From Amarnath Yatra, A Message Of Unity And Bonding

At a time when religion is being used to spread rumours and spark conflict, many people are setting an example of brotherhood.

Amarnath Yatra began on Thursday.

Srinagar:

Parvez Khan, a resident of Jammu, looks forward to Amarnath Yatra each year. He sets up a stall at the Pathankot-Jammu highway where he welcomes the pilgrims with garlands and kheer (rice pudding).

Over the years, many of the people he has met during the annual pilgrimage to the Hindu shrine in Amarnath cave have turned into friends. "We may follow different religions but faith is universal," he says.

"We set up a community kitchen for pilgrims so that they taste something sweet (kheer) before setting out for the Yatra. You must have heard about 'Athithi devo bhavo' (guest is god). We want to spread the message in our state and the whole country," he adds. 

It has become an annual ritual for Sachin, a pilgrim, to visit Parvez's stall every year. "Every year, before we start our journey, we come to this stall to savour the kheer."

Serving anyone on his way to the holy shrine is no less than a privilege for the locals at the Yatra base camp in Pahalgam, 300 km away from Jammu, they say.  

Imtiyaz, who sells Kashmiri handicraft in Pahalgam, is just one of over 5,000 Muslim traders, shopkeepers and workers who welcome nearly two lakh Amarnath Yatris every year from all over the country.

"When the pilgrims come here, we exchange phone numbers. They call us on Eid and we call them on Diwali. We take very good care of Yatris because they are our guests. It gradually turns into a lifelong relationship," says Imtiyaz.

At every stop along the way, there are gatherings. Religion is not a barrier, it is a talking point. The journey of faith is also about embracing the unknown.

Saif-ud-din Wani, a taxi driver, who ferried a group of tourists from Srinagar to Pahalgam this year, prays that weather clears up soon for the Yatra to resume so that he can take them for Amarnath Darshan as well. "I pray to Allah that weather clears up, and they return after the Amarnath Darshan," he says.

For many pilgrims, the journey through the slippery tracks in the inclement weather also lets them experience the famous Kashmiri hospitality. "We do not feel any difference between Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs here. Everybody is coming forward to help the Yatris. Even in this bad weather, everybody is coming out to cooperate with us," says Kamlesh, a pilgrim.

At a time when religion is being used to spread rumours and spark conflict, Amarnath Yatra stands out as an example of unity, brotherhood and communal harmony.

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