BY SHABNUM SHAH : The erstwhile Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, General (Retd) SK Sinha once said, “Amarnath Yatra” reflects the deep bonds of brotherhood and amity in the land of Sufis and saints. Amity and secularism is ingrained in the basic character of the people of Kashmir.
The two-month long Amarnath Yatra, the treacherous, yet satisfying journey through mountain passes, culminates at the holy cave of Shri Amarnath. The Yatra provides a once-in-a-lifetime religious opportunity to millions of Hindus from different parts of the country and world, to pay obeisance to Lord Shiva, who emerges at the holy cave in a transitory form of an ice lingam. However, in addition to this, it also brings economic respite, though short-lived, to thousand of locals who, otherwise, have no steady source of income due to years of turmoil in the Valley.
Year after year, pilgrims visit Kashmir to take part in Amarnath Yatra. Every year, the number of these pilgrims have been increasing and while the State government alongwith the Army, security forces and the police, makes foolproof arrangements for smooth conduct of the Yatra, the locals, contribute immensely towards success of the Yatra.
The locals participate in the Amarnath Yatra by offering several services to the yatries, Including ponies, dandies, pithus as well as other utility services, Although, the government-initiated helicopter services have proven to be very popular among the pilgrims, raking in as much as Rs 13 crore a year, the pithus and ponies still remain the favourite mode of transport for pilgrims, who find it hard to complete the pilgrimage on foot.
Farming, animal husbandry and tourism have so far been the pillars of economic sustenance for average Kashmiri. However, with the onset of turmoil almost two decades ago, these professions have taken a severe beating, reducing the average Kashmiri to a mere daily wager, in search of whatever job he could lay his hand upon, in order to earn his day’s income and bring food to the table for his family. Out of the three main professions, it is tourism, which was affected most seriously because people were afraid to come to Kashmir because of the incessant violence.
However, with normalcy being restored to the Valley towards the end of the 1990s and restorations of Amarnath Yatra, the avenues of tourism also opened up slowly, bringing with it the means of income that the Kashmiris were struggling to come across. But now, every year, Amarnath Yatra attracts lakhs of pilgrims, who come into Jammu and Kashmir, each one of them staying here for more than a week, thus contributing to State’s economy.
Now with the commencement of railway line in Kashmir, the influx of tourists as well as pilgrims is expected to grow more pronounced and, thus, will uplift the living standard of the average Kashmiri.