Hindu Pilgrimage
You are standing on a high mountain road. The way has been cold and wet. Your muscles ache and your breathing is laboured. You keep walking for this is a walk you have chosen. And over the next rise, etched against the sky is the abode of Shiva. Here the eternal ascetic, the Lord of the Dance, the Destroyer, whispered the secret of immortality into the ear of his consort. Here sages have come to ponder the cosmic, to meditate upon the divine. Here millions of devotees make their way every year, walking for 15 days or more for a spiritual encounter with the deity. Darshan at Amarnath is not easy; but what spiritual journey ever was? Terrorist attacks have added another dimension of risk to an arduous trek. But still they go to that imposing mountain, that quiet cave, that lingam of ice. Still they come, for the Lord calls

How to Reach

The nearest airport is Srinagar, 140 km away. Direct flights are available only from New Delhi. Both Indian Airlines and Jet Airways fly to Srinagar. The airport is about 14 km from the city centre. Flights from Delhi to Srinagar via Jammu
IC 821 9.40 am daily, arrival 12.05 pm.
The nearest railway station is Jammu Tawi. All major Indian states are connected to Jammu via rail. Train bookings usually have to be made at least a month ahead, specially during the month of the yatra.
Jammu is well-connected to places in north India by National Highway 1A and other major all-weather roads. Buses and jeeps are available for Pahalgam or Srinagar. You can make reservations for vehicles at the Tourist Reception Centres in any of these places. There is no motorable road to the cave. A bus takes you to Chandanwari from Pahalgam (16 km) through a dusty course, which is steep and narrow and barely allows for two-way traffic.
From Chandanwari, which is the first base camp for the trek, ponies, dolis or dandis (palanquin) and porters are available to the cave and back. The doli comprises a seat balanced on four wooden logs. This is carried by four to eight men all the way up to the cave and back. It is advisable to take a pony although for regular trekkers the walk is not difficult. You may also want to hire a porter to carry your luggage.
The road connecting Jammu to Srinagar, National Highway 1A, is a good all-weather road with only a few sharp inclines and hair-pin bends. All reservations can be made at the tourist centres in Jammu, Srinagar or Pahalgam. Buses are available to all major destinations.

Sights to Visit


Chandanwari is 16 km from Pahalgam and is the starting point of the Amarnath yatra. The road from Pahalgam to Chandanwari is along the Lidder lake. Chandanwari, a small picturesque valley about 6,500 feet above sea level. The climb to Pissu Top is steep. Here is where you meet the rest of the pilgrims, all moving toward one destination. The mountain appears quite out of the blue and it is an incredible sight. One is usually on the pony during this initial climb. Thereafter, the trek is on fairly level ground and only very slightly steep. What is actually dangerous about the trek is the movement of people both ways (the track is barely enough to accommodate people in single file). It is advisable for the trekkers to walk on the inner track, towards the mountain-face. It becomes a lot trickier when it begins to rain, and the ground takes little time to turn into slush. Good shoes are a prerequisite here. Army jawans are everywhere and will give you a hand or even take you all the way should you need help. There is an infectious kind of kinship that forms between all the yatris and everyone tries to help. It is a delight to drink from the ice cold springs and waterfalls along the way.


Sheshnag is 13 km from Chandanwari and about 11,330 feet above sea level. This is a trek through primeval countryside and once you reach a given height, the sight of the Sheshnag Lake from the top is spectacular. The water from the lake flows into a steep ravine where it gushes down in torrents to form a river snaking through the valley in the distance. Sheshnag is also the name of the mountain where the cave lies. It derives its name from its seven peaks that resemble the head of the mythical snake, Sheshnag.

The campsite overlooks the deep blue waters of the lake and the glaciers beyond it. In the evening, the mist comes in, so thick, that visibility is reduced to five feet. At Sheshnag, you have tents, bedding and food for the yatris provided at affordable rates. Several free langars (kitchens) are set up to provide hot fresh food for the yatris by voluntary groups to perform ‘seva’ or service to the pilgrims. You will find langars all along the route as well as in Pahalgam and Chandanwari. Tents may be hired for costs ranging from Rs 200 upwards, depending on the number of people in a tent. Tents can accommodate up to 15 people and the bedding is more than sufficient. The army sets up camps along each campsite to facilitate the yatri. Free medical camps that provide aid are also found at several places along the way.


The next day, you trek 12 km. The trek steadily gains height winding up across the Mahagunas Pass at 4,600 metres. The track then descends to the meadow-lands of Panchtarni, the last camp en route to the holy cave. Here too, like in Sheshnag, there are facilities for tents, bedding and langars. The army has special helicopters only for the yatra. STD booths are also available at every camp site, though these generally do not function. The distance from Panchtarni to Amarnath is 6 km, but start early in the morning, to get ahead in the queue to the cave.

Amarnath Cave

The trek from Panchtarni to Amarnath is particularly beautiful. The landscape changes from flatland to rocky terrain as you approach the glacier. The first sight of the cave is breath-taking. You will see thousands of people scurrying up the hill, small as ants, approaching a huge gaping mouth in the mountain. The rock face is dotted with small, coloured squares (which are really tents). In the distance, on top of the mighty rocks and against a pristine blue sky, you can see soldiers in full gear.

The cave is situated at an elevation of 16,000 feet and is a large hemispherical hollow wedged into a cliff of white Mesozoic dolomite. At the rear of the cave are several frozen springs. It is these springs that melt ever so slowly to form the ice lingam. And it is for darshan (a spiritual encounter) of this lingam that pilgrims brave every hazard. The size of the lingam waxes and wanes according to the season, and at its peak, reaches a height of almost 13 to 14 feet.

The cave is about 60 feet in length, 30 feet in width and 15 feet in height. The Ganges flows below the cave. Many pilgrims, mostly sadhus, bathe in this ice cold water before entering the cave for darshan. In fact, they bathe in all the rivers that that they meet on the yatra, as part of their cleansing ritual before the darshan. At a spot near the cave, is a white substance resembling ash, which the yatris smear all over their bodies.

The floor of the cave is extremely cold and very wet. You will be given wooden slippers (khadau) to wear in the shrine. Along the path to the cave are several shops selling prasad. Sadhus are found seated on either side of the cave entrance, begging for alms from the pilgrims. The entrance to the cave is regulated and the darshan, after the long and arduous journey is a hasty affair. Much like the darshan at Tirupati, there are hundreds queuing up behind you and your glimpse of the lingam will be brief.

The devotees sing bhajans, chant incantations, while the priests perform aarti and puja, invoking the blessings of Shiva. For most pilgrims it is an overwhelming experience and many weep after the darshan, or even at the first sight of the cave.

After darshan, devotees can return to Panchtarni in time for lunch, and continue to Sheshnag where they can spend the night. Alternatively you can stay the night at Panchtarni, depending on the time of day, and return to Chandanwari/Pahalgam.

Amarnath pilgrimage via Sonamarg - Baltal

The other approach to the Amarnath Cave is from Sonmarg via Baltal. Sonmarg is at an altitude 3000 meters and is situated on the Srinagar-Leh Highway, 85 km north-east of Srinagar. Accommodation is available in J&K Tourism Development Corporation huts, private hotels and tents. About 15 km ahead lies the base camp, Baltal, which is a little valley lying in the foothills of Zojila pass. The holy cave is just a day’s journey away from here. There are free langar facilities at Domail, two kilometres from Baltal. The trail from Domail to the Holy cave lies along very steep hillsides and therefore great care needs to be taken while trekking along this route. On the way to the Holy cave, are some tea stalls at Brarimarg and Sangam Top. You will have to cross several snow bridges that go over swift streams. During the rains, these bridges are particularly treacherous. At Sangam, from where the cave is quite near, the trail from Pahalgam meets the Baltal route. At Baltal, riding/pack ponies, dandis, porters are available on approved government rates. Ask at the local tourist office.


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