Indian pilgrims resume dangerous mountain journey after flash floods kill 16

Pilgrims risk their lives on journey to sacred cave 3,880 metres above sea level

Hindu pilgrims returning on Saturday from Baltal base camp during the Amarnath pilgrimage in Kashmir. AFP
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The Hindu pilgrimage to the Himalayan cave shrine at Amarnath Yatra in Indian-administered Kashmir resumed on Monday, two days after it was partially halted due to a cloudburst that claimed at least 16 lives.

A fresh batch of nearly 3,000 pilgrims were allowed to move towards the shrine, dedicated to Lord Shiva, deep in a cave 3,880 metres above sea level, officials said.

The pilgrims will be allowed to visit the cave shrine from one of the two treacherous mountain routes.

“Pilgrims will go to the Holy cave from this [Panjtarni] route only, and after Darshan they will proceed to Baltal route for the return journey,” Indo Tibetan Border Police said.

The annual pilgrimage was briefly suspended at the weekend after a cloudburst near the shrine on Friday evening triggered a flash flood.

At least 16 people were killed and about 40 pilgrims are still missing, with hundreds of emergency workers searching for the missing.

About 15,000 stranded pilgrims were evacuated by Indo-Tibetan Border Police and a dozen pilgrims were rescued by Indian Air Force helicopters.

Thousands of pilgrims trek every day from two routes to the cave, which is revered by Hindus for containing a naturally formed ice stalagmite that believers say is a representation of Lord Shiva.

The stalagmite is believed to be formed from a trickle of water from a cleft in the roof of the cave and as water drips, it takes on new formations as it freezes.

The treacherous journey — made mostly on foot and or on ponies — takes about three days, with pilgrims resting at night at base camps on their way to the shrine.

The 43-day pilgrimage started on June 30 after a break of three years since it was cancelled by the government due to a security lockdown in Kashmir in 2019, and subsequent restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The army has constructed a makeshift staircase outside the holy cave after a path leading to the shrine was damaged due to a landslide triggered by the cloudburst.

Pilgrims are barred from staying near the cave shrine at night.

Updated: July 11, 2022, 12:11 PM