Amarnath Dham located in Kashmir near Baltal is one of the most important Hindu Dhams in India. Going on a pilgrimage tour to Amarnath is regarded as something a devout Hindu, especially the Shaivites (Lord Shiva believers) must do at least once in his/her life time.
Situated in a narrow gorge 46 kilometers from Pahalgam and 14 kilometes from Baltal, Amarnath Shrine stands at an altitude of 3,888 m. Though the Hindu scriptures and legends subscribes that the Amarnath yatra be undertaken from Srinagar, the more common practice is to begin journey at Chandanwari near Pahalgam or the more popular shorter route from Baltal. Pahalgam is 96 Kms from Srinagar whereas Baltal is approximately 95 kilometers from Srinagar
Amarnathji is considered to be one of the major Hindu Dhams. The holy cave is the abode of Lord Shiva. The guardian of the absolute, Lord Shiva, the destroyer, is enshrined in the form of an ice-lingam in this cave. This lingam is formed naturally, which is believed to wax and wane with the moon.
The Legend of Amarnath Yatra
Behind the religious significance of Amarnath Ji Yatra is an interesting legend associated with Lord Shiva telling the secret of immortality to his divine consort Ma Parvati.
As per the legend, once Parvati asked Lord Shiva the reason why he started wearing the beads of heads (Mund Mala). To this the lord replied that every time Parvati dies and is born again, he adds a new head to the bead. Parvati said, “I die again and again, but you are Immortal. Please tell me the reason behind this”. Shiva replied that to know the reason she will have to listen to the Amar Katha.
However despite Ma Parvati insistence, Shiva postponed the telling of the tale for a long time but ultimately on consistent demand, He finally made up his mind to narrate the Amar Katha, the tale of immortality.
To narrate the story, the lord started to search for a place aloof from all living things so that the tale is not overheard. Finally he chose the Amarnath Cave where he would narrate the tale. Lord Shiva started his ascent to the cave from Pahalgam where he left his bull Nandi. Upon reaching Chandanwari, he left his moon from his jata (hair). At Sheshnag Lake, he let go of his snake and at Mahagunas Parvat he left his son Ganesha. Finally at Panjtarni, the lord let go of the five elements..
After leaving behind all behind all earthly attachments, Shiva performs Tandav Nritya (dance) with Parvati before entering the cave and takeing his Samadhi on the Deer Skin asan (mat/bed) and concentrate.
In one final effort to ensure that Amar Katha is not overheard, lord created Rudra named Kalagni and ordered him to eliminate every living thing in and around the Holy Cave with fire. After this He started narrating the secret of immortality to Parvati. But as a matter of chance one egg which was lying beneath the Deer skin remained protected. It is believed to be non living and more over it was protected by Shiva -Parvati Asan (Bed). The pair of pigeons which were born out of this egg became immortal having listened to the secret of immortality (Amar Katha).
The holy cave of Amarnath Ji is accessible only for a short period of time every year during the month of shravan, usually during July and August. At this time of the year water trickles, somewhat mysteriously, from the top of the cave and freezes into ice. The ice stalagmite forms a solid base first and then the pure white Shiv lingam begins to rise and acquires full form on Purnima (full moon night). It is believed that on that day, Lord Shiv revealed the secrets of life to Parvati.
Discovery of the Amarnath Cave
There are 2 stories associated with the discovery of the Amarnath Cave. The recent one id related to a shepherd. It is believed that the location of the cave was forgotten during middle ages. During 15th century a gujjar Buta Malik was given a bag full of coals by the saint. When Buta returned home and opened the bag, he found it full of gold coins. He ran back to the place where he met the saint to thank him but instead he found the holy cave and the ice stalagmite Shiv Lingam inside the cave. He narrated the story to villagers and then onwards, this place became a sacred Hindu pilgrimage.
Another ancient legend is related to Sage Kashyap and Bhrigu in Nilamata Purana. According to this ancient text Kashmir Valley was once under a huge lake known as Satidesa. To kill a demon, Jalodhbava, who was indestructible under water, Rishi Kashyap made a cut in the mountains and drained off all the water. Later, once when Bhrigu Rishi visited Himalayas in Kashmir region, he was the first to have the darshan of the Holy Cave. When people came to know about it, Amarnath became an important pilgrimage. Since then thousands of devotees undertake Amarnath Yatra during the month of shravan to seek eternal happiness from Baba Barfaani.
Amarnath Yatra Route
There are two routes that pilgrim could undertake to reach Amarnath Cave. Pahagam route is the more traditional one but the Baltal route is the shortest for the Yatra from where, devotees could have darshan and come back to Srinagar on the same day.
For the elderly and those with lesser time up their sleeve, Amarnath Yatra by Helicopter is also available these days from both Baltal and Pahalgam. Helicopters fly till Panjtarni from where pilgrims could choose to walk, take a pony ride or hire a palki to reach the holy cave which is 6 kilometers further up from Panjtarni.
Amarnath Yatra Route from Pahalgam:
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|Place||Altitude in feet||Distance||From|
|Pissu top||11000||3.0 km||Chandanwari|
|Sheshnag||11730||11.0 km||Pissu top|
|Mahagunas||14000||4.6 km||Shesh nag|
|Panchtarni||12000||9.4 km||Mahagunus top|
|Holy cave||12756||3.0 km||Sangam|
Amarnath Yatra Route from Baltal:
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|Place||Altitude in Feet||Distance||From|
|Holy Cave||12756||3.0 KM||Sangam|
If the yatris take the traditional route, they proceed to Pahalgam from where a small road leads to Chandanwari, along thickly wooded pine forest of breathtaking beauty, with the cascading streams of Lidder River meandering in between.
From Chandanwari, a steep ascent leads to Pissu Top, a reminder that the path to salvation involves struggle and stamina. Once the pilgrims cross Pissu Top, the trail to Sheshnag Lake is fairly easy. The very first sight of the Sheshnag Lake is physically as well as mentally and spiritually uplifting. The sight of this mythical lake and the spectacular scenery around give a feeling of having been lifted to a heavenly spot.
Despite the water being ice cold and temperature close to zero degrees, devotees go ahed and take a dip into this pristine lake. From here, the mettle of the pilgrims is truly tested as the steepest climb of the yatra begins from Sheshnag Lake to the Mahagunas.
After reaching the top of the pass, the descent to Panjtarni comes as a breather for yatris. From here, they continue on to the confluence of five mythical streams, and then to the holy cave. As the cave approaches, a sense of fulfillment uplifts the spirits of the devotees even as all the fatigue disappear. Even with the temperature touching zero degrees Celsius, the yatris are driven by their faith to take bath in the rivulet of Amravati which is the confluence of the five mythical streams from Lord Shiva’s jata if legends are to be believed.
The profound feeling devotees get upon darshan of the “ice-lingam” that forms inside the cave is an almost beyond words, a divine experience indeed. One could feel the impact of an invisible, yet all pervading force. An unfathomable manifestation which is at once all-conveying, of “what was, is and will be” or the final stage of yoga the Samadhi.
I hope it helps. Shared taxis ply frequently from Srinagar to Baltal. It will cost INR 500 per person on a shared taxi to reach Baltal. The time taken is approximately 2:30 to 3 hrs. There’s no cost involved in eating and lodging as everything is provided by the shrine board for the entire duration of the pilgrimage. Medical facilities are also available en route as numerous medical caps are set up along the trek route.
When you arrive in Baltal you could freshen up and relax in camp. Pony rides are chargeable and negotiable too depending upon the availability and demand. It could vary from 2000 to 4000 rupees. The palanquin (palki) comes for 12000 to 14000. One side pony ride journey will take 5 hours. If you are trekking on foot and are a experienced hiker you could do the yatra from Baltal to Holy cave and back in a day. If you are planning to do it by Helicopter then visit here: http://www.indiapilgrimtours.com/packages/amarnath-yatra-by-helicopter-from-baltal-3-days.html
Via Pahalgam, it will take you 4-5 days to trek to the cave.
The Spiritual Significance of Amarnath Yatra
The eight limbs as defined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are yamas (universal morality), niyamas (personal observances), asanas (physical postures), Pranayama (mindful breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal from senses), dharana (one-pointedness of mind), dhyana (meditation) and finally samadhi (union with the divine)
A Pilgrimage or Yatra is a higher calling a long and arduous journey in search of moral significance. As such, a pilgrimage requires a pious frame of mind and a commitment of long duration where one gets time to reflect and leave behind the earthly attachment for self purification.
It is no wonder that almost all major pilgrimages are located in mountains and require arduous treks of a week or even longer duration. This time thus taken to reach the final point of pilgrimage helps in controlling the mind, intellect and ego. As one is traveling alone for these pilgrimages with only the essential and basic things to survive, it also helps get rid of the earthly attachments, greed, tamas and rajas. The long uphill climb also tests the strength of a pilgrim; breath control (pranayam) is required. Notwithstanding the tough path, cold weather and trying conditions; a sense of detachment from surrounding or a withdrawal of mind from senses is required to carry on.
After reaching the destination in a positive state of mind and meditating at the place of final destination in the presence of a higher power (dhyana); one experiences spiritual insights that offer new perspective and ways of looking at thing both outwards and within. Worldly worries give way to new wisdom acquired during the course of the pilgrimage which sets one to the path for future living (samadhi).
In the legend of Amarnath Yatra, Lord Shiva represents the soul and Ma Parvati the body. Whereas the body dies and is born again, the soul is immortal. The heads on the bead signify that a part of life and samskara or the imprints left on the mind by experience.
One of the basic principles of meditation is that it induces a mode of consciousness to realize mind’s content without becoming identified with that content. For this one requires dedication and perseverance. That is what Parvati does when she insists that Lord tell her the Amar Katha.
Yet another important prerequisite for meditation is tranquility or a place with no internal and external disturbance and that is why Shiva chooses the eternal cave high up on the mountain far from civilization and living things.
To achieve peace of mind and become one with divine, the person meditating has to let go of earthly desires, sense of self and all the attachments. Shiva leaving his bull, the moon, his snake, son and finally the five elements signifies letting go of every worldly attachment.
Health Benefits of Amarnath Yatra
There are many scientific reasons to embark on this journey too putting aside the spiritual reasons. The difficult trek challenges one out of his comfort zone.
Climbing up mountains needs discipline and stamina. Mountain is a very strict teacher in that sense. The undisciplined and unprepared will not be able to reach the cave walking on foot. Every day, one has to follow a healthy schedule whether one goes solo or with a travel company. They need to jog/run for atleast half an hour and do exercises especially the stretching exercises. Stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors and low back muscles regularly, promotes relaxation in the tissues reducing the strain on your back.
One embarking on a trek like Amarnath Yatra or even Kailash Mansarovar ot Chardham Yatra, the pilgrimage tests the mettle of the pilgrims physical stamina and will power. Moreover, the fresh air revitalizes us to great extent. The trekking is tough but the winding hilly path through serene hilly woods and rivers makes one feel oneness with nature.
The mesmerizing scenery with views of rolling hills, lush forests and cascading water streams themselves are reasons to embark on these journeys and savor the beauty of the mountains.
Deskbound lifestyle of today’s world has led to a steep rise in several medical complications. Trekking through the mountains takes you away from the din of the city and the polluted air. The tough trek in the Himalayas toughens the muscles and bones and also pumps up the heart muscles. It is also puts challenge to one’s will power. There are many who are physically challenged and completes the Amarnath Yatra, Kailash Mansarovar Yatra and Chardham yatra in Uttarakhand by sheer mental stamina and will power.
Pilgrimages in Himalayas or even the trekking are rewarding journeys. The pure oxygen that floods through the hills is rejuvenating.It fills your lungs with the fresh air which comes as a great breather far from the automobile and industry polluted air of the cities. During the journey, it is prohibited to take non-vegetarian food and alcohol drinks. Therefore, the plain food habit flushes out the toxins and even restores the pilgrim’s health.
Then there are medicinal benefits of taking holy dip in the thermal water tanks as well as mountain streams which are rich in medicinal property as the water streams touch many herbs and medicinal plants along the way. The hot springs that one comes along to during Chardham Yatra are full of many life saving minerals and bathing in it cures many chronic illness. The doctors also subscribe to the therapeutic values of the hot water spouts. As well as mountain streams that flow on the upper reaches of Himalayas.
Last but not the least, the absolute tranquility of the snow capped mountains has a meditative ambience which relieves you of the constant meaningless chattering of the mind within. The chanting of mantras and the ringing of the bell echoing through the mountains too help in embalming the traumatized soul in the maddening crowd and convolutions of the urban life.
Here are some of the health benefits of hiking/trekking:
- Improved cardio-respiratory fitness
- Improved muscular fitness
- Improved heart health and lesser chances of stroke
- Lower risk of colon and breast cancer, and possibly lung and endometrial cancer
- Increased bone density or a slower loss of density
- Lower risk of early death
- Weight control (treks could burns up 370 calories an hour)
- Lowered risk of diabetes and high blood pressure
- Weight loss
- Lower cholesterol
- Helps prevent osteoporosis
- Helps promote better sleep
- Improved immune system
- Reduced depression and better quality sleep
How to Plan your Amarnath Yatra
When can you go for Amarnath Yatra
This year, the yatra will begin on 2nd of July and continue for 59 days before ending on August 29.
Who are eligible to take this trip?
Since the pilgrimage require moderate to tough climb and high altitude, good physical fitness is required to embark on this quest. Children below 13 years of age and elderly above 75 years of age are not allowed to undertake this yatra. Ladies who are more than 6 months into pregnancy are also not allowed to embark on this religious journey.
How to register for the Yatra
For registration, you first need to pick a date. The date that you will pick will be the day you will be allowed to cross the access control gate (ACG). After that get hold of the registration form which are available here.
You are also required to get a compulsory health certificate. The format of the same is available here. You also need to get your compulsory health certificate signed by the Chief Medical Officer of your district. However to ease this process, Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) is working with government authorities to authorize doctors and medical institutions throughout the country.
Insurance: A valid yatra permit entitles you to an insurance cover of 1 lakh in case of death due to an accident while undertaking the yatra.
Shelters: Toilets, shelters and rest stops are available every few kilometres on all the routes to the cave.
Medical: All base camps come with medical centres that are equipped to deal with most altitude-related sicknesses. There are also mountain rescue teams who carry portable oxygen tanks in case of emergencies.
Do’s and Don’t’s:
- Have an active exercise routine at least a month before you visit the temple. Daily walks and practising pranayam to get those lungs working well. The level of oxygen at that height above 10,000 feet is only about 60 per cent of that at sea level, so your body needs to be able to acclimatize as quickly as possible.
- Altitude sickness is a serious problem, so give yourself some time to acclimatise to the reduced oxygen levels; a day or two should be enough.
- Don’t be in a hurry. The journey is tough on the body, so slow down. Gupta said that the lowered oxygen levels plus the exertion from climbing puts extra pressure on the body.
- If you have respiratory or pulmonary conditions, do not make the yatra as your illnesses could be aggravated.
- Make sure you take your woolens along, as it can get very cold.
Plan your Amarnath Yatra with indiapilgrimtours.com
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