Anticipating heavy tourist rush on the Amarnath Yatra route this year, the centre has asked for a helicopter service for pilgrims directly from Srinagar to Panchtarni, which is the last drop off point, about 6 kilometres from the shrine.
As of now, helicopter services are available for the pilgrims from Baltal and Pahalgam to Panchtarni - pilgrims either walk or ride a mule or in a palanquin to the Amarnath shrine from this point. Both Baltal and Pahalgam are about 90 kilometres from Srinagar. This year, a new route is being added - from Budgam (near the Srinagar airport) to Panchtarni.
"The government is expecting heavy rush during this yatra so to ease the pressure on it was decided in the meeting last week that helicopter services can be provided to yatris directly from Srinagar too," a senior functionary of the government told NDTV.
According to him, the Shree Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has also been asked to check if it would be feasible to land the choppers at the foothill of the Amarnath cave. As of now, only the choppers that ferry VVIPs land near the cave.
"This would also reduce distance and more yatris can visit the shrine in a day," the official said, adding though this service would be used only by few pilgrims because of the cost involved. The fare for this helicopter route is still being worked out.
As per the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) framed on the directions of Supreme Court of India, only 15,000 registered Shri Amarnath Yatra pilgrims are allowed beyond Pehlgam and Baltal in a day - including 7,500 each from Baltal and Pahalgam track.
This is excluding pilgrims who would travel by helicopters on either route to Panjtarni.
The government is also keen on this plan because this would also mean less number of pilgrims on road leading up to Baltal and Pahalgam, which, in turn, will also reduce the risk.
This year, the yatra would go on for 43 days starting June 30.
According to intelligence agencies, the latest threat about targeting the yatra came from Kashmir Fighter terror group, which is an off shoot of Jaish-e-Mohammed. Letter and posters were seen at many places in Kashmir, warning security forces of consequences.
As per data, this year till June, 96 terrorists have been eliminated by security forces in Jammu and Kashmir, of which 30 were foreign terrorists.