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Geography and How to Reach
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The Amarnath cave is located in a narrow gorge at the farther end of the Lidder Valley. The Cave is located at an altitude of 3,888 m and is 363 km from Jammu Via Pahalgam and about 414 km from Jammu Via Baltal.
Because of the altitude, the Air Pressure is less and this leads to problems with breathing. Apart from this the climate is very uncertain and a bright sunny weather may suddenly turn into a snow storm. In fact during the time I was deployed there at cave, many thousand pilgrims had been stranded because of weather that the army had to evacuate. Because of this feature, this yatra is prone to frequent disruptions. Temperatures may dip to -5 degree Celsius during the night.
How to Reach
Nearest Airport: Srinagar (141Km)
Nearest Railroad: Udhampur (About 400 Km)
Yatra Dates 2011: 29 June to 13 Aug 2011
If travelling by air the best way to visit Amarnath would be to fly to Srinagar from Delhi and then travel by road to Baltal or Pahalgam. From Baltal, one can take a helicopter ride to the cave which takes less than 30 min, or choose to either walk, or hire a pony up the steep climb. There are also porters who carry people in a crude chair tied with two long rods, these are called dollies locally.
The cost of hiring a pony or a porter is directly proportional to the crowd. On days when the rush is more, ponies may cost up to 2000 rupees for a to/fro trip from Baltal. On a lean day, the same pony can be hired for less than 500 rupees. Similarly the rates of other amenities also vary on a daily basis.
The travel by the traditional Southern route is undertaken by foot or by pony. By foot, it may take anywhere between 3-5 days depending on the physical fitness of the individual. Here is a distance wise breakup and the difficulty quotient of the trek as experienced by myself.
This is the start point of the Yatra and is situated 96 km north of Srinagar. It is a very scenic spot, along the banks of Lidder River and surrounded by mountains. In winters this place becomes a Ski resort. There are many good hotels here and this is the place to stock up on essentials like shoes, gloves, warm clothing if one has not already done so. Also this is the last place where one can find a proper accommodation.
It is situated about 16 km from Pahalgam. The road is motor able and mini busses and other vehicles ply on this route. The trail runs along the lidder river and is very beautiful. Although vehicles do ply on this route, many people prefer to walk this distance. The climb is moderate difficulty and the gradient is gradual. It may take 4-5 hours by walk depending on the physical fitness.
Legend has it that once there was a ferocious fight between Devas and Asuras as to who will have Darshan of Lord Bholenath First. The fight is believed to be so ferocious that the modern day Pissu Top is believed to have been formed out of the heap of bodies of Asuras killed during this fight. Located at 11000 feet, it is about 3 km from Chandanwadi. The climb is steep and it may take up to 2 hours to reach Pissu top from Chandanwadi.
SeshnagThe Seshnag Mountain comprises of seven peaks and is located on the banks of the Seshnag Lake. Of the seven peaks, three are referred to as Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, after the holy trinity of Hindu Mythology. Seshnag is gifted with great natural beauty and is a treat to the eyes. The Seshnag Lake which is fed by the Seshnag glacier is a treat to the tired and weary legs and eyes. One can see huge Himalayan trout’s in this lake. All around this place are tall pine and deodar trees which provide a perfect backdrop to your conversations around fire at nights. The distance between Chandanwadi and Seshnag is about 14 km, and is mostly downhill. Therefore this leg of the Yatra can be easily covered in 3-4 hours.
Most people will stay here for the night as this place has good facilities for staying (There no pucca accommodation here, but the facilities here are better than at panchtarani or cave).
To reach panchtarani, one has to climb a steep hill for 4.6 Km to reach Mahagunas Parbat, and then descend
through a glacier to reach the meadows of panchtarani. This is the last camp before Cave and is another scenic spot. Shepherds can be seen grazing their cattle here.
From Panchtarani, the cave is just six km through Sangam. Sangam is the spot where the northern route from Baltal and the traditional southern route meet (hence the name Sangam). From here on, there is a single common route to the Cave. The climb to the cave from Panchtarani is steep and may take 3-4 hours.
Day I: Pahalgam to Seshnag
On day I after breakfast start from pahalgam and reach chandanwadi around noon. After lunch and once again start for seshnag and reach seshnag by evening. Overnight in seshnag.
Day II: Seshnag to Cave
On day II start from seshnag and proceed to Panchtarani via Ganesh Top. Should be able to reach Panchtarani by early afternoon and cave by evening. Have Darshan in the temple and either spend the night at cave or fall back to Panchtarani.
Day III: Back to Pahalgam
People who choose to stay a night at the cave can have an early Darshan of Lord Amarnath and proceed back to pahalgam. The route back is mostly downhill except for the stretch from Panchtarani to Ganesh Top. Hence it is possible to reach pahalgam by late evening if you start early (Before 8.00AM) from the cave.