Jammu, Jun 30 (IANS): The first batch of nearly 1,300 pilgrims Wednesday morning left for the Himalayan cave shrine of Amarnath in south Kashmir from here.
There were 233 women and 32 children in the first batch of 1,272 pilgrims.
Their pilgrimage was flagged off by state Tourism Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora, who said: "Adequate security arrangements have been made for the pilgrims."
Police and paramilitary forces have been deployed all along from Jammu to the cave shrine in Kashmir for the safety of the pilgrims.
The pilgrimage will last till Aug 25. About half-a-million pilgrims are expected to undertake the journey to the cave shrine of Lord Shiva at Amarnath, at a height of 13,500 feet above sea level.
Some of the pilgrims were those who had been undertaking the pilgrimage for years together.
Though they were concerned over the situation in Kashmir where a spate of killings in street protests brought the valley to a boil, they were determined to carry on with the pilgrimage.
"It's a matter of faith. I don't want to give up the journey to the shrine simply because there is trouble in Kashmir. I am hopeful that Baba Bhole Shanker (Lord Shiva) will take care of us all," Satish Mangotra, one of the pilgrims, told IANS.
His words were echoed by others as they chanted "Har Har Mahadev", hailing Lord Shiva.
Anita Devi, a pilgrim from Amritsar in Punjab, said she had come with her family to "see how ice lingam looks like". It's her first journey to the shrine about which she has heard a lot and believes that paying obeisance there would bring her good luck.
A naturally made ice lingam or stalagmite is the main attraction for the pilgrims at the cave shrine, which is accessible through two different routes - one via Pahalgam in Anantnag district and the other through Baltal in Ganderbaal district of Kashmir.