By Binoo Joshi, Indo-Asian News Service
Jammu, April 26, 2006 (IANS) The Muslims of Verinag, the source of the Jhelum river, want the base camp of the Hindu pilgrimage to Amarnath to be set up in their town – a clear indication of the changing times in Jammu and Kashmir.
They have made a passionate plea to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board for making Verinag the base camp of the annual pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Amarnath that is undertaken by hundreds of thousands of Hindus.
While crossing from Jammu, Verinag opens the doors to the Kashmir Valley. It contains the octagon-shaped 50-foot-deep spring that is the source of the Jhelum.
Until now, there used to be two base camps – Pahalgam in south Kashmir from where the traditional pilgrimage route zigzags through glaciers and dizzying heights of Himalayan passes; and Baltal near Sonmarg on the Srinagar-Leh highway, which is the shorter but steeper route for the cave shrine of Lord Shiva.
‘It is our appeal to you to set up the base camp at Verinag,’ said Ghulam Ahmad Mir, an MLA and former minister who led a delegation of Muslim elders to Governor S.K. Sinha, who is also chairman of the shrine board.
In the north of the Pir Panjal mountain range, immediately after the journey through the Jawahar Tunnel into the Valley, Verinag is the first town that one enters.
Mir said apart from helping revive the local shrine of Lord Shiva at Omh in the area, the pilgrimage if routed through Verinag would help regenerate Kashmiriyat or co-existence of different communities in Kashmir.
The governor, according to a spokesman of the shrine board, was delighted at the idea but said security considerations would not allow a change of the route for this year though it could be considered in future.
There was a time, especially in the 1990s, when the pilgrimage was a target for militants. But as the plea of the Muslim delegation shows, the times are changing.
The pilgrimage will begin June 11 and go on till Aug 9. It is expected to attract half a million devotees from various parts of the country. Last year, the number was 400,000.
This time, the pilgrims are to be treated to Sufiyana music by artists from Pakistan as well.
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