pushed new boost of energy into me. However, without any food or liquid intake, how could I pull myself further on. I was desperately trying to sit on somewhere.

While crossing a glacier

While crossing a glacier

The routed from Chandanwari getting closer

The routed from Chandanwari getting closer

Snow covered surface of the hill

Snow covered surface of the hill

On my left and right there was ice. Some small hut type shops started to appear. They sell souvenir and dry prasadas and keep belongings of the yatri for free. At this point, doli bearers of my mother came to me. They were searching for me, as I could not find them. I told them that carrying my rucksack any longer was impossible. No energy was left in me to drag on further. I felt helpless and was seriously thinking to quit the journey, as I was not feeling to continue walking. But the doli bearers encouraged and motivated me. They virtually started to push me from behind to get me upto the starting point of starcase which went upto the cave. We deposited all our belongings at a nearby shop and proceeded ahead.

Just before ascending the staircase, there was a medical unit and a metal detection gate. Me and my mother got security checked ourselves and started to move up. That was the first instance, when I took off my trekking shoes. On placing my bare foot on the first step of the stone covered surface, my whole body got trembled. The flight of stairs was ice cold. After crossing a few steps, I could not drag my body any further and just sat upon the landing. Then I simply laid on the surface. Immediately a lady medical attendant (may be a doctor) rushed to me from the medical unit and enquired my well being. The doli bearers came close and advised me to stand up and declare me as healthy, otherwise she would take me with her and might not allow to reach the cave. I assured the medical staff accordingly.

But how could we proceed further to cross some 300+ stairs with the level of energy we had. God came out of nowhere to help us. Two Hindu doli bearers of my mother approcahed us, one took my mother on his back and another started pushing me from behind. Mother tried to refuse to embark upon, being a lady. But they did not listen to anything and helped us to reach upto the cave.

Some of our doli bearers

Some of our doli bearers

So, finally we were there, inside the famous Amarnath cave. This is stated to be 40 mtr (130 feet) high. Our dream came true. The opening of the cave was huge. Since it was towards the closing stage of the yatra, there was no rush. We stayed there for about 10 speechless minutes. The securitymen were in no hurry to evacuate us. We saw three lingas over there. We were told that the biggest linga represented lord Shiva, other two for goddess Parvati and Shri Ganeshji. While the lingas were formed of opaque ice, the base of the cave was totally tranaparent. The linga area was completely encaged. One had to peep through the metal grid to have a closer look of the lingas. My mother brought some leaves of bael tree (scientific name : aegle marmelos), which she submitted on the floor. We saw some pigeons, both white and grey, flying fearlessy here and there. As per Hindu mythology, the pigeons living in the cave are immortal. We embarked from the right side of the cave and got down through the left side stairs. At this side, we found a pujari doing yajna (a Hindu ritual of fire, with which we are all accustomed). While getting down, an unknown sadhu sitting near the railing of the stairs, gave us rudraksha. Two pieces each to me and my mother. He did not ask for a single paisa. Still we are in possession of the rudrakshas.

After getting down, we entered into a hutment placed near the exit stairs. It was actually a prasad distribution centre. Hot roti and sabji in small quantity were being prepared as prasad and distributed to the yatris coming down from above with a glass of warm water. We took the prasad with full respect. Since morning, we did not eat sufficient food. Fluide intake was also minimum. But energy went out like anything. Me and my 68 years old mother were extremely tired. We took back our belongings fom the shop where they were kept. I decided to do the return journey by doli, as I felt incapable to go any further by walk. A new doli was fixed for Rs.5,000/- upto Domel.

Return journey : From Amarnath cave to Domel on 28th July 2014
During return journey we had a sudden rain at halfway. It started with drizzling, but gradually intensity of the rain increased. The rain suit, umbrella etc. so far carried by us, saved us. We stopped at a roadside bhandara for an hour. There was no illumination in the mountainous road. When we started after the rain stopped, the dark and lonely road became slippery. Temparature dropped down substantially. We wore woolen garments. Just 2 km before reaching Domel, my doli bearers over turned my doli. Infact, all of us dropped upon ground. Luckily, it happened in the middle of the road. Had it happened at the outer edge of the road, the incident could have been catastrophic. After reaching Domel at 9 pm, we thanked the doli bearers for the invaluable support and co-operation provided by them. Without their motivation and continuous thrust, it would have been very difficult for us to reach the holy Amarnath cave. No monetary compensation can be equivalent to the contribution they made. I gave Rs.9500/- and Rs.5500/- to the bearers carrying doli of my mother and mine respectively. They were happy, as they got in excess of what was promised earlier.

We stayed the night at a bhandara at Domel. We took food there. Had nice sleep with the help of blankets provided by bhandara management. Many new yatris also slept with us, who continued to talk aloud throughout the night about their planning for the next day to go to the holy cave.

From Domel to Sonmarg on 29th July 2014
In the morning, we had breakfast at the bhandara. Then we hired a Sumo upto Hotel Snowland at Sonmarg for Rs.1300/-. As Id festival was going on, very few cars were plying on the road. So we had to pay higher rate. After checking into the hotel we were just remembering what a marvellous journey we had made. It was a lifetime experience, which we will recollect all through our life.

23 Comments

  • Uday Baxi says:

    Dear Santanu

    The travelogue with its meticulous details was good to read.

    The pictures were good. The journey itself is quite picturesque and many a times the awe finally strikes when one reaches in front of the cave. Some people also tell about the peak in front of the Amarnath cave, which looks like an “Om”.

    Strenuous trekking sometimes saps the energy because of our sedentary jobs. Hope there was nothing to worry on this account.

    Regards

  • Dear Santanu,

    I know very well the beauties, the pain and the aura of accomplishing the Amarnath Yatra. Its great! a great feeling that Amarnath Yatri remembers and cherishes for rest of the life. You have nicely described your yatra. Hats off to your mother for undertaking the yatra with you. Stay blessed always!

    Thanks & regards

  • Naresh Sehgal says:

    Santanu Ji,
    I never miss anything written on Amarnath Yatra. You have describe the journey in detail. Salutes to your mother for undertaking the yatra at the age of 68. It was a wise decision to hire a Doli for your mother from Baltal itself.
    One correction. Luggage and belonging are X-ray checked at Baltal entry point. Not at Domel.

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Uday,
    Thanks for your comments. It was a memorable journey. My mother conveyed sincere thanks to you.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Anupam,
    Thanks for your nice support :). Bhole baba has blessed us all.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Naresh ji,
    Thanks for comments and correction. Now I can not exactly remember the location of installation site of X-Ray machine. I might have written the travelogue in August 2014 itself with fresh memory. Thanks for your guidance on my proposed yatra of 2015, which I am going to undertake through Chandanwari route. And I want to mention that my mother conveyed her thanks to all of you.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Beautiful photographs, lovely travelogue to make me motivated to plan a trip soon

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Abhijit,
    Come with me next year for the holy Yatra :)
    Regards
    Santanu

  • shovan saha says:

    Dear Santanu,

    After reading the details of your Amarnath yatra with photographs, I am feeling that as if I have also visited the place. The description are so vivid and lucid. Photographs are very beautiful.

    Thanks.
    – shovan

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Shovan da,
    Many thanks for your heartfelt compliments. As you are a superb photographer, your appreciation means a lot to me.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • BHASKAR SENGUPTA says:

    Dear Santanu,
    Great narration of the holy yatra.
    And hats off to Mashima.
    Sincere thanks to the doli bearers also.It proves that religion & caste is no bar,it’s the humanity that keeps us motivating to complete the journey.

    Regards,

    Bhaskar

  • Santanu says:

    Dear bhaskar,
    Many thanks for your patient reading and compliments. Should you make a plan to undertake Amarnath Yatra next year, I offer to be your partner.
    Regards
    S.Pathak

  • Ritwika Dey says:

    Sir please tidy up one thing, I got my yatra permission on 26th July 2015. Can I able to start my yatra after 2-3 daysfrom 26th? Actually T have got some sudden work so T have to postpond my yatra for 2-3 days. Is it possible or I have to do all the procedure of getting yatra permission once again? Please help me with your valuable reply …

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Ritwika,

    I recommend you to contact pass issuing authority or the Board having control over the yatra, as I am not authorised to give any comment. Any misinformation may land you in trouble, which I dont want to do.

    One information I can share with you, last year while undertaking the yatra, security personnel checked my pass, but they did not even bother to see pass of my mother. Possibly because she was senior citizen or may be they were not so stringent for lady yatris.

    However, this year I am going alone through Pahalgam route. My pass date is 13-7-2015 (Monday).

    Regards
    Santanu

  • Nandan Jha says:

    What a ride. First of all, salute to your Mom for completing this. I think the log would be a matter of great inspiration for anyone, especially senior folks, who read this and is contemplating a yatra. I second Naresh that you did a wise thing of taking the Doli for your Mom and then donned one on the way back. Safety first.

    Your detailed log makes me think that probably Chandwari is a more frequented route. One other thing which struck me was only in a country like India, one meets total strangers and still share food, get photographed together and help each other.

    Doli incident on the way back sound scary. It is an old debate but the new govt in J & K should push the agenda of creating a safe-way again. In the past, every attempt to make the journey less dangerous has been fought by locals on fear of losing their earning opportunities.

    God Bless and wishes for this year’s Yatra. Naresh goes there all the time so look out for him. :)

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Nandan,
    My mother conveyed thanks to all of you for your complements. She is encouraged for taking further journeys with your moral support. I also do convey my thanks for wishing me for this years proposed journey.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Shriram says:

    Dear Shantanu,
    Your experience and sharing is very interesting and motivating. I am coming for yatra at pahelgum on 13 Jul 2015 and actual yatra would start on 14th Jul from chandanbadi. I am with my wife. Ccan we meet there. My cell no is 9922437488. Please call
    Thnx

  • Santanu says:

    Dear Shriram ji,
    I have sent mail to your personal email id giving details of my planned tour. Please go thru and get in touch with me. Best wishes to you and madam ji.
    Regards
    Santanu

  • Akshay says:

    Thank you for sharing this post with us. Amarnath is truly a holy tourist destination and a visit there is must for every traveler. However, scamsters and fake travels agents can make your trip worse.
    Ulltimate travels Pvt Ltd., is such a fraud travel agency based in Faridabad. They charged me 10k for an all inclusive Srinagar- Amarnath- Srinagar trip, but later I had to pay additional charges for helicopter tour and medical checkup. They are frauds beware of them.

  • vijayakumar says:

    Dear Mr. Santanu

    i am very happy to have found your travelogue and thanks for that to you
    My wife wants to do the yatra . she wants to go with her . I am 69 years She is 65 years , but has problem with her knees Also she may have problem High altitude sickness . four years back she made Kailas yatra where she had problem with oxygen levels .I has two stents placed in my arteries . can you please give some information regarding this . is there any possibility of Acclimatization , we plan to use Helicopter service

    • SANTANU says:

      Dear Vijay Kumar ji,
      Thank you sir for your comments. I am mailing you details desired by you. Please check your inbox.
      Regards
      Santanu

  • Sanjeev Agarwal says:

    Dear Mr Santanu,
    I have planned to go to Holy Amarnath Cave in July 2016 with my parents (63 and 65 years) and wanted to speak with you to understand the experience. Can you please send me your contact details at sanjeevfca@yahoo.com. your early reply will be highly appreciated. Many thanks and kind regards,
    Sanjeev.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.