Though the holy pilgrimage to Amarnath is one of the toughest Yatra of indian spiritual tourism , still the devotees of Amarnath flock to this holy cave every year in lakhs and lakhs. There are generally two routes that take the tourists to this holy place of Amarnath out of which one is from Jammu to Amarnath Cave via Pahalgam and the other is from Jammu to Amarnath Cave via Baltal.
1. JAMMU - PAHALGAM - AMARNATH CAVE
Jammu to Pahalgam is about 315 Km that can be covered by the conveyance of Taxi and Buses. The Government of Jammu & Kashmir has provided the facility of running Taxi and Buses from Raghunath Bazaar early in the morning but the visitors can also come to Jammu by air and then move Pahalgam. So, the holy Yatra of Amarnath starts from the first route of Pahalgam located at a distance of 96 Kms from Srinagar situated on the banks of Lidder River surrounded by the natural beauty of valleys and mountains. The important destinations covered under this route are Chandanwari 16 Kms away from Pahalgam, Pissu Top, Sheshnag second day’s trek of 12 Kms from Chandanwari, Panchtarni, and finally the Holy Cave Shri Amarnath.
It is 96 KM from Srinagar .This distance can be covered by car,bus or taxi. Pahalgam is known all over the world for its beauty. Pahalgam is a picturesque small town surrounded by mountains covered with deodar and conifer trees and is situated on the bank of the river Liddar. It is said that in the vicinity of Pahalgam is Mahadevgiri mountain and at its base is a big flat stone. A stream runs besides it. In the 9th century A.D. a saint named Vasugupta had a dream in which Lord Shiva appeared to him and told him the whereabouts of a rock with a series of teachings inscribed on it. These teachings which were named as Shivasutras form the foundation of Kashmiri Shaivism. Swami Mukhtananda who visited Kashmir found the rock. The intervening years have wiped away the writings which were found on the rock but the feelings remains. All essentials can be bought here. Good Hotels are available for accommodation. However the arrangements for stay and Langar are also made by the Non Government Service Organisations. Pahalgam also serves as a base camp for the Yatra.
The pilgrims leave for the next stag-Chandanwari. The distance from Pahalgam to Chandanwari is 16km. The route is good .It can be covered by road transport also. Mini buses are also available from Pahalgam to reach Chandanwari. The trail runs along the Lidder River . The route is scenic. Food is available here. Pilgrims camp at Pahalgam or Chandanwari on the first night.
(c) PISSU GHATI
As the Yatra proceed further from Chandanwari one climbs a height to reach Pissu Ghati. It is said that to be first to reach for darshan of Bhole Nath Shivshankar there was a war between Devtas and Rakshas . With the power of Shiv, devtas could kill the rakshas in such large number that the heap of their dead bodies has resulted in this high mountain.
This second day’s trek of 12 kms from Chandanwari is through Pissu Ghati and spectacular, primeval countryside, and reachess Sheshnag - a mountain which derives its name from its Seven Peaks, resembling the heads of the mythical snake. The Journey to Sheshnag follows steep inclines on the right bank of a cascading stream and wild scenery untouched by civilisation. The second night’s camp at Sheshnag overlooks the deep blue waters of Sheshnag lake, and glaciers beyond it. The Sheshnag Lake is a mile long and a quarter of a mile broad and there is a meadow overlooking the lake. There are legends of love and revenge too associated with Sheshnag, and at the camp these are narrated by campfires. It is said that a powerful Asura (demon) brought about a havoc among the Devas (gods). In distress they prayed to Lord Shiva, but he could not help them as he had granted a boon to the Asura (demon) that he would not be killed by the Lord. He advised them to approach Lord Vishnu. They prayed to Lord Vishnu as a result of which the mighty snake residing in the lake destroyed the Asura (demon) at the command of Lord Vishnu. The stillness of a pine scented Himalayan night increases your inner joy. There is a rest house but during Sawan there are large number of Yatris so it better to arrange for Tent from Chandanwari . The arrangement for carrying load should be made at Pahlgam itself. The water of Sheshnag Lake is very cold . Yatri can take bath and get their fatigue alliviated. The bath in the lake is considered auspicious.
From Sheshnag one has to climb steep height up across Mahagunas Pass at 4276 mtrs.(140000 ft) for 4.6 KM and then descending to the meadow lands of Panchtarni at a height of 3657 mtrs (12000 ft). The last camp enroute to the Holy Cave is made here on third day. The whole scene is one of barren mountains and no trees are found here; is covered with green grass only. The pilgrims reach the plain of Panchtarani which is a mile long and a quarter of mile broad. A stream runs here and four other streams also join it. The tradition goes that Lord Shiva was performing Tandav Nritya, the cosmic dance of destruction. "While dancing his locks got disheveled and from them the five streams came down. These are considered holy and bathing in them is considered as auspicious. Some very rare types of wild flowers of variegated colors and kinds are found here.Here one faces cold winds, cause the skin to crack. Hence cold cream.Vaseline are very useful for protection of skin. Some Yatries are also effected by deficiency of oxygen. Some may get the feeling of vomiting, so dry fruit like Allu Bukhara, sour and sweet eatables like lemon are useful to control these symptoms.
(f) THE HOLY CAVE SHRI AMARNATH
The Holy Cave of Shri Amarnath is only 6 kms from Panchtarni. As there is no place to stay hence the pilgrims start in the early hours of the morning after their stay at Pachtarni. The pilgrims have to carry their eatables for the day. On the way to The Holy Cave one come across the Sangam of Amravati and Panchtarni. Some pilgrims take bath here to become pious. Near the cave is found white soil known as Bhasam. It is the most beloved soil of Shiv ji . The pilgrims apply this Holy soil to their body and then go for Shivlingam Darshan. There are two smaller Shivlings one of Maa Parvati and other of Shri Ganesh. It may be noted that after having early Darshan of the Shivlinga at Holy Cave one can return to Panchtarni
well in time the same day . Some pilgrims camp at Panchtarni while others continue their journey and reach back Sheshnag by the same evening.
2. JAMMU - BALTAL - AMARNATH CAVE
This is another route trek to reach to Amarnath from Jammu with a total distance of about 400 Kms. It is here on this trek route the visitors experience Jammu & Kashmir as a heaven or a paradise on earth while passing through the natural bounty of beautiful valleys, steeped mountains that make Amarnath Yatra memorable throughout the lifetime. The important destinations covered under this route are Udhampur - Kud - Patnitop - Ramban - Banihal – Kazi Gund - Anantnag - Srinagar - Sonamarg - Baltal.
The width of the pebbled road is somewhat narrow in comparison to Pahalgam route.
From Jammu, one has to go by road to Srinagar and then to reach Baltal via Sonamarg.
(b) BALTAL- HOLY CAVE
This is a 14 km. steep trek – one way. Only the very fit can go and come back the same day after trekking for 28 kms. It is possible to hire ponies or palkies.
Baltal is, however, more popular because of its helicopter service, which in about 7 minutes can drop you at the Holy Cave. Return journey would take another seven minutes.