Yatra suspended from both tracks3 July 2011
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: Pilgrimage to holy cave shrine of Shri Amarnath ji was today stopped from both base camps of Nunwan in Pahalgam and Baltal due to inclement weather conditions on the two tracks and holy cave shrine while the yatra from Jammu remained suspended for second consecutive day today leading to chaos and anarchy on Jammu-Srinagar National Highway up to Udhampur where hundreds of yatri vehicles were stranded throughout the day leading to enormous miseries and hardships not only to the pilgrims but the general passengers, who were also de-barred by police and Traffic Police from proceeding towards Srinagar. There was no word on resumption of yatra from Jammu, Pahalgam and Baltal from Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) for tomorrow as well. SASB CEO R K Goyal said a decision on resumption of yatra from Pahalgam and Baltal would be taken early tomorrow morning after reviewing weather forecast. Yatra from Jammu will be released only if pilgrimage is resumed from Baltal and Pahalgam, he added. Till late tonight, over 18,000 pilgrims were stranded at various lodgment centers in Jammu as the authorities opened community halls and school buildings for the yatris while over 11,000 yatris were stopped at temples and schools between Samba and Kathua. Nearly 5,000 pilgrims were waiting to cross Lakhanpur, the gateway of Jammu and Kashmir, to enter the State in a large convoy of vehicles. Several yatra vehicles were stranded on roads at various places on Jammu-Pathankote highway. Over 20,000 yatris were held up at Baltal and about 5700 at Pahalgam. Due to lack of co-ordination between various Government agencies, not only the pilgrims but the common man and general tourists also suffered badly due to a complete jam from Nagrota to Udhampur throughout the day today as the police and Traffic Police didn’t allow any private vehicle to move on the highway under instructions to stop the yatris, both registered and unregistered, from reaching Pahalgam and Baltal. Even pilgrims of Mata Vaishno Devi ji shrine were also stopped at Nagrota. The common people and general tourists heading towards different destinations were stopped despite protest. The pilgrims refused to deter from the Highway as they were adamant to proceed towards Pahalgam or Baltal, leading to huge traffic jams and suspension of virtually every kind of vehicular movement from Jammu to Srinagar. The down convoy from Srinagar was diverted from Udhampur to Dabbar-Mansar-Samba road. The pilgrims and stranded common people strongly lamented the complete mismanagement on part of various agencies of the administration, which messed up with the yatra and disturbed entire traffic system on Jammu-Srinagar national highway into crisis. It was late in the night that the yatri vehicles returned to Jammu and stranded vehicles of general public and tourists were cleared. Following a virtual crisis at Baltal, Jammu and enroute due to massive arrival of pilgrims, both registered and unregistered and their accumulation due to continued blockade of yatra from Jammu for second consecutive day today, SASB CEO R K Goyal said the metrological reports have indicated that heavy rains were expected to lash entire yatra area along Baltal and Pahalgam routes. There was also a possibility of heavy snowfall on the Yatra routes. 'A decision on allowing the pilgrimage from base camps of Baltal and Pahalgam (Nunwan) would be taken in early hours of July 4 after a further assessment of weather conditions on the twin tracks’’, he said, adding resumption of yatra from Jammu on Monday morning would depend upon the start of yatra from Pahalgam and Nunwan. Mr Goyal said the yatra would remain suspended from Jammu tomorrow if it couldn’t be resumed from Pahalgam and Baltal. The Shrine Board made an appeal to the pilgrims, who were stranded at various places, not to insist on any forward movement towards the holy shrine or base camps of Pahalgam and Baltal in view of adverse weather conditions to ensure smooth, safe and secure movement of the devotees. Mr Goyal said only registered pilgrims would be allowed to proceed towards the yatra when it resumed to maintain discipline and avoid heavy rush. Pointing out that eight yatris have so far lost their lives during five days of pilgrimage, he called upon the pilgrims to strictly follow do’s and don’ts from the SASB website before undertaking yatra through high mountains under adverse weather conditions. Official sources said a decision to suspend yatra from Pahalgam and Baltal base camps this morning was taken following rains and snowfall on the twin tracks rendering the tracks slippery. However, 5375 yatris, who had reached Panjtarni last evening, were allowed to proceed towards the holy cave. Sources said, 11,373 pilgrims, who had already been camping at Shri Amarnath ji cave shrine in South Kashmir Himalayas or reached there this morning from enroute Pahalgam track, performed darshan of Lord Shiva’s holy Ice Lingam today taking total number of yatris, who had paid obeisance at the shrine during first five days of yatra to 96,877. Till last night, 85,504 pilgrims had performed darshan. Sources said, about 20,000 pilgrims were stranded at Baltal, the shorter and preferred route for the yatra this evening, while 5700 others were camping at Nunwan in Pahalgam. In Jammu, till late tonight, about 18,000 pilgrims were held up at various places due to suspension of yatra for second consecutive day today and arrival of more yatris from different States by air, train, buses and other mode of private transport, Deputy Commissioner, Jammu, Sanjeev Verma said. As number of yatris continued to swell, the authorities decided to stop the yatris at Samba and beyond up to Lakhanpur as majority of community halls, dharamshalas and Government school buildings within peripheries of the city besides temples, opened for accommodating the pilgrims were packed to capacity. Jammu Yatri Niwas, Canal Road, the base camp for the pilgrims, was packed to capacity and a number of pilgrims were seen sitting or sleeping outside or within the buses and other private vehicles in which they had reached here. Mr Verma said whatever buildings were available to the administration, which including all community centers, dharamshalas, religious places and even the Government school buildings have been opened for the pilgrims but the arrival continued to rise leading to problem. Sources said the crisis could deepen if the yatra was not allowed from Jammu for third consecutive day tomorrow as the pilgrims were getting restless as they were determined to proceed to the base camps of Pahalgam and Baltal for their onward journey to the holy cave shrine. In the afternoon, the administration started stopping all vehicles of Amarnath pilgrims, bound to Jammu, at Samba and beyond. SSP Kathua J L Sharma said over 3000 yatris have been lodged at Lakhanpur and about an equal number at Samba at different temples and other available accommodation. About 500 yatris were kept at Chan Roarian and 300 at Palli Morh. According to sources, nearly 5,000 pilgrims were waiting to cross Lakhanpur, the entry point of Jammu and Kashmir. A number of yatris had entered Toll Plaza near Lakhanpur and were camping there. Several pilgrims were seen sleeping inside their vehicles on Jammu-Pathankote National Highway in the absence of any accommodation. There was no let up in fresh arrival of the pilgrims from Lakhanpur despite stoppage of the yatra. 'The problem is that the pilgrims were refusing to temporarily return or halt. They want to proceed to Jammu on way to the cave shrine. We can’t use force against the pilgrims. All available accommodation is being opened to house the yatris and local villagers were approached to open langars’’, they said. Worst sufferers of the administration’s decision to stop every kind of vehicular movement from Jammu to Srinagar to prevent arrival of yatris at Baltal and Pahalgam in the garb of tourists were Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims, Patnitop and Kashmir bound tourists and general travelers to different places on the National Highway. Right from the morning, authorities had stopped entire traffic at Nagrota. Some of the vehicles, which had managed to cross Nagrota in wee hours, were stopped at Domel, Jhajjar Kotli, Tikri and Udhampur. Thousands of yatris, tourists and commoners were stranded at different places on the National Highway leading to a massive traffic jam and virtual choking of the highway from Nagrota to Udhampur. Though the authorities diverted down convoy from Srinagar from Udhampur in view of jam, Dabbar-Mansar road was unable to bear the huge traffic influx leading to jam there also. Even Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims were not allowed to reach to Katra as police stopped vehicles at Nagrota and enroute. The commoners traveling to Udhampur or other places enroute besides the tourists were also stopped creating a commotion among the people. Many civilians were seen walking a long distance to reach their villages. Entire Highway from Nagrota to Udhampur was completely choked with yatris vehicles stopped at different places. Only after it started getting dark that the yatri vehicles returned to Jammu. Some pilgrims claimed that police opened mild lathicharge on them at Sidhra on Narwal bypass late this evening when they were trying to move towards Nagrota in a convoy of vehicles. The pilgrims protested against the lathicharge. The pilgrims remained stranded at Sidhra as they were not allowed to march towards Nagrota. SDPO Nagrota Faisal Qureshi, however, denied use of force against the pilgrims saying the yatris trying to head towards Nagrota from Narwal bypass in Sidhra were pushed back. The pilgrims, however, insisted that they were lathicharged. Passengers including women and children were seen awaiting for hours for the traffic jams to ease. 'We are caught in traffic jams for six hours. We have to leave back tomorrow for Mumbai. How can we perform darshan and come back?', Darshani Kadam of Pune, a Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrim, wondered in the presence of his family while stranded in a Tavera vehicle at Nagrota. Srinagar-bound passenger Abdul Hamid said, 'there is a total breakdown of the official machinery. If they have to stop Amarnath pilgrims, why are they causing problems to us. We are stuck here for four hours’’. Irate over the traffic closure and jams, passengers and pilgrims held protest demonstrations at Jammu bypass, Nagrota, Udhampur and Lakhanpur areas against the Government. In view of criticism from Mata Vaishno Devi pilgrims and tourists for preventing their vehicles also from moving towards Katra or Udhampur along with Amarnath yatris, sources said the administration tonight asked police and Traffic Police to differentiate between commoners and Vaishno Devi pilgrims and stop only Amarnath yatra vehicles if the yatra is stopped from Jammu tomorrow. A large number of pilgrims of Mata Vaishno Devi bound for Katra and local people were seen cursing the administration for complete mismanagement on the National Highway, which not only led to huge traffic jams but also prevented the people other than Amarnath yatris from visiting their destinations. They said the police, Traffic Police and other authorities just refused to listen to them. Despite showing their luggage, which carried no woolen clothes, the authorities paid no heed to them and stopped their vehicles too. The entire drama continued throughout the day and no senior officer bothered to issue any direction to allow general vehicles to proceed to their destinations. Entire Yatri Niwas base camp was filled with the pilgrims with no space left for more yatris to accommodate. Besides, Yatri Niwas, community centers, dharamshalas and temples, a large number of yatris were also staying in private accommodation in hotels and lodges. Meanwhile, three more yatris died today due to cardiac arrest taking the death toll during this year's yatra to 9. Yatra officials said that one Sadhu identified as Kailash Anand died due to cardiac arrest at Pahalgam today and two more yatris died in Baltal. One of them has been identified as Vikram, 29, son of Ram Prassad of Indore, MP and another 40 year old Anil Gupta of Agra.