New Delhi: For the first time, the pilgrims this year can avail of helicopter service directly from Srinagar for Amarnath Yatra, an annual Hindu pilgrimage in South Kashmir.

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has directed the Jammu and Kashmir administration to start the helicopter service for pilgrims directly from Srinagar to Panchtarni, the last stop point located at an elevation of 3,500 metres from where a six-kilometre trek takes pilgrims to the holy Amarnath cave, top official sources confirmed ANI.

The decision was taken considering the heavy tourist rush on the Amarnath Yatra route, said the source, requesting anonymity. The helicopter facility was so far available for the pilgrims from Baltal and Pahalgam– the twin route to reach Amarnath temple– to reach Panchtarni from where pilgrims either walk or take help of ponies and palanquin facility.

Both Baltal and Pahalgam routes are about 61 kilometres from Amarnath Temple. The shorter route to Amarnath Temple is from Baltal which lies at a distance of 15 km from the holy cave and the pilgrims have an option to either travel by feet or by helicopter or ponies. 

However, the longer route from Pahalgam to Amarnath Temple is about 46 km which can also be covered either by trek, ponies, palanquin, or helicopters.

“With the beginning of helicopter service from Srinagar to Panchtarni will certainly reduce the time of those pilgrims who want to avoid visiting Pahalgam and Baltal by road to avail the facility,” said another official.

The move will add on a new route this year from Budgam, near the Srinagar airport, to Panchtarni. “Expecting heavy rush of pilgrims as Amarnath Yatra is going to start after a gap of two years, the Central government has taken the decision to start the helicopter service from Srinagar,” the official said.

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The purpose behind the new helicopter route is to reduce the rush on road through Pahalgam and Baltal, which, in turn, will certainly be safe for pilgrims amid threats by terror groups to disrupt the pilgrimage, said another official.

As per agencies` inputs, the security wing is concerned regarding the use of `sticky bombs` by terrorists during the pilgrimage, and has tightened the vigil across Jammu and Kashmir to avoid any unprecedented incident during the pilgrimage.

For the safe and secure pilgrimage, special gadgets are learnt to be used by security personnel during the pilgrimage and drone services have been enhanced to keep a tab on each and every activity from a Centralised control room, said the official.

Besides, the source said, the number of drones are being increased during the pilgrimage and it is estimated that over 50 are to be used only on twin routes of Pahalgam and Baltal.

For the first time, another officer in the CRPF said, an “integrated” effort is being put across all forces concerned including Army, CRPF, Jammu and Kashmir Police, Jammu and Kashmir administration and Amarnathji Shrine Board members. About three lakh pilgrims are likely to take part in the pilgrimage to the cave shrine located in the upper reaches of south Kashmir.

While online registration has already begun, the pilgrimage is scheduled to be held for 43 days between June 30 and August 11. The Amarnath shrine pilgrimage to the 3,880-metre-high cave shrine of Lord Shiva is located in the upper reaches of the Himalayas. 

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India 4 Kashmir is a Pan-India movement to reclaim our lost ground and rehabilitate common Indians in Kashmir with dignity and honour.