Adventurous Visit to Shri Amarnath Temple in Jammu & Kashmir

By Ananya Chandak

In early July 2022, my family, and my extended family, a total of thirty-one people, visited the Shri Amarnath Temple in Jammu and Kashmir, India.

The Amarnath Yatra is a shrine for the God Shiva in the Himalayan mountains near Lidder Valley and stands at an elevation of 3,888m above sea level. Devotees can trek and reach the shrine using one of the two routes. In addition, the temple trust also facilitated private helicopter services for the older or disabled devotees. The service is regulated by the shrine board for distribution of service. The Pahalgam route spans 36-37 kilometers and takes up to 2 days to trek. The shorter route is the Baltal route, which runs 14 kilometers and can be done within a day, but is more treacherous. The Amarnath Yatra is only open for as long as the ice lingam inside the temple has not melted, which takes up to 40 days. Recently, global warming crises are making the ice melt faster.

To many Hindus, this shrine is a representation of Lord Shiva. The story behind the religious pilgrimage goes something like this:

Once Goddess Parvati asked Lord Shiva how she could become immortal like him. With persistent coaxing, Shiva agreed to share the mantra if she could find an isolated cave where nobody could listen in to the story. Parvatiji found this isolated place (Amarnath cave). However, the legend has it that Parvathiji missed two unhatched pigeon eggs while setting up for Lord Shivji’s arrival

Lord Shiva arrives at the cave through the Pahalgam path, where he leaves behind important items along the route. At the cave, he tells Parvatiji the immortality story, (Amar Katha). The two eggs become immortal pigeons by listening.

Devotee’s usually come between the summer months of June, July, and August to see the wondrous ice lingam and the immortal pigeons. The exact opening and closing dates vary from year to year. This year, the Yatra opened on June 30th and closed on August 11th. Whenever there is incremental weather, like heavy rain, landslides, or risk to devotees, the Shrine board temporarily suspends the Yatra out of caution.

In the past few years, the trail to the shrine has been greatly improved in quality, thanks mainly due to the effort of the present Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modiji. We took the Baltal route to reach the shrine. The trek begins early in the morning; at around 2:00 am people line up at the checkpoint. It is very dark, and people would usually have to carry a flashlight. The beginning few kilometers have lamps to light the way in the early morning. There are rest stops, medical camps, and disaster management teams every few kilometers. Air ambulance can also be made available at a short notice. These additions make the trail safer for the general populace. And do that they did- there are now stricter rules and requirements that greatly decrease the risk of going and make the experience much more gratifying.

However, they can’t prevent everything. On July 8th, 2022, a series of flash floods swept through the trail and killed at least 15 people. A few more were reported missing.

This was just two days before my family and I were set to leave for the pilgrimage. It was a reminder of how difficult this pilgrimage is. I remember many calls and discussions between the families in our group about whether or not to go. Some people pulled out, not willing to risk being caught in another natural disaster. Other people wanted to continue ahead with the plan and go to Srinagar. In the end, we decided to go to see if luck would have the shrine open. If not, we would tour around Srinagar for the allotted days, and then come back home.

Luck was in our favor, and the shrine opened just a day after we arrived. Excitedly, our group piled into a bus to drive to the Baltal base camp, which was our start-off point for the trek.

It’s no surprise that security in the Jammu and Kashmir area is tight. India has its international borders in that region. At Baltal there were 3 different identity checks before we reached the gate, and the trek had military men positioned throughout. All this security wasn’t a bother, however. It made my family feel safe knowing that if something were to happen, there would be the best of the best people to help us out.

Funnily enough, something did happen. My brother got lost ahead of us on the trail!

My family and I were going on Palkies and Horses. Palkies are a method of transportation where a chair is tied to 2 long sticks, and 4 men carry the rider by lifting the stick onto their shoulders. This means that lighter loads (aka people) could travel faster up the trail. What ended up happening was that my brother reached the temple 2 hours before we did due to his lighter body.


We, however, had no idea where he was. The most stressful 7 hours of my parent’s life commenced as we and parts of my extended family looked for him frantically everywhere on the entire remaining trail of 10-12 kms. My father notified every security/Disaster management and military personnel we came across to look for his boy. They assured us that no child had ever gone missing on the trail. They also said that good people take care of each other and that we are on the doorsteps of the almighty, so we would find him. The palkie men calmed down my mom too and told us that the other men with my brother’s palkie would not let him out of sight.

They were right, of course. After reaching the shrine after a few more hours (the longest of my life), my troublesome brother was sitting there (with my grandmother) right outside the temple with the palkie men waiting for our arrival. He had no clue what had happened and instead was asking us “What took you so long!” Looking back, I can’t help but laugh- all that stress (for nothing)!

Overall, the Yatra was a wonderful experience. I am thankful that everything went well, and even if there were a few bumps along the road, my family and I were able to meet my extended family after 4 long years (thanks to Covid-19 and travel restrictions). We had such a memorable trip.