The annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath cave shrine in the south Kashmir Himalayas concluded today with over 2.85 lakh pilgrims offering prayers at the naturally-formed ice-shivlingam.
According to officials, a total of 2,85,006 people paid homage at the cave shrine during the pilgrimage which commenced on 28 June through Baltal and Pahalgam routes.
They said 38 people, including pilgrims, service providers and pony-wallas, died during the course of the yatra this year.
The deaths were due to weather-related incidents or natural causes, the officials said.
The number of pilgrims who performed the yatra this year is higher than last year. A total of 2.60 lakh pilgrims offered prayers at the shrine last year.
Various security measures were taken this year for the smooth conduct of the yatra.
For the first time, the government used radio frequency (RF) tags to track Amarnath-bound vehicles, while the CRPF introduced motorcycle squads with cameras and various life-saving equipment.
The security was heightened for this year's yatra in view of the militant attack on a bus carrying pilgrims last year that left eight of them dead and 18 others injured.
Around 40,000 security personnel from the Jammu and Kashmir Police, paramilitary forces, National Disaster Response Force and the Army were deployed for this year's pilgrimage, the officials said.
They said the yatra this year was peacefully.
The holy mace of Lord Shiva, popularly known as 'Chhari Mubarak', carried by a group of sadhus and devotees led by its custodian Mahant Deepindra Giri, arrived at the holy cave in the wee hours for the day-long prayers, the officials said.
The group of sadhus and devotees trekked 42 kilometres from Pahalgam to reach the cave shrine with night halts at Chandanwari, Sheshnag and Panchtarani.
Additional chief executive officer of Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) Bhupinder Kumar and Ganderbal Deputy Commissioner Piyush Singla visited the cave shrine early this morning and prayed for sustained peace, harmony, progress and prosperity in the state.
The officers interacted with the camp officials and other officers at the holy cave, and reviewed the ongoing sanitation and camp cleaning initiatives being undertaken by them.
They asked the officials concerned to ensure that all bio-degradable and non-biodegradable wastes, including plastic wastes, are disposed off.
They complimented the civil and police administrations of Anantnag and Ganderbal districts, J-K Police, Central Armed Police Forces, Army, various state government departments and all other agencies for the smooth conduct of the yatra, the officials said.