Hindu pilgrims brave Kashmir violence to seek salvation at cave shrine

July 14, 2010

A combination photo shows Hindu holy men and pilgrims during their trek to the cave of Lord Shiva in Amarnath, 141 km southeast of Srinagar June 21, 2009. REUTERS/Fayaz Kabli/Files

Protest strikes, curfews and violent demonstrations have paralysed Muslim-majority Kashmir valley over the killing of 15 civilians in the past month and the deaths blamed on government forces.

Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers are struggling to control near daily street protests that have grown into bigger anti-India demonstrations recently.

But tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims chanting hymns are daily trudging to a cave shrine where they worship a naturally formed ice stalagmite as a symbol of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction and one of the most revered Hindu deities.

Undeterred by violence in Kashmir, over 153,000 pilgrims have so far paid obeisance at Amarnath shrine, one of the holiest in Hinduism.

Last week, New Delhi said intelligence inputs indicate that militants may use the unrest in the Kashmir valley to target pilgrims — triggering a red alert from the security agencies.

But more than 10,000 pilgrims arrive daily in Kashmir for the holy trek through treacherous mountains in the strife-torn region along icy streams and frozen passes to reach the cave shrine, located at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,700 feet).

Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers, most of them in battle fatigues, guard the route to the cave and many others with sniffer dogs comb the muddy track for mines.

Kashmiri separatists who are leading the anti-India protests, have welcomed the Hindu devotees and appealed to Muslim protesters not to attack pilgrims or vehicles carrying them.

“Yatris (pilgrims) are our guests and our protests have nothing to do with them,” said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, chief of separatist alliance All Parties Hurriyat Conference.

The two-month long annual pilgrimage has been the target of several attacks by separatist guerrillas fighting New Delhi’s rule in Kashmir since 1989.

The richer pilgrims fly in helicopters while many devotees ride ponies to reach the shrine which locals say was discovered by a Muslim shepherd centuries ago.

According to Hindustan Times, at least 20,000 Muslim labourers and 7,000 Muslim pony owners joined in to ensure safe and secure pilgrimage of Hindu devotees scheduled to come from all over India.

Hindu charities provide free food at camps along the treacherous trek and Kashmiri Muslims carry the old and infirm on palanquins.

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7 comments

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this piece speaks about the hospitable nature of people of Kashmir,i am sure that there are many elements who want to give Kashmir struggle a new face of religious fight with an aim to divide jammu and Kashmir into hindu dominated jammu and Muslim dominated Kashmir not only that they want to show to the common masses of India that people in Kashmir are killing Hindus and are against Hindus, which is actually not true. i fail to understand what kind of think tanks are sitting in India and what polices are they making:

Posted by littlemiss | Report as abusive

Numbers speak for the facts. over 1.5 lakh pilgrims have visted the cave and none of them have been injured or killed by the ongoing peaceful protests in the kashmir valley. But it is really sad and disgusting to know that certain hard-line and fanatic Hindu political groups are trying to potray the entire situation on communal basis in the backdrop of Amarnath Yatra. People of India are being misguided and wrongly informed about the facts on the ground.

Posted by yasir_mahajan | Report as abusive

@ But it is really sad and disgusting to know that certain hard-line and fanatic Hindu political groups are trying to potray the entire situation on communal basis in the backdrop of Amarnath Yatra. People of India are being misguided and wrongly informed about the facts on the ground.
Posted by yasir_mahajan

-Could you please tell us what do u mean by “misguided”?

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

This is kashmir…when whole sub-continent was burning in communal flames and millions were slaughtered by Muslim and Hindu fanatics. Kashmir was the only place free from communal violence. I appeal to so called free media of India not to communalise holy Yatra..these pilgrims are our guests and we will never harm them.

Posted by Imititaz | Report as abusive

@This is kashmir…when whole sub-continent was burning in communal flames and millions were slaughtered by Muslim and Hindu fanatics. Kashmir was the only place free from communal violence.”

—Posted by Imititaz

—I assume you are talking about the partition. Do u disagree that things changed for worse in 1989. Hindus moved out since religious color was given to the movement. Who was the culprit?

@called free media of India not to communalise holy Yatra..these pilgrims are our guests and we will never harm them.”
–who is communalizing?

Posted by RajeevK | Report as abusive

The muslims wanting to be Hospitable to the Hindus is a commercial decision. Imagine the amount of business that would be generated by 1.5 lakh pilgrimages. So lets understand the commercial value of the whole season without getting sentimental about how great which community is. Given an oppurtunity to earn money, which would keep you decently provided for, for the next six months, to an option of taking part in freedom rallies and stone throwing, which option would any sensible man, who does not want to make money through terrorist activities opt for?

Posted by kusum79 | Report as abusive

I have been going through the other articles by the same author and feel that he has a very narrow view of things. The only way he can analyze things is through a religious angle. In my opinion, such authors, who have been given such a big platform, and have the capacity to influence so many minds should do their research from all angles, capitalism, religion, other nations etc, before defaming one religion and praising another.

I would suggest that we all should start thinking a little more practically than emotionally.

Posted by kusum79 | Report as abusive