Amarnath pilgrimage: Faith leaves nature stinking

Amarnath pilgrimage: Faith leaves nature stinking

Amarnath pilgrimage: Faith leaves nature stinking

Over two lakh people have already performed the pilgrimage and the number is expected to double by the time the Amarnath yatra ends Aug 13.

The two routes to the Himalayan cave shrine situated 13,500 feet high in south Kashmir's Anantnag district are -- the 14-km trek from north Kashmir's Baltal base camp and the 43-km trek from south Kashmir's Pahalgam base camp.

Besides using the mountain treks for the to-and-fro passage from the cave shrine, thousands of pilgrims camp daily at the base camps and the transit camps established along the routes.

"Unmindful of what would happen to the waters of the Sindh stream near the Baltal base camp, human interference through wasteful pollution has made the waters of this once crystal clear stream unfit for drinking," said a local ecologist.

"Perhaps because they are not well acquainted with the preservation rules, the pilgrims are posing a serious ecological threat to the environment here," he added.

However, Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) officials maintain they have taken every possible precaution to ensure that no damage is done to the fragile ecology at the base camps and along the mountain treks.

"Both at Baltal and Pahalgam we have people on round the clock duty to collect waste. We have also made available two types of dustbins -- blue coloured for biodegradable and red ones for non-biodegradable waste," R.K. Goyal, CEO of the shrine board, told IANS.

"We have provided hundreds of toilets in which the waste is doused with bacteria for immediate decomposing of human waste. We spend at least a crore each year for sanitation during the pilgrimage," Goyal said.

He also said pilgrims are provided with pamphlets at the base camps which specifically tell them what they should and shouldn't do en route to the cave shrine that houses an ice stalagmite formation that is believed to be a symbol of Lord Shiva.

"Besides, on the reverse side of our registration permits there are detailed instructions for preservation of ecology and other eco-friendly instructions," he said.

But despite the board's best efforts, it is not humanly possible to ensure that each and every pilgrim adheres to the guidelines.

"Heaps of empty water bottles, fast food wrappers, empty tetra packs and all other imaginable forms of artificial waste are strewn around the Baltal base camp," said 42-year-old Nazir Ahmad, a resident of Kangan town in north Kashmir's Ganderbal district.

"Despite makeshift toilets along the banks of the Sindh stream, people defecate in the open meadows or in the forest area," he added.

Many believe unless a massive cleansing campaign is started to remove tonnes of plastic and other forms of waste, Kashmir could face an ecological disaster.

“Toilets have been constructed on the banks of the Jhelum river at Suryar Mandir Langar in Sonawar area of Srinagar city. Many pilgrims halt at the Mandir while going to and coming back from the shrine.

"The human waste from these toilets directly seeps into the river," said a resident of Sonawar area who did not want to be named.

As the number of devotees increases each passing year, both the shrine board and the state government will have to act in a more proactive manner to ensure that man and nature do not come into conflict during pilgrimage.

“Otherwise, it would be a tragic example of humankind returning to the mountain of faith only to destroy it," said Bashir Ahmad War, a resident of Ganderbal town.