Amarnath Yatra: Reaching Lord Shiva
Amarnath Ji Yatra is undertaken by devotees of Lord Shiva to see his eternal splendour and meet the divine God who is both: the destroyer and the healer.
Amarnath Cave is located at the top of the Sind Valley in Kashmir. Every year, during the Shravan months of July-Aug, image of Lord Shiva is formed at the Amarnath Cave in the form of a lingam created naturally of an ice-stalagmite. The shiv-lingam is formed as water trickles down, drop by drop, from the top of the cave. The source of the water is believed to be the holy Ramkund Lake, which is situated above the cave. The Shiva Lingam can reach a height of 7 feet!
The Amarnath Cave in itself is a huge structure, measuring 40 yards across, 75 feet high and 80 feet deep. Inside, right next to Shiva Lingam is another 3ft high block of ice considered to be Lord Ganesh and another smaller ice figure cosidered to eb Goddess Parvati. There is a very small cave to the right of the Shivaling, from where the devotees collect a chalk-like substance, which is considered as Lord's vibhuti.
Legend goes that Amarnath cave is the place where Lord Shiva narrated the Amar Katha, or secret of immortality, to Goddess Parvati. It is said that a pair of pigeon's egg was lying beneath the deer skin on which Lord Shiva sat and gave the secret. Hence, the pigeons gained immortality as well and can be seen to this date on the roof of the cave. En-route to the caves, you will find a lot of places which are of importance to the Hindu beliefs. It is said that when Lord Shiva and Parvati were travelling to the AMarnath cave, he first left his bull, Nandi, at Pahalgam. At Chandanwari, he released the moon and by the banks of Lake Seshnag he left his snake. Their son Ganesh was left at Mahagunas Parvat. At Panchtarni, Shiva is said to have performed the tandava dance and leave behind Pnachbhoota or Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky.
The Amarnath Journey
The Amartnath Yatra commences with the ceremony of Chhari Mubarak at the Dashnami Akhara in Budshah Chowk, Srinagar. The chhari is symbolic of the strength of a walking stick that would be needed by the devotees.
Routes to Amarnath Cave:
The pilgrimage generally takes 2-6 days. Pilgrims can reach Amarnath cave by following two different routes:
1. Pahalgam/Nunwan-Chandanwari Route: This route is considered to eb the most sacred route. The Chhari Mubarak also takes this route. The yatra begins from Pahalgam and Nunwan to Chandanwari, which is 16 km away, by bus or a taxi. From Chandanwari, pilgrims can go ahead on foot or pony or a palki. Next stop is the Pissu Top which is 3 km away. From here, the devotees trek to Seshnag, which is 9 km away. Then comes Panchtarni at a distance of 13 km and from here Amarnath cave is just 6 Km away. The total distance to the cave from Srinagar on this route is 144km. After the darshan, devotees generally need to spend a night at Seshnag, before returning to Pahalgam the next day.
2. Baltal Route: The Baltal route is shorter but also steeper and frequent landslides have been reported on this route. Baltal is 95 km from Srinagar and from here it's 2 Km walk to Domail. Next stop is Burari Marg, 5km away, then Sangam Ghati is another 5 Km and from there Amarnath cave is just 3 Km. You can also avail helicpoter service to Amarnath Cave from baltal. The total distance to the cave from Srinagar on this route is 114km. Devotees on this route can return back the same day.