Hindu pilgrimage of the Amarnath Yatra

India is a country where religion holds an incredibly important place. Thus, since unmemorable times, pious Hindus and Sadhus walked across this immense territory, from religious sites to sacred pilgrimages. The Hindu religion counts hundreds of Gods and Goddesses, and the myths of its mystical pantheon abound with stories, sacred places and characters who are indeed the reason for many pilgrimages. The latter often takes place in secluded and difficult to reach areas, as it is the case for the Amarnath Yatra which is held in the Himalayan mountains of the Indian Kashmir.
Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire
Each year, during two months in summer, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims begin their adventure for four days of walking in Shiva's name. Although Kashmir has a very bad reputation, justified by the attacks and the combat between Pakistani and Indian armies who prevail there, the rough paths of Amarnath leads indeed to Shiva's lingam (sex), materialized by a small cascade of ice found in a cave nestled on a cliff.
This pilgrimage however is very controlled : it is only after a long queue going through metal detectors, signing its name on the army registers and answering some usual questions, that the pilgrims will be able to finally start their walk up the mountains for several days.

Indeed, although very present in the mountains of the Kashmir throughout the year, the Indian army sets up an additional safety system “to protect” the pilgrims from possible attacks.

It is also the soldiers who manage the pilgrimage (its infrastructures, the installation and path clearing) throughout the whole Yatra.

  File d'attente à Shandavari Premiers pas
Sadhus are among the first pilgrims to start the Amarnath Yatra. Little equipped, only some of them buy walking shoes and it is not rare to see Sadhus with naked feet traversing the snow-covered slopes of the mountain. The majority of them came to Kashmir by bus, while some others reached the pilgrimage on foot ! Throughout the two months the Yatra lasts, one can meet “holy men” from Rishikesh or Varanasi, and even some coming as far as the colorful Kerala in southern India !
Sâdhus, préparatifs   Sâdhu venu du Kerala
The several days of walk which await them are not easy : on a path often muddy and slippery, in a cold and rainy environment to which very few pilgrims are accustomed to, the queue of Yatrists ache quickly.
Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire   Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire
Surrounded by snow covered mountains, the huge camp of Shesnagh (3900 m) makes it possible for the pilgrims to sleep in tents made out of cloth that are lent by the Indian soldiers who encircle the camp for safety reasons. While the camp manages the immediate needs of Yatrists, the great majority of them is nourished in the small huts which mark out the path and propose free food to every pilgrim.
Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire
The few camps thus installed on the course are similar to this one : cold, noisy and very muddy, even when it does not rain. True labyrinths, it is difficult to find its way, or to be found here, especially when it is a question of reaching the tent's heat in the middle of the night… To solve this problem, the soldiers installed loud speakers which constantly scream the names of the pilgrims having lost their companions. The tents, as for them, can shelter up to eight pilgrims each, but it is not rare to see twice as much under the cloth, as it is the best way to protect one's self from the icy cold of the himalayan night.
Camp de Shesnagh   Pèlerins sous tente
It is on foot, but as well as on horses, that the majority of those thousands of pilgrims move up ahead. Some rare privileged Hindu will even reach the sacred grotto by helicopter. Through splendid landscapes, the slow troop of pilgrims stretches itself on kilometers, almost as an uninterrupted snake.
The only thoughts of these townsmen are then concentrated on the next col, last obstacle to cross before finally reaching the “holy temple” of Shiva. They carry on through that long path in spite of the cold, the tiredness and the altitude sickness that most of them feel. Their faith is at this price, the beauty of the landscape too.
 
Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire
Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire   Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire
After the high pass of Santsinghpari (4500 m), the pilgrims finally reach the alpine plateau where the famous cave of Amarnath is, the single objective of these four days's hike. Before entering the holy grotto, the pilgrims purify themselves in the glacial torrent of Amravati. On its banks, shelters allow a small meal before reaching the endless queue of Yatrists waiting several hours in the cold to see Shiva's lingam

Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire

  Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire
After a short prayer with incenses, Yatrists slowly move towards the bottom of Shiva's cave, without being able to take the least photograph from now on. Crushed against each other, the pilgrims can hardly breathe as the great flood of pious Hindus press on. It is with sorrow that they cross the last bells, ringing them to announce their arrival to the God of destruction.
Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire   Pèlerinage de Shiva, Cachemire
Contrasting with the cries of joy heard throughout the way, it is a tinted respectful silence of devotion and fear that is felt in the holy cave towards the very end. Lastly, in a too short instant, Yatrists briefly see the lingam of Shiva, an ice stalactite representing its virility, before being violently pushed away by the soldiers trying to channel the ceaseless flow of pilgrims in the holy cave.
Dans la grotte d'Amarnath
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