The Yatra to the holy cave of Amarnath has also been going on for centuries. The Amarnath Cave is said to have been re-discovered by a Gujjar (Kashmiri Muslim shepherd) Buta Malik about a century and a half ago. For this, a part of the offerings made by pilgrims at the holy Cave still goes to his family.
Every year the Yatra (pilgrimage) to the Holy Cave of Amarnath leaves Srinagar around the end of June and from Pahalgam around the Ashadha Purnima (full moon in the Hindu month of Ashadh) amidst Vedic chants and rituals and led by the Chari Mubark (the holy mace of Lord Shiva). From Pahalgam it follows the traditional route along the Lidder valley: Thousands of pilgrims and many sadhus, ascetics and holy men make this annual journey. Another route from Baltal (from the Sonamarg side) shorter but more arduous is also taken by some. The Amarnath Cave is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is considered holy because is believed that he divulged the secret of everlasting life to his consort Parvati inside the Amarnath Cave. He was looking for an isolated place to reveal this “Amarkatha” to goddess Parvati alone. Apparently a pair of pigeons heard the secret and became “amar” (immortal) and are often seen in the Cave by pilgrims. Every year between July and August a cylindrical form of ice resembling Lord Shiva’s Lingam mysteriously forms inside the Cave. It begins to form on the first day of the bright half of the month (Chandrapaksh) and reaches its Zenith on the full moon day of Shrawan the Hindu lunar month of August. As per belief the larger formation is considered to be Lord Shiva’s Lingam, the one on the left side is considered to be an ice formation of Lord Ganesh. On the right are formations of Parvati (Shiva’s consort) and Bhairava. It is the quest of the pilgrims to reach the holy cave by the full moon day of Shravan. Thousands walk the 46 kms/ 28 miles from Pahalgam (150 km/93 miles from Srinagar) to the Holy Cave, which lies at a height of 4520 meters/13500 feet. Due to its height the going is slow. Pilgrims traverse a bridge of snow and ice at Chandanwari and proceed to Lake Sheshnag, amid the blowing of conch shells and chanting of hymns breaking journey and making halts for the night at tented camps. Other halts are at Mahagunas and Panjitarni. Many Yatris (pilgrims) make the trip on horseback as well. Today a helicopter service is also available for those who cannot make the long and difficult trip. To many pilgrims the journey is the destination as they move along with reverence and prayer in their hearts. The difficulties encountered enroute lead to greater bonding with fellow pilgrims, and so the pilgrims keep going. They even bathe in the icy waters quite oblivious of the cold, such is their faith. Sounds of “Har Har Mahadev” rend the air as the pilgrims reach the holy cave to celebrate the full Moon day having finally reached their destination and behold the Ice Shivling in the holy Cave of Amarnath. Surely Shiva is watching.