Kashmir yatra:

A U.S-made sniper rifle M24 that was recovered by security forces during raids at terror hideouts along the Amarnath Yatra route in Srinagar Aug 2. Citing intelligence inputs of terror threats, the Jammu and Kashmir Government Aug. 2 issued an advisory asking Amarnath pilgrims and tourists to “curtail” their stay in the valley and leave “as soon as possible.” (IANS photo)

SRINAGAR – A midday order issued by the state home department Aug. 2 advised Amarnath Yatra pilgrims and tourists to immediately rush back home and that the annual Hindu pilgrimage that was scheduled to end Aug. 15 had been called off.

Officials said following intelligence inputs of a terror attack being planned by the militants, for the safety of the yatris and the tourists, they were being advised to rush back.

The tempo for the departure of the yatris and tourists from the Valley was built by a press conference addressed jointly by the GOC of Srinagar-based Chinar Corps, Lieutenant General K.J.S. Dhillon and the director general of state police Dilbag Singh.

The GOC said they had clear proof that Pakistan army was planning to attack the Amarnath Yatris (pilgrims) through terrorists in the Valley.

The Army displayed a massive landmine bearing the markings of the Pakistan army and an American telescope fitted long-range rifle which the media was told had been recovered during searches along the north and south Kashmir routes to the Cave shrine.

The state police chief gave details about the anti-militancy operations. In the meantime, police and paramilitary officers were visiting Baltal and Pahalgam base camps asking yatris to leave the Valley.

Yatris and tourists naturally panicked. Scores of vehicles carrying yatris and tourists were racing against time to get out of the Valley. It was relatively easier for the pilgrims at the Pahalgam base camp to pack up and go as the south Kashmir base camp is nearer the Jawahar Tunnel that leads out of the Valley.

The ordeal for the yatris and the tourists in Baltal, Sonamarg and Gulmarg was frustrating. Pack up and leave, the curt message delivered by the local police assisted by the paramilitary CRPF was enough to tell the pilgrims and the tourists that something had already happened or was going to happen. Taxis, mini buses and buses racing down from Baltal, Sonamarg and Gulmarg was enough for the scores of makeshift tea-stalls, handicraft kiosks and small restaurants to be bewildered along the yatra route.

This year’s Amarnath Yatra has been completely peaceful and 3.40 lakh pilgrims had ‘darshan’ at the cave shrine. Authorities had initially suspended the yatra from Aug. 1 to Aug. 4 “due to bad weather.”

Dozens of pilgrims arrived by air from outside the Valley during the last two days although the escorted convoys of yatris from Jammu to Srinagar were stopped.

The pilgrims arriving by air started their journey from Srinagar airport to Baltal base camp, which is close to the Sonamarg hill station. These yatris were intercepted by police and paramilitary yesterday while en route to Baltal. They were stopped a day before the army and the police told the media about “possible terror threat.”

The yatris pleaded with the officials that they would stay at Sonamarg or Baltal till Aug. 4 and after the yatra is resumed on Aug. 5, as the authorities had been telling everyone, they would have ‘darshan’ and get back to the airport as they were booked back on Aug. 7 and 8.

Without giving them a convincing explanation, officials were adamant. They told aspiring pilgrims to head back to Srinagar city and re-schedule their flights back home.

No police or paramilitary officer had any plausible explanation yesterday. After futile arguments with the security men, the pilgrims reluctantly returned to spend the night at Srinagar.

By Aug. 2 afternoon, authorities officially said this year’s yatra had been curtailed due to the “security situation” and the pilgrims couldn’t go to the cave shrine.

Interestingly, ‘Chhari Mubarak’ (Lord Shiva’s Mace) was taken out by its custodian, Swami Dipendra Giri, from its seat in Srinagar for ‘puja’ at the Shankaracharya Shiv temple overlooking the Dal Lake.

The Chhari Mubarak will travel with its custodian and a group of devote sadhus to Pahalgam and reach the cave shrine on the morning of Aug. 15 coinciding with the Shravan Purnima festival. After the final prayers, the pilgrimage will formally come to an end.

Interestingly, dozens of ‘langars' (free kitchens) in Baltal base camp, at Domail en route to the cave shrine from Baltal, at Chandanwari on the southern Pahalgam trek and at many other places such as the transit camps in Manigam in Ganderbal district, in Pantha Chowk in Srinagar, at Mir Bazar in Anantnag, have been asked to pack up and leave.

Most of the managers of these ‘langars’ said they would get a ‘no-objection certificate’ from the authorities each year after the yatra ended.

But this year, after cutting short the yatra period, authorities have told them to leave and not wait for any paper work to be completed.

Is it just a terror threat? Is it that since the yatra has proceeded so peacefully and smoothly this year, the authorities do not want any untoward incident to spoil the effort of thousands of security men guarding the yatra, if there is a terror attack?

There are many answers which could unfold during the next 48 hours, but the long and short of the whole event is that the annual Amarnath Yatra has been performed by more devotees this year than during the last four years.

It has been a grand security effort in which thousands of security men did round-the-clock duties to secure the pilgrimage. That objective has been achieved.

The hiccup of cutting short a peacefully going on yatra in 2019 would, in no way, take away the credit from those who managed it fantastically so well.

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