Jammu, July 18 (IANS) Over 2.19 lakh pilgrims have so far performed the ongoing Amarnath Yatra and another batch of 4,167 yatris on Thursday left Jammu to offer their prayers at the holy cave shrine in Kashmir.
Officials of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB), that manages the affairs of the annual pilgrimage, said that during the last 17 days since the yatra started on July 1, 2.19,011 lakh pilgrims have offered their prayers at the shrine.
"This is the highest number when compared with the figures of last four years during the corresponding period," officials said.
Another batch of 4,167 pilgrims left Bhagwati Nagar Yatri Niwas in winter capital Jammu for the Kashmir Valley in two escorted convoys.
"Of these, 1,533 are going to Baltal base camp while 2,634 are going to Pahalgam base camp," police said.
Situated 3,888 metres above the sea level in south Kashmir Himalayas, the cave shrine houses an ice stalagmite structure that symbolises mythical powers of Lord Shiva according to the devotees.
The ice structure waxes and wanes with the phases of the Moon. Pilgrims approach the cave shrine either through the longer 45 kilometre long Pahalgam route or the shorter 14 kilometre long Baltal route.
Those using the Baltal route return to the base camp the same day after performing the Yatra. Helicopter services are available for the pilgrims at both the base camps.
Local Muslims are lending a helping hand to ensure that their Hindu brethren can perform the Yatra with ease and convenience to uphold the centuries old tradition of Kashmir, abode of saints and Sufis.
So far, 18 pilgrims have died during the Yatra. While 17 of them died of natural causes one was drowned yesterday in Lidder river of Pahalgam area. The body of the frisbee pilgrim has been recovered according to the officials of the SASB.
The cave shrine was discovered in 1850 by a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik. To reward the shepherd, a saint gave him a bag of charcoal that turned out to be gold, says the local folklore. Symbolically, the lore turned out to be true. The descendants of the shepherd have shared a portion of the offerings at the cave shrine for over 150 years.
This year's Amarnath Yatra will conclude on August 15 coinciding with the Shravan Purnima festival.