The 40-day annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath shrine in south Kashmir Himalayas ended today, with 2.60 lakh pilgrims offering prayers this year despite a terror attack on a bus that left eight devotees dead.
The pilgrimage concludes on the festival of Raksha Bandhan each year.
This year’s figure of pilgrims visiting the shrine is the second lowest in the past 14 years. Last year, only 2.20 lakh pilgrims had visited the cave shrine due to the summer unrest.
The holy mace of Lord Shiva — Chhari Mubarak — carried by a group of ‘sadhus’ and devotees led by its custodian Mahant Deepindra Giri, arrived at the holy cave in the early hours for day-long prayers, officials of the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) said.
The group of sadhus and devotees trekked 42 km from Pahalgam to reach the shrine with night halts at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarani.
After traditional rituals at the sanctum sanctorum, the holy mace would start the return journey before dusk later today.
While the holy cave will be closed for darshan from today, pujan and visarjan (immersion) ceremonies for the journey of Chhari Mubarak would be performed on the banks of Lidder river in Pahalgam on 9 August.
It will be followed by a traditional open kitchen, the last ritual of the pilgrimage.
The holy mace would return to its abode at Amareshwar temple at Dashnami Akhara here the same day, the officials said.
The yatra had commenced from Pahalgam and Baltal routes amid strict security arrangements on 29 June.
While stringent security arrangement had been put in place for the yatra, Lashkar-e-Taiba militants managed to target a bus full of pilgrims on 10 July.
Eight pilgrims were killed while 21 others were injured in the attack.
Forty other pilgrims, including 16 in a road accident on Jammu-Srinagar Highway on 16 July, died during this edition of the pilgrimage with cardiac arrest being the major cause of deaths due to medical reasons.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Hindus — mostly labourers from other states of the country — today made a beeline for the Shankaracharya Temple atop the Zabarwan hills here to take part in prayers to mark the culmination of the yatra.
The devotees, residing in various parts of the city, started their journey to the temple by foot before day break.