Reaching Amarnath cave or Amarnath yatra is a religious adventure. It gives you a flavour of hiking, camping, trekking, breathlessness and God. Amarnath Cave is a speechless, powerful demonstration of beauty of nature. Beautiful caricatures formed from ice is a worth a beauty after the treacherous trek to the cave.
The track places you in midst of death and life many a times. This is such a life changing experience. The unknown will be serving and helping you in best possible ways like your own family members at the time of distress. There are lot of bhandaras and langars set up throughout the way up to the cave. They will provide you with what best they can provide in terms of food, shelter, medicines.
These bhandaras have a positive cutthroat competition. Each bhandara wants to serve yatris or travellers of what other bhandaras have missed and or are not able to serve. They are the best example positive competition, a pure demonstration of win-win strategy. You will find anything you can think of to eat up there in the hills. Popcorn, Cold drink, Cotton Candy, Manchurian, Chowmein, burger, fried rice and the list is endless. However, all food served is strictly vegetarian. In short you, do not have to worry about food in the Amarnath yatra once you have reached pahalgam or baltal.
You can reach amaranth cave from baltal as well as pahalgam. The pahalgam route is difficult and it takes days to reach the cave. Belief is that pahalgam is the actual route, which Lord Shankar took to reach the cave. The baltal route is short. Back and forth is easily managed in a day, when all is by your side. When I say all by your side, the major factors are weather, your health, time you start your journey from the base camp. One should start the journey latest by four in the morning, and if you have a decent stamina, will be able to manage back to the base camp by four in the evening. You can choose to travel by Helicopter, Palki, Pony or your strong legs.
There are lot of historical stories about this cave that you will learn on your way to cave, not sharing any of those here. However, the most popular one about the pigeons seems like a truth. I was able to spot a pair of pigeons at the cave though no birds spotted throughout the trek.
On the way up to the cave you will have most amazing things to look at. Last three kilometers you will be walking on the glacier. Locals have dig out holes in Glacier to draw water from the river beneath. There are tents on the way and can be hired to stay overnight. If the weather turns bad, you will not be able to reach back, and then might need to put up in one of these tents. The beds in these tents are made by cutting ice or they can be called ice beds. When you wake up in the morning, you will be buried inside these beds because of your body warmth. Make sure to sleep with raincoats on, as these are not at all warm and cozy, and instead wet and hard.
I have travelled twice and only through baltal, so the experiences shared are as per that. Helicopter drops at Panchtarni and then one has to walk, pony or palki to the cave, which is close to 5 kilometers. The last 3 kilometers is walk on Ice and is the most challenging part. You will stand, fall, stand, fall in the ice and the series continues until you reach the cave. If you hire a palki, it is the most comfortable part and they will take you up to the cave and back to your base camp. You can hire a pony if you are not scared of sitting on the horse.
Possible routes to travel to cave are:
- Helicopter (panchtarni)+ Pony
- Helicopter (panchtarni)+ Palki
- Helicopter (panchtarni)+ Walk
- Pony back and forth from base camp
- Palki back and forth from base camp
Word of caution is that one has to negotiate like anything with the Pony and the Palki vendors. However, the Amarnath Shrine Board regulates the rates, but the vendors inflate it like anything. Do not be scared of them, as they will try to do that all the time. Be bold and strong. Army is deployed every nook and corner on the route up to the cave. Do not think for a second if you need any help. They are the most humble, generous and true God’s Avatar on this trek. Once you reach out to them, they will do what best a god can come and do for you. I have seen Army men helping travellers with warm water to drink, motivating them in depression and encouraging reaching to top, helping them with oxygen in breathlessness, resolving fights with local kashmiri goons. The valley earns from the yatra, only because of Army. The police seem to be hapless in front of local Kashmiri goons.
Notes of Personal advice
- Always carry raincoat during the trek, as it takes only few minutes to change from bright and sunny to rainy.
- Carry some chocolates, dry fruits, glucose and ORS in your pocket, as there may be times when you need instant source of energy and vital salts.
- Eat light but enough to have decent energy as due to lack of oxygen at the top, your digestion will slow down and may suffer from nausea.
- Do not get too excited and burn your energy quickly, as you will not be able to regain it back soon due to slow body processes subject to low oxygen levels. Always save some buffer energy in your body, as if you keep power bank for your phone.
- As soon as you get a network or a telephone booth, inform your family about your well-being, as there may be times when there is no network for days. Also, tell them not to panic in case you are not reachable.
- Wear good quality shoes, as you have to walk in ice for close to 6 kilometer. Sneakers are a big NO as they may become wet and chances of catching cold and falling prey are high.
- First aid kit, torch, warm jacket, water bottle, tissue paper is necessary. You might end up paying for basic stuff worth 10 bucks in hundreds.
- Amarnath is always high on terror attack do not do anything which may be harmful to India.
- Most important, never pay money to the pony or the palki vendor before your journey completes. They are the biggest miscreant on this yatra, and do not trust them at any cost. While starting the journey with them, ask them for their Identity Cards, and do not hand them back until you are safely back to your base camp. They may misbehave with you at times, like ask you to walk when there is uphill to climb, so they do not have to do much labour. Reach out to the nearest standing army men if misbehavior is reaching beyond limit and do not create unnecessary noise; it will be problematic for you only. There is thin line to decide when you need to raise voice and to ignore. Manage with these people diplomatically and avoid getting in to discussions.
- If you are not that typically religious and superstitious, avoid journey on Monday. There is rush like anything, and may have to wait for hours in queue outside the Cave and that too in ice.