Himalayan pilgrimages are the oldest organised
travel system, evolved over time by Hindu sages
and embodying the spirit of wander, adventure and
of the holy trinity, Shiva is a living god. The most
ancient and sacred book of India, the Rig Veda evokes his
presence in its hymns. Vedic myths, ritual and even
astronomy testify to his existence from the dawn of time.
known to have made his home in the Himalayas. He built no
house nor shelter, not for himself or for his bride. He was an
ascetic and yet married; he could be both for "he
was the wild god sporting in the forest or taking his ease
on a cloud."
it that Shiva recounted to Parvati the secret of creation
in the Amarnathji cave. Unknown to them, a pair of mating
pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having
learned the secret, are reborn again and again, and have
made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report
seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route
to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol
The trek to
Amarnathji, in the month of Shravan (July - August) has
the devout flock to this incredible shrine, where the
image of Shiva, in the form of a lingam, is formed
naturally of an ice - stalagmite, and which waxes and
wanes with the moon. By its side are, fascinatingly, two
more ice - lingams, that of Parvati and of their son,
to an ancient tale, there was once a Muslim shepherd named
Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a sadhu. Upon
reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact,
contained gold. Overjoyed and overcome, Buta Malik rushed
back to look for the sadhu and thank him, but on the spot
of their meeting discovered a cave, and eventually this
became a place of pilgrimage for all believers. To date, a
percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to
the descendants of Malik, and the remaining to the trust
which manages the shrine.
legend has it that when Kashap Reshi drained the Kashmir
valley of water (it was believed to have been a vast
lake), the cave and the lingam were discovered by Bregish
Reshi who was travelling the Himalayas. When people heard
of the lingam, Amarnathji for them became Shiva's abode
and a centre of pilgrimage.
the legends and the history of Amarnathji's discovery, it
is today a very important centre of pilgrimage and though
the route is as difficult to negotiate as it is exciting,
every year, thousands of devotees come to pay homage
before Shiva in one of his famous Himalayan abodes.
a narrow gorge at the farther end of Lidder valley,
Amarnathji stands at 3,888 m and is 45 km from Pahalgam
and 141 km from Srinagar. Though the original pilgrimage
subscribes that the yatra be undertaken from Srinagar, the
more common practice is to begin the journey from Pahalgam,
and cover the distance to Amarnathji and back in four or
five days. Pahalgam is 96 km from Srinagar.
base point for the pilgrim's trek is picturesque Pahalgam,
a large tented township springs up to accommodate the
pilgrims. The conduct of the yatra is a gigantic task in
which the State Government takes the assistance of the
security departments for providing security and helping to
keep the route open. All intermediate halting places have
the same kind of facilities as are provided at Pahalgam,
and a Yatra Officer
is appointed to conduct the pilgrimage.
Amarnath Cave Via Mahagunas Pass
Main Trek Base:
Altitude: 4,175m (13,700ft).
Alternative Trek: Sonamarg To Amarnath
During the yatra, stages of the walk are carefully
controlled by the Indian authorities. The first stage of
the trek is to Chandanwadi, the second to Sheshnag and the
third over the Mahagunas Pass to Panchtami. Many pilgrims
visit the cave from Panchtami and return to Sheshnag the
same day, walking back to Pahalgam on the fifth day.
1: Pahalgam To Chandanwadi
(Average walking time 4 hours)
The trail leaves Pahalgam on a bitumen road, past the
Shankar temple and along the east Liddar valley. The trail
is easy to follow indeed it is suitable for jeeps as far
as Chandanwadi (2,900m). There are many obvious short cuts
on the route, and a number of tea stalls, as this first
Day always seems to be quite hot. The campsite is in a
pleasant glade just before the main line of tea stalls.
Day 2: Chandanwadi To Sheshnag
(Average walking time 5 to 6 hours)
From Chandanwadi the trail winds steeply for 500m to the
summit of ridge known as Pisu Top (3,390m). From here,
there are commanding views back down the valley to the
mountains beyond Pahalgam. During the main pilgrimage, the
tea stall owners do a thriving business, which keeps the
pilgrims going on the long incline to the next main
resting area at Wawajana (3,550m). From here it is two to
three km further to Sheshnag (3,720m). The glacial lake is
set in remarkable surroundings, its waters reflecting the
snow capped peaks of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. Rumour
among pilgrims has it that the lake is inhabited by a
serpent of Loch Ness monster proportions, so it's
advisable not to camp too close to the water's edge.
Day 3: Sheshnag To Panchtarni
(Average walking time 6 hours)
The trail gradually ascends from Sheshnag with magnificent
views of the mountains immediately above. The ascent
towards the Mahagunas Pass winds up to a grassy plateau,
and from there on to the pass it is a further hour's
climb. The sign at the top of the pass states the height
as 4,270m. It is not a dramatic pass, but it is still no
mean achievement for the pilgrims, many of whom have never
been beyond the Indian plains before.
The descent to Panchtarni (3,450m) is quite long and
tiring, but there are frequent flowered meadows to rest in
and admire. The campsite can be seen from afar; and
behind, on a further ridge, the bare, treeless
mountain scape resembles the terrain on the far side of the
Himalayas. There are more spacious campsites upstream from
the main camping area, and these are also a little
Day 4: Panchtarni To Amarnath
Cave & Return
(Average walking time 5 hours return)
actual time to the cave will depend on whether one's trek
coincides with the main pilgrimage. During the pilgrimage
an early start is essential, with many of the pilgrims
move more steadily and slowly than on the rest of the
trek, as if in awe of their surroundings.
The climb to the Singh Pass (3,850m) is gradual before the
trail enters the Amarnath valley. It descends to a
permanently blackened snow bridge, which fords the
Amarvati stream before ascending the true right back to
the base of the mountain. From here the final ascent is up
a series of concrete steps to the entrance to the Amarnath
Cave (4,050m). The J&K police manning the entrance to
the cave only permit a limited number of pilgrims inside
at any one time.
Day 5: Panchtarni To Chandanwadi
(Average walking time 8 hours)
Many pilgrims return from Panchtarni to Chandanwadi in one
day. After completing their pilgrimage to the cave most
are happy to trek as far as they can the following Day.
Day 6: Chandanwadi To Pahalgam
(Average walking time 4 hours)
On the final Day most pilgrims arrive back in the Pahalgam
bazaar with enough time to complete the drive to Srinagar
or Jammu the same day.
Although the traditional yatra trek to the Amarnath cave
is from Pahalgam one can also go there from Sonamarg.
Day 1: Sonamarg-Baltal
This 15-km trek takes about five hours and it's an easy
walk since there is little altitude change between
Sonamarag and Baltal. One should be able to get a lift on
a truck to the roadblock, from there on it is better to
walk. The roadblock is closed until noon or later, waiting
for traffic to come across the Zoji la from Ladakh. From
the roadblock one can walk along the river valley track,
which is very pleasant. The river valley track is also 2
to 3-km shorter than the vehicle road. A military camp is
the first sign of Baltal, which can be reached in a day
Day 2: Baltal-Amarnath
The 15-km trek to Amarnath climbs over a thousand metres
from Baltal at 2,743 metres to the cave at 4,175 metres
and the walk takes about nine to 10 hours. The route
crosses one major snow bridge over a river and climbs
steadily up, crossing the Satsing pass, 3 ½-km before
Amarnath, at 4,115 metres dropping down and then climbing
up again to the cave at 4,175 metres. There are some tea
stalls along the way, even at the river, and after the
junction with the main trail there are even more.
From Amarnath one can follow the traditional yatra trail
down to Pahalgam.
Amarnath to Baltal & Sonamarg from the Amarnath
cave return along the pilgrim trail as far as the junction
of the Panchtarni and Amarvati rivers. Here the trails
divert, with the track to Baltal heading down the true
right of the valley. The trail is prone to rock avalanches
where it traverses large scree slopes and one should be
wary of descending without first checking its condition.
If there are no problems, the trek to Baltal can be
completed in about four hours.
Baltal there is a regular bus service during the
pilgrimage period, getting back to Srinagar that night. At
other times, camp at Baltal and continue to Sonamarg at a
more leisurely pace the following morning. From Sonamarg
there are three buses a day to Srinagar and the drive
takes around five hours.