Surrounded by the snowy peaks of the immense mountains, the amazing Amarnath cave, a famous Hindu shrine, is situated at an altitude of 12.756 feet (3,888 m) and about 141 km from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir, in India. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the shrine is claimed to be over 5,000 years old and forms an important part of the ancient Hindu mythology. Except for a short period of time, the cave remains covered under the thick blankets of snow and opened for only a few days during the summer, when hundreds and thousands of Hindu devotees and interested visitors make an annual pilgrimage, a tedious journey, from Pahalgam town to the cave across challenging the gorgeous mountainous terrain.
Inside the 130 feet (40 m) high Amarnath cave, an ice stalagmite is formed, which resembles the Shiva Linga, as described in Hindu Mythology. In fact, it is formed due to the freezing of water drops that seep in and fall from the roof of the cave onto the floor and grows up vertically from the cave floor. However, according to ancient texts, the formation represents the divine Shiva Linga, which waxes during May to August, as snow melts in the upper Himalayas above the cave and the resultant water, created from the melted snow, naturally seeps into the rocks that form the cave and gradually wanes thereafter. It is also believed that, the divine Linga grows and shrinks with the phases of the moon reaching its height during the summer festival, though there is no scientific evidence behind it. According to Hindu mythology, this is the cave where Parvati was enlightened by Shiva about the secrets of life and eternity.
The pilgrimage to the 130 feet (40 m) high glacial Amarnath cave shrine, known as ‘Amarnath Yatra,’ occurs mainly during the months of July and August, when the iced stalagmite, Shiva Lingam’, reaches the zenith of its waxing phase. The journey begins with a mountainous trek of 43km from the Nunwan and Chandanwari base camps at Pahalgam and reaches the destination after night halts at Sheshnag Lake and Panchtarni camps. In fact, the geographical journey with physical endurance and mental stamina was only a symbol of a much meaningful inner journey of faith.
Throughout the route of the journey, various non-profit organizations render their free services to provide food and resting tents to the people. Hundreds of tents are also erected by the locals near the cave, which are available on hire for a night’s stay.
Despite the tiresome trek, rigorous climb, battling cold weather and sleeping on glaciers, the unforgettable journey to the cave of Amarnath brings a sublime feeling of satisfaction.