The annual pilgrimage to the 3,880 metre high holy cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir Himalayas, commenced on Sunday from Baltal route in Ganderbal district amid tight security arrangements.
Amid chanting of hymns and religious slogans, the first batch of nearly 8,000 pilgrims who had reached Baltal base camp on Saturday, started the arduous 16-km journey to the cave shrine this morning, officials said.
Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra, who is also Chairman of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) which manages the annual pilgrimage, was the first to pay obeisance at the cave shrine and participated in 'Pratham Pooja', marking the beginning of the 44-day pilgrimage, the officials said.
They said the first group of pilgrims left the Baltal base camp around 4.45 am and by noon, a total of 7,907 pilgrims including 951 women and 24 sadhus proceeded toward the cave shrine.
In addition, 152 pilgrims also visited the cave using the chopper service and had 'darshan' (glimpse) of the naturally formed ice-shivalingam at the cave shrine by this afternoon, the officials said.
The yatra was also scheduled to commence from the traditional 45-km Pahalgam route in Anantnag district on Sunday but was deferred due to non-clearance of snow along the track.
On June 25, SASB announced its decision to defer the start of the yatra from the Pahalgam route by three days as the track had not yet been completely cleared of snow.
The Himalayan mountain ranges in the entire Yatra area witnessed very heavy snowfall during the winter and about seven to eight feet of snow still exist at several places around the cave shrine.