by Babra Wani
SRINAGAR: In a first of its kind development, the route leading to the Amarnath cave in Jammu and Kashmir has been made accessible for vehicular travel.
The Border Roads Organisation (BRO), entrusted with the maintenance of the roads leading to the cave, has successfully extended the route all the way to the shrine. As per the officials, the road from Dumail to the cave through the Baltal base camp in District Ganderbal has been completed, with the first vehicles having already reached the shrine.
@BROindia Project Beacon is involved in restoration and improvement of Amarnath Yatra tracks.
Border Roads personnel completed the formidable task and created history with first set of vehicles reaching the holy cave.
— 𝐁𝐨𝐫𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐑𝐨𝐚𝐝𝐬 𝐎𝐫𝐠𝐚𝐧𝐢𝐬𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 (@BROindia) November 2, 2023
The enhancement of the Amarnath Yatra trails is a part of the BRO’s ‘Project Beacon’. The Pahalgam Development Authority (PDA) has overseen the maintenance of the Pahalgam road in Anantnag district, while the Public Works Department (PWD) of the J-K government has managed the Baltal route in the Ganderbal district.
The expansion of the road to the Amarnath shrine has not been without controversy.
Mohit Bhan, PDP Spokesperson, criticised the BRO’s move, expressing concerns about urbanising religious sites for political gain and neglecting the ecological impact and sacred essence of the Hindu pilgrimage. “The recent construction of a macadamized road by the Border Roads Organisation leading to the sacred Amarnath Shrine in Kashmir has sparked a wave of criticism. This move has raised concerns about reckless urbanization of religious sites for political mileage, disregarding the ecological impact and the sacred ethos of Hindu pilgrimage,” Bhan said.
This is not history it's the biggest crime one can commit to Hinduism & it's faith in nature. Hinduism is all about immersing in spritual mother nature , that's why our pilgrimages are in lap of Himalayas. Turning religious piligrimages into picnic spots for mere political gains… https://t.co/23z3DL3SnM
— Mohit Bhan موہت بھان (@buttkout) November 6, 2023
Taking to a micro-blogging website X, formerly Twitter, Bhan condemned these developments, stating, “This is not history; it’s the biggest crime one can commit to Hinduism and its faith in nature. Hinduism is all about immersing in spiritual mother nature; that’s why our pilgrimages are in the lap of Himalayas. Turning religious pilgrimages into picnic spots for mere political gains is worthy of condemnation. We have seen the wrath of God in Joshimath, Kedarnath, and yet we are learning no lessons instead are inviting a catastrophe in Kashmir.”
National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah also questioned the construction of the motorable road, stating that it’s not advisable to tamper with the environment in this manner. He emphasised the long-standing tradition of the annual pilgrimage to the shrine and argued against the necessity of allowing vehicles in the vicinity.
“While providing some convenience is understandable, we must seriously reconsider this decision. Allowing vehicles in such locations can be detrimental to their preservation. Throughout the yatra’s history, locals have carried yatris on their shoulders, a practice that should continue. Endangering our environment in this way is ill-advised,” Omar told reporters.
He pointed out that facing challenges during the yatra is not unusual, drawing a parallel with other religious pilgrimages. ‘When we undertake the Haj, we don’t use vehicles for Tawaf; we complete it on foot. Similarly, many visitors to the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine choose to walk instead of using vehicles,’ Abdullah said.
In contrast, the official handle of the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) Jammu and Kashmir celebrated the opening of the road.
अब देश अपने लिए बड़े लक्ष्य तय करता है, कठिन समय सीमाएं निर्धारित करता है। pic.twitter.com/CzREUroKZh
— BJP Jammu & Kashmir (@BJP4JnK) November 7, 2023
BJP’s official statement shared with the media read, “The road to Amarnathji cave is a matter to rejoice, and those who criticize it should seek psychiatric help.” The statement further expressed, “Only the mentally insane would criticize this benevolent move of the Modi Government to provide succour to lakhs of people intended to pay obeisance at the holy cave shrine of Baba Barfani.”