A sociology lens of pilgrimage tourism in kashmir valley: a case of holy Amarnath pilgrimage.
The Nation's religious syncretism, the age old pluralistic ethos (Kashmiriyat) (1) and the whole hearted participation of locals for earning a seasonal livelihood makes the holy Amarnathji pilgrimage (Yatra) a big success every year. The scene of this mutual coexistence, unity in diversity and communal harmony is seen in the holistic state and especially from Baltal/Pahalgam up to the holy cave gives a practical reflection of the incredible mini-india assembled at Baltal and Pahalgam Base camps. The emergence and evolving of a mobile/temporary societal set up and spread of temporary business structures, religious assemblage, tourism and adventurism hub gives altogether a new momentum to the local ethos and shapes up a distinct social life in the valley. The important sociological aspect that comes to surface is the life pattern, formation of a web of social relations and interaction and modes of adaptation both by local populace and pilgrims. Moreover, the social stratification of the holistic Indian society as a peculiar class formation is obvious right from Yatri (pilgrim) to the top administrator and up to the local small businessman or a laborer. Yatra shapes up a social atmosphere where so many agencies like security institutions, civil administrators, shrine board authorities, transporters, etc, are in constant interaction and interdependence for an efficient running mechanism of the pilgrimage. Whereas, a local labourer and a pilgrim come in contact but the beauty is both are in struggle, one for livelihood and another for soul's contentment or for spiritual thirst. Kashmiri children while seeing the Yatri ferrying vehicles keep shouting Bam Bam Bholay (Praise to Lord Shiva).
1.1. Pilgrimage and Nature Tourism in Kashmir
The valley of Kashmir locally known as Pir-Vaer (abode of saints) (2) is a home to several sacred places of worship, a plethora of sacred tombs and shrines. There are certain magnificent temples (3) and revered Sufi shrines, which attract a large number of pilgrims both Hindus and Muslims throughout the year. Due to the inherent cultural norm of shrine visiting for spiritual, social and recreational purposes the pilgrimage tourism remains ever green in the valley. The sacred shrine of Vaishno Devi (4) in Jammu is flooded with devotees almost throughout the year. The famous Shankarachariya (5) temple in the heart of Srinagar is also visited by both tourists and pilgrims in bulk. The Amaranth cave shrine is another holy and most famous of all Hindu sacred places, the Maha Kali temple at Jammu, is considered second to the Vaishno Devi in respect to the spiritual power. The Khir Bhawani (6) temple at Tullamula village, in Ganderbal District is a very revered Hindu Shrine and the Charar-e-Sharif in Budgam district--the mausoleum of Shaikh Noor-ud-Din Noorani commonly known as Alamdar-e-Kashmir (the flag bearer of Kashmir) remains crowded by pilgrims mainly locals throughout the year.
The most renowned shrines of Sheikh Hamzah Makhdoom and Dastgeer Sahib (200 year old Sufi shrine gutted in a devastating fire on June 25, 2012 at Khanyar, Srinagar) besides Naqashband Sahab's Shrine and Historic Jamia Masjid (Grand mosque in Srinagar), etc, draw people from all divisions of life (except the newly emerged radical islamists commonly known as Wahabis' who oppose shrine visiting-the age old practice in Kashmir) to seek blessings and pay obeisance at these revered places. The most important Gurudwara in Kashmir is Chhatti Padshahi Gurudwara, situated near the Kathi Darwaza, Srinagar just below the tomb of Maqdoom Sahib Shrine, which besides Muslims is held in great awe and reverence by devotees of all faiths especially by the Sikh community.
Undoubtedly, apart from deep rooted pilgrimage tourism, the beautiful natural landscape of Kashmir valley makes it one of the most coveted destinations in India and even abroad. The outstanding beauty of the Himalayan Mountain range attracts tourists from all over the world. Himalaya, the world's largest mountain range, which also features the highest mountain peak of the world, can be clearly viewed from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The natural splendor and salubrious climate of the Kashmir valley is bound to mesmerize the visitors thereby boosting the local economy and sustaining the livelihood of many sections of the Kashmiri populace. The exquisite water bodies of Kashmir enhance the beauty of the state, enchanting the tourists by water sports like rafting, etc,. These water bodies are of great environmental and socio-economic importance. The most well known of these are Dal Lake, Mansbal Lake and Nageen Lake of Srinagar with their multi-faceted ecosystems and magnificence.
National and international tourists throng to the valley fascinated by the awe-inspiring beauty of the places like Sonamarg, Gulmarg and Pahalgam for winter sports like skiing and ice-skating. The scenic gardens of Kashmir are an integral part of its tourism. Built by the Mughals, these gardens are well planned and vast and are a home to a variety of flora and fauna. The Nishat Garden, Shalimar Garden, Chashmah Shahi, Botanical Garden, Parimahal, Harwan, Dachigam wild life sanctuary, etc, are a nature lover's delight. The Gardens especially possess beautiful landscapes attracting not only tourists but pilgrims as well, who hardly return home without visiting these gardens. Besides there are numerous other untapped and unexplored natural spots like Lal-Marg, Mohan-Marg, Hangwas, Gratwatan located alone in "Lar" area of central Kashmir's Ganderbal District and other spots like Dudeh Pather (in Budgam District), Lolab (Kupwara District),Uri (Baramulla District), Gurez (Bandipora District), and many others, which if tapped and brought on tourist map adequately can prove a parallel to world famous scenic spots and a boon to Kashmir economy, thereby leading to peace and prosperity in the region. This can give a strong set back to conflict situation and frozen turbulence, especially at the social level as engagement of the people in useful and income generating jobs means keeping them away from antisocial, deviant and unwanted and undesirable tendencies.
Hugel (7) maintains that, the long dreamt fairy land filled my heart with emotions which imprinted the memories on my memory and made human works lose every shadow of significance (1986:106). On entering the valley, he comments 'How have I been sufficiently grateful to God as Here am I, in the very land presumed to be the loveliest spot of the whole habitable earth, by many considered the terrestrial paradise. (1986:107)." According to Hugel 'Having passed the Takhti-Sulaiman present near Shankar Acharya came across a deep tank, in the middle of which is a small but complete Buddhist temple, called Pandrithan. This tank which the natives believe to be unfathomable, may be about six hundred feet in diameter and the temple itself certainly not more than twenty-five square feet. (P.124)." Hugel says while entering former capital of Kashmir, Ventipoor, two falling Buddhist temples are the most interesting of the ruins.
2. Amaranth Yatra: A Historical/Mythological Glimpse
Amaranth is treated as one of the world's oldest pilgrimage centres by some Hindu thinkers arguing that it was Lord Shiva himself who visited the holy cave along with his wife goddess Parvarti. Even some thinkers reject the discovery theory of the cave, the belief that about some hundred or two hundred years ago, the cave was discovered by a Muslim who was raring his cattle there, named as Butta Malik.It is also said that, there is a mention of this cave in almost all the authentic Hindu scriptures like in the Bhirgu Samhita (8), Nilmat Purana (9), Kal-hana's Rajtarangini (10), etc,. The fact is Kalhan's Rajatarngni has mentioned the existence of this pilgrimage centre, however in subsequent centuries of turmoil; the cave seems to have been forgotten till it was rediscovered by the shepherd Butta Malik.
Bolay Baba (Lord Shiva) who drives lakhs of Yatris (pilgrims) to the holy cave of Amaranth located at 3888 m (12756 ft) from the sea level in Central Kashmir's Ganderbal District, is a symbol of forbearance, faith, brotherhood and sustained mutual and pluralistic relations among the locals and the outside visitors. As far as the sanctity and sacredness of the holy cave is concerned, it is believed that according to Hindu mythology, when lord Shiva accompanying Parvati came to narrate Amarkatha (11) to Parvati at the Amarnath shrine. He left his "Vahan"(vehicle) at Pahalgam, put off the moon (mukut or Chandrama) decorating his head at Chandanwadi and left even the serpents round his neck at Sheeshnag and then left the five elements (Panchtatave or five elements of creation) viz, Prithvi (earth), Jal (water), Waayu (air), Agni (fire) and Aakash (space), behind him at Panchterni and marched only with his soul towards the cave. Because Shiva believed the Amarkatha is worthwhile to be narrated in the sacred environs alone. As for Shiva it is the highest spiritual journey and one has to give up every earthly support for it then how can pilgrims realize the absolute reality by using all the luxuries and helicopters when even Shiva himself had abandoned everything with him before visiting the holy shrine? If it is turned to a market it will be violating the religious essence and sanctity of the place. The ecology and weather conditions of Amaranth belt are too sensitive however despite all odds, people from all over India throng to the holy cave.
Vigne (1844) (12) says, "The ceremony at the cave of Amarnath takes place on the 15th of the Hindu month of Sawan, 28th July, not only Hindus of Kashmir but those from Hindustan of every rank and caste can be seen, collecting together and travelling up the valley of Lidder towards the celebrated cave." Vigne himself, after returning from Ladakh and Tibet by 1840-41, during the rule of Maharaja Sher Singh, son of Ranjit Singh, attempted to visit Amarnath along the traditional route via Sheeshnag in late season, but was forced to return from the Wawjan Pass due to bad weather.
On the commencement of Yatra and supervision of the holy cave, Lawrence (1895) (13), mentions that the Brahmins of Mattan joined the pilgrims to Amarnath and further up at Batkot, the Maliks used to take charge of the pilgrimage. Accord-ing to Lawrence, the Maliks were sup-posed to keep the track in order, guide and escort the pilgrims, carry the sick, and ensure nothing was stolen; they received one-third of the offerings made at the Amarnath shrine. The other two shares used to go to the Pandits of Mattan and the Giri Mahants of Amritsar, who used to and still lead the pilgrimage with Chhadi Mubarak (Holy Mace), from Srinagar. During the Sikh rule in Kashmir, Amritsar was the starting point of the Yatra but in the 1940s, pilgrims started embarking from Srinagar. The tradition of dividing the offerings into three has now been done away with. in the year 2000, the shrine was taken over by the state government and currently its affairs are managed by the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) (14) headed by the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir, with compensation awarded to the earlier beneficiaries.
3. Amarnath Pilgrimage: The Story Telling Approach
Framing narrative as social inquiry in exploring the Sociology of Amaranth Yatra will offer a fresh and inviting slant on the holistic sociological enterprise which is the need of the hour. This narrative explains the observed experience and the contemporary social analysis and social reality of the Amarnathji pilgrimage which usually starts in the last week of June, every year and lasts for 45 to 55 days. In the following paragraphs; the approach of storytelling sociology is used to unravel the whole Pilgrimage mechanism. The central observation of the narrative is to describe the formation of a systematic pattern of social relations and cultural diffusion among various stake holders of pilgrimage like locals, pilgrims, security agencies, holy environs and the administrators thereby creating of a supera-local arena, where novel social alignments and configurations arise out of the continued social contacts and mutual interaction among one and all. Also it was found that Amarnath Yatra and Darshan of shiv lingam is considered meritorious pilgrimage by a majority of the pilgrims where as a chunk of Shiv Bakts (followers of Lord Shiva) consider it an obligatory pilgrimage for them.
Tourism sector in Kashmir needs constant promotions and development as valley is a place of sustainable tourism and to realize the sustainability certain objectives needs to be achieved, like the natural cultural and religious sources of tourism need to be developed in terms of infrastructure and be made tourist friendly, and secondly tourism development is to be planned and developed in such a way that it does not generate tedious environmental or socio cultural problems, to ensure growth keeping in view the increasing tourist in of all kinds in the valley. As per data, tourism since past two decades has continuously been growing. Specially pilgrimage tourism is increasing at a more faster rate as far Amaranth pilgrimage is concerned the number of pilgrim tourists has constantly been increasing as shown in the table below.
S.No. Year National Foreign Amarnath Total Yatris 1. 1980 548491 46026 19578 614095 2. 1981 598555 43745 26000 868300 3. 1982 560987 42851 25000 628838 4. 1983 398428 41101 21021 460550 5. 1984 192684 36458 9483 238625 6. 1985 465599 38015 42000 545614 7. 1986 536598 53118 51000 640716 8. 1987 664081 57537 52000 773618 9. 1988 662097 59938 96055 818090 10 1989 490212 67762 95238 653212 11 1990 6095 4627 4824 15546 12. 1991 1400 4887 15599 21886 13. 1992 1175 9149 54638 64962 14. 1993 -- 8026 56000 64026 15. 1994 500 9314 37000 46814 16. 1995 322 8198 60000 68520 17. 1996 375 9592 120000 129967 18. 1997 7027 9111 79035 95173 19. 1998 99636 10247 149920 259803 20. 1999 200162 17130 114366 331658 21. 2000 104337 7575 173334 285246 22. 2001 66732 5859 119037 191628 23. 2002 24670 2686 110793 138149 24. 2003 182205 8959 153314 344478 25. 2004 358095 18634 400000 776729 26. 2005 585702 19680 388000 993382 27. 2006 412879 20009 265000 697888 28. 2007 417264 24576 213565 655405 29. 2008 551041 21588 498198 1070827 30. 2009 577345 23905 373419 974669 31. 2010 710504 25948 458046 1194498 32. 2011 1282000 32000 634000 1948000 33. 2012 1250000 24000 650000 1924000 Source: Department of Tourism, Government of Jammu and Kashmir
In order to facilitate the comparative analysis, the above data has been graphically represented below with due consideration to different types of tourists who visited the valley of Kashmir during the mentioned period.
Inference: From the above graph, it is clear that tourism registered a considerable dip at the onset of armed struggle in the valley. Further with the return of the peace to valley (though fragile) the tourist influx has shown a gradual increase and is continuing unabated till date, as is obvious from the above graph. Since the results of 2012, total tourist count were collected in august only, the projections for the total tourist influx to valley is 20 lacs till December, 2012.
Inference: while glancing through the graph above, it can be inferred that Amarnath Yatris have witnessed an increasing trend with every passing year, barring the violence ridden period of 1989-1990. The graph also reveals that tourism in the valley especially pilgrimage tourism has registered a great boom with increasing peace particularly after the break out of violent armed struggle in 1989-1990. Yatra has consistently been increasing barring in 1989-90 when Kashmir was boiling with violence. The picture also depicts that with the increasing peace atmosphere in the valley, tourism is witnessing a great boom, and especially pilgrimage tourism is increasing too fast.
Besides Pahalgam (Nunwan), Baltal is the main base camp about 15 kilometers away from Sonamarg to the north and 100 kilometers from the Srinagar capital. This base camp is 15 Kilometers away from the Holy cave and considered shortest way to the cave. I reached Baltal in the morning and started to roam around. The very first observation which shocked me was in the vehicle, that I was boarding from my native place was already boarding four Yatris. On reaching the Baltal, I found that none of them was registered despite government's claims that no unregistered Pilgrim has made the passage to the Holy cave. All of them made it to the last point of Baltal and left for the holy cave. This Base camp (Baltal) was visited in mid-July, 2011, during the iconic Amaranth Yatra season for a general sociological observation of the pilgrimage mechanism, the pattern of pilgrim influx, government and SASB arrangements at place and social relations shaped up between the locals, police, other security forces and more importantly between the pilgrims and the locals. At the very onset, I found whole Baltal was sunk in dust and filled with filth and noise everywhere, with no sanitary arrangements visible. Every man had a story to tell. Just one thing was positive that pilgrims were happy with local people who they feel are very hospitable, friendly, humane, sincere and very helping. However, most of the pilgrims especially the female ones complained about the lack of mobile latrines on the track after Baltal. Bimla Devi who had came from Maharashtra said, "Everything is good, locals are too good and helping, however one thing which is most embarrassing is the non-availability of latrines on the route". While interacting with the local shopkeepers, drivers of all kinds of vehicles and others, I observed that many people were not happy with the arrangements made by both state administration and Shrine Board. Most of the people also complained about everything and taking me as a journalist though I explained my identity to everyone, complained about the ignorance of media that hardly bothers to highlight general problems beset to one and all there, according to some vendors and transporters. People say representatives from the media visit just on the first day of the Yatra and then disappear till the end.
3.1. Langgars (Free Food Points): Of Charity and Social Service
Many Dhaba owners (temporary small hotels) and Langgar (free food stalls) owners provide free but quality food to Yatris at base camps like Baltal as a charity and for earning the good will of Lord Shiva. Baltal remains full of food distributing Langgars and free mess i saw even people associated with these Langgars distributing sweets, snacks, etc, to one and all. The spirit of social service and regard for Yatris becomes the work ethic of these Langgars, who work day and night. However, in conversation with many of such Dhaba or Langgar owners, certain loopholes of SASB and government come to fore. They complain of drinking water shortage and a limited supply of LPG given to them by the management. It was also observed that free food points are for pilgrims only and for locals no good eating points are available. Health care is also a big issue and needs quick redressal. Pilgrims prefer eating the free food packets for they take this food as sacred and auspicious for them. Some locals also eat in such Langgars.
3.2. Of Health Care During Yatra Days
I visited the government hospital (health centre) to have an observation of medical facilities available to Pilgrims at Baltal. A good number of medicos, Para-medicos and other staff remain deputed at Baltal and Pahalgam and en route during the whole Yatra season. While talking to public including some pilgrims about health care system, most of the answers revealed dissatisfaction of locals and a mixed response by pilgrims. While I reached the hospital premises unaware of its exact location, I came across a lady and asked her, "Ma'am, may I speak to any doctor here"? Very irately she replied in Kashmiri language, "chea kya daleel chhy" which means, what is wrong with you? i was shocked to see the low level of politeness, courtesy, credibility and public handling style of employees and later I came to know that she was a doctor. If such is the treatment meted to a researcher, imagine what can be the fate of a poor laborer, a tribal and other downtrodden working there. As I proceeded towards the office, nobody was inside as it was the late evening time; I found all of them in a small shed outside the health centre around the fire. All of them were so eager to eat. i could smell mutton cooked and the desperate faces of the medical staff. Though they invited me as well but most of them trying to avoid by their mono-syllabic and irrelevant answers to my questions. It was obvious from their passionate interest in food as if it was the last dinner to be enjoyed on the earth. At that juncture seeing their ritual dance like surrounding round the dish they were preparing, Clifford Geertz's (15) Ballinese cockfight came to my mind.
3. 3. On the Role of Security Agencies
Security agencies, be that Army, BSF, CRPF and State police (J&K Police) are the back bone of the Yatra security and management. While interacting with people on the spot, it was found that locals and pilgrims too have no issues with these agencies/forces barring CRPF, who locals claim oppress the horsemen and other labourers en route the cave. Of Army and BSF, almost all locals think are delivering their job well. I interacted with the Commandant of BSF at Baltal and found him very cooperative. As it was raining, the commandant ordered special shoes for me so that I can roam around well and to my joy provided a comfortable vehicle to me to talk to other stake holders of the Yatra. On interaction, many things regarding the system lapses were discussed, however, BSF too wishes widening of narrow paths at vulnerable spots which usually leads to skidding of pilgrims or horses and at least construction of bathrooms at certain places. I also had a conversation with CO (Colonel) 10 GARH RIF of Army posted at Baltal, who candidly explained me the pros and cons of their role in security maintenance at Baltal. While inviting me on to lunch, he said, "The role of army is exclusively of security for all especially the pilgrims from any terrorist attacks or to check any infiltration of terror elements in the Yatra zone". The Colonel further said, "In addition to this army helps pilgrims on the route in case of emergency and during inclement weather, which it has proved in the past instances efficiently as well". Army also opens a canteen including food stalls and distributes warm garments among needy pilgrims during the peak of the Yatra. I was given a respectable treatment by Army at Baltal base camp and was honoured with a beautiful cap on my head and while winding up my observation trip was provided a special cab along with some security that dropped me back home comfortably.
BSF and CRPF act as an auxiliary security agencies and thus help in the Yatra management on the vulnerable route, besides providing tents and food to a large proportion of Yatri's at base camps. Local police also manages the Yatra mainly on route and at base camps of Baltal and Nunwan (Pahalgam) besides handling pilgrim flow to base camps right from pilgrims' entry to the valley and supervises their movement on all the roads taking help from CRPF. I stayed at Baltal for two days and one night. I was offered a comfortable and free residence by CO CRPF Baltal. As i entered the premises of their quarters, i saw a chain of tents so beautifully laid. I asked the Dy. Commandant of CRPF regarding the complaints of many locals and especially Ponny wallas (Horse pullers), of beating them ruthlessly on various places on the way to holy cave. However, he refuted all the blames by locals and complained of the mess created by the huge number of labourers and horse owners. I observed the hospitable treatment of CRPF and other security agencies alike, and observed their dedication to their duty and devotion to the Yatra. The role of all these forces is commendable in facilitating the Cornmunitas (16) thereby promoting peace and managing the massive Yatra hassle free. The night at Baltal in CRPF's beautiful tent was wonderful as it was a chilly night and still i could hear Sadus' (Hindu saints) chanting mantras/prayers loudly throughout the night on speakers and loud slogans of Bam Bam Bolay and Har Har Mahadev (holy chanting and praising Lord Shiva) spreading far in the vast environs, therefore, colouring the whole space with sacred fervor and religious ethos.
3.4. Amarnath Yatra: A sustainable Source of Livelihood.
The roads leading to the cave shrine remain highly busy during the Yatra season. Temporary food stalls (Dhaba's) start booming all along the Srinagar-Jammu national highway. Environment turns religious everywhere and even the small Muslim children selling small items like fruits packed in small polythene bags on the road side keep shouting Bam Bam Bholay (long Live God Shiva) on seeing a pilgrim Buses. The Yatra brings with it the abrupt formation of a mini-Kashmir both at Baltal and Pahalgam areas (Baltal and Nunwan base camps) which is the source of a seasonal livelihood for many who keep waiting for the arrival of devotees for the full year. The increased number of visitors brings relief on the faces of labourers across almost whole valley especially workers and business community of the areas in the vicinity of Pahalgam and Ganderbal zones. However, due to haphazard thronging of numberless labourers and horse men, many of them do not get enough employment and opportunity at base camps. Due to helicopter service locals have received a set back as a considerable proportion of pilgrims prefer helicopter service from Baltal. Though a sufficient number of pilgrims either travel by foot employing local labourers to carry their luggage (Pittumen), others travel on horse backs employing horse men and certain elderly usually prefer palanquins (Palki s) that is carried by four labourers like a cot in the air up to the cave, giving a handsome earning to local workers. Business also flourishes well, tons of fruits and vegetables are sold, petty shop keepers earn good profits during the season, as fruits, water and other basic items like telecommunication are needed by locals themselves also besides shopping by pilgrims. Hence a formation of a temporary but an interdependent community set up comes into being or a pluralistic community on wheels gets evolved every year throwing the colures of unity within diversity, cultural contact, mutual social interaction, exchange of ideas, and exposure to each other's cultures, etc,. As per data (17) available, the State earned, Rupees 6142.86 lakhs in 2011-2012, including the directorate of State tourism, Kashmir, Tourism Jammu, Kargil development authority, SKICC, and other stake holders of the State tourism. (in 2010-2011 it was 4495.98 lakh rupees), reflecting the growing contribution of tourism to Kashmir economy. At the same time, certain types of tourists/Nature Lovers are particularly attracted to remote areas because of their high cultural, wildlife and landscape values like the massive Amaranth Holy Cave pilgrimage where people engage themselves in different services to the pilgrims to earn handsomely in the pilgrimage season every year. The alarming unemployment among youth (about 6 lakh unemployed youth in J&K)) need widespread and development of employment policies and widespread tourism industry at first place and one of the most important steps should be focus on the involvement local people in the tourism and allied business. Those who work to bring and welcome the tourists and those who make-up the rest of the community need sympathetic handling and equal concern. Developing a new socio-economic and potential tourism institution will have its positive and prosperous effects on the social fabric of the conflict torn environment of the valley, be it employment opportunities for youth and their deviation from anti-social/national behavior like stone pelting, clashes with security forces, lawlessness behaviour, anomie and wider public chaos.
Tourism as a livelihood opportunity can serve as an effective instrument in integrating entire universe of the valley with the rest of India and the world. With development of technology, mobility from one place to another has become quite easier and this is considered as a positive sign for the development and growth of tourism Industry.
3.5. The Baltal Base Camp: On Ecological Concern and other Woes
Baltal remains sunk in dust throughout the Yatra season except during rains when it turns too muddy and filthy. The lack of civic sense has always been a direct threat to the health of people, to the rich and serene atmosphere. Therefore, some urgent steps form the Shrine Board authorities and the State government must be taken and timely implemented to make at least the base camps a little hygienic and pilgrim friendly. The lack of mobile latrines and bathrooms for both locals and pilgrims is an alarming problem and turns the very base camps, small routes, water bodies, etc, into dirt and filth. The fact remains that general conduct of both pilgrims, visiting pilgrimage centers and workers/locals towards the environmental and religious sanctity of our pilgrimage sites has never been hygienic or eco-friendly. Visitors including locals are polluting whatever comes their way be it water, air, soil, etc, without any collective social responsibility. Pilgrimage tourism, on one hand is the boon of Kashmiri economy but on the other it has become a problem due to lack of efficient management and public concern. Also due to the increased and haphazard movement and high unsystematic influx of people to the pilgrimage centers problems seem to be increasing day by day.
"They devotees are not well disciplined and they never maintain the sanctity, sanitation and decorum of the sacred places like Amarnathji's cave," shared Janzeb Pathan, a local guide. He further said: "After Domail (Baltal's base camp's last point), no mobile latrine is available and pilgrims particularly female ones face a tough time, the irony is no one really cares for human dignity here." A police man wishing anonymity says, "The mushrooming of dhabas, hotels, shops and restaurants has added more trouble to the area, given it a shape of a slum, defaced the beautiful area and still the lack of basic amenities has been creating lot many inconveniences to one and all on the way to the shrine premises."
The environs of Pahalgam, Sonamarg, Baltal and other related places get environmentally degraded during this period not because of Yatra mobility but purely due to lack of proper Yatra arrangements and dearth of eco-friendly mechanism at place. Parvez Bhat, a local Pony-walla (horse owner), shared his concern that, "The number of pilgrims is not a problem but the pilgrimage should continue hassle free and not bring a bad name to Kashmir and our government but maintenance and environment must be the priority. Besides lakhs of Yatris should not be allowed to go for the Darshan (to pay obeisance at holy shrine cave and to have a glimpse of Shiv Lingam) on a single day which creates mess and leaves everything unmanageable for the administration". The fact is pilgrims to the Amarnath mostly come for Darshan, however a proportion of pilgrims also come over for leisure and recreation, to explore Kashmir and undertake pilgrimage as a means to enjoy the Kashmir beauty. Vinay Kumar, a pilgrim from Madhya Pradesh is MBA and explaining his purpose to come for pilgrimage says, "Yatra is an opportunity to explore Kashmir Valley, I have come to see not only the Holy Cave but to see all important worth seeing places here".
Ghulam Hassan, a goods carrier driver, believes that the chaos still prevails. He says, "We as drivers only get police abuses and bashes both from CRPF and Police and have to manage without any parking and health care facilities here and nobody is there to take care of the problems which arise due to tourist influx. You know, last year six lakh thirty thousand registered pilgrims visited the cave excluding the unregistered ones, who ferried them here? We, but we the drivers have no facilities and just compromise and adjustment is the fate". A state police officer says, "The ordered and systematic passage of pilgrims needs to be restricted on the two routes to the cave and people should not be left to visit the cave in a haphazard manner. Also transport facility must be improved to the extent of satisfaction, besides pilgrimage period must be shortened".
The field observation and interaction with the people revealed that people especially working class is not contented with the arrangements of the shrine board, who they feel is not worker friendly. it has been ages since the Kashmir valley started hosting Yatra and every year lakhs of pilgrims come to Valley adding to the economy of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. There is a specific board, Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) dealing with the affairs of Yatra and State Governor is the ex-officio head of the board. Manzoor a small shopkeeper said: "Pilgrims throng to the place like anything, thereby degrading the environs and spoiling the sacred fervor of the place, which should be handled well by the local administration and SASB". Also, he adds, "The use of polythene and lack of drinking water to us and all locals here is actually the big problem and lack of proper policing in and around Pahalgam, Baltal or other routes or en route the holy cave has still not been controlled strictly, which are the prime concerns".
Praveen Kumar Borasia, 50, (actual name) from Chandlodia-Ahmedabad, Gujarat visits the holy cave every year since 1985. He says it keeps him fit and progressing throughout the year and he loves Bholay Baba immensely and calls himself a staunch Shiv Bakht (Shiva worshipper or follower). To him Amarnath Yatra is an obligatory pilgrimage. He says, "All politics apart, I as a pilgrim have right to a safe road to Holy Cave and I must be provided that". On the local hospitality he says, "Every year I come, I stay at my Kashmiri friend's house with his family and my family loves it. It is a feel at home situation. I never felt any communal mindset among the people here. They do everything to make us comfortable. I cannot say beyond it."
The Supreme Court on July 13, 2012, took Suo-moto cognizance of the increasing pilgrim death on Amaranth en-route. citing article 21 of the constitution, Right to life, it sought report from the state and union governments regarding the facilities provided to the pilgrims and the Apex court asked certain questions regarding medical facilities to handle causalities, steps taken regarding environmental protection handling of massive crowd of Yatra, infrastructure available to manage Yatra, large influx of pilgrims permitted than scheduled, etc,. However the fact is till date the concerned authorities have hardly taken any step to curb the pilgrim deaths, eco-degradation, crowd management, etc,. In 2012 Yatra season at least 100 pilgrims died (107 deaths in 2011 and 68 during 2010 and 45 in 2009) on the way to holy cave located at more than 12000 ft altitude due to cardiac arrests, skidding of pilgrims on bad roads. The road is very narrow on which massive crowds of pilgrims either walk on foot or on horseback or in palanquins etc,. Government had earlier planned to construct a motor able road to the cave however; strong agitation was launched by the separatist camp including some mainstream leaders citing eco-concerns and local employment concerns. The government has though timely declined the construction of any such road due to public pressure/anger and to maintain the law and order in the state keeping in view the previous summer unrests be that infamous Amarnath Land Row, (2008) and the violent unrest of 2009 (Shopian Double rape and Murder case row) and 2010 (Machil Fake encounter Row which lead to the 117 civilian killings).
The fact is during pilgrimage season pilgrims and workers leave tons of plastic, polythene, bottles, dirt and other solid garbage, unmindful of their duty to keep the local environment clean and unpolluted, which invites the ecological concern. Like the heaps of waste products and garbage along the river banks, drainage from bath rooms, latrines, small eating stalls, hotels, etc, leads to the soil water pollution. The river flowing from Pahalgam flows through various villages and is the only source which means the pollution goes down to other villages through this river, giving rise to water borne diseases. The new practice of air transportation for politicians, top officials and rich pilgrims visiting the holy cave has added to the woes despite making the Yatra of some elites easy. The Baltal remains too noisy for the full day due to helicopter service operation, thereby disturbing the peace of mind. Moreover, the frequent use of helicopters, tremendous noise, more use of fire has resulted in the increase of temperature which leads to the melting of ice-lingam (18) (Shiv lingam), disappointing the pilgrims all around since many years. "Air transport should be totally abandoned for it creates too much noise in whole of the Baltal and Yatra means pilgrimage by foot and by hard work, it also affects livelihood of all kinds of labourers be that Dandi Walla's (Palanquin men) Pithu men (coolies), Ponny walla's (horse owners), etc,." Said a local Gujjar, Gulla Chechy with concern and dismay.
However, the fact of the matter is, if valley's all other shrines and revered places are connected well by concrete motorable roads, why only the motor able road for Amarnath pilgrimage is opposed by one and all and turned into a political crisis. If environs have not been degraded by connecting all other shrines through concrete roads then why only the Holy cave connectivity becomes the pollution issue. It is also being argued that road up to the cave will directly hit the labourer community, horsemen and all other workers but does that mean Amarnath pilgrims and other visitors are solely responsible for the livelihood of local unemployed youth or other poor and for that their safety and convenience is put at stake. After all reason has to prevail and human dignity has to be respected, life and safety have to be the utmost priority, which however currently seems off the scene.
4. Limitations of the Study
This narrative was written after visiting the Baltal Base camp only, ignoring the Nunwan (Pahalgam Base Camp). Also no person from SASB and J&K Police was available for the comments despite researchers long waiting for the officials to comment, while as government officials, BSF, CRPF, Army and others were contacted and interacted with. Also due to the paucity of time and inclement weather, the researchers could not go up to the cave however pilgrims travelling by foot, on horses or on Palkies (Palnquins) were contacted for their observations and comments at the Baltal base camp only. The interviews were unstructured and casual and questionnaires were not framed up to know about more themes related to the issue purely due to lack of funding and time constraint. I hope to study the whole Yatra mechanism again both from the Pahalgam and Baltal base camp in the upcoming Yatra season.
5. Suggestive Rectifications
* Despite being lauded by the majority of pilgrims, Amarnath Pilgrimage management needs more improvement and empowerment.
* Shri Amarnath Shrine Board in collaboration with state run administrative mechanism has though succeeded in efficient Yatra management; however, SASB needs to relook at its administrative vis-a-vis implementing policies.
* There is a dire need to maintain a cohesive relation between various administrative agencies and local populace including security agencies. Local populace has always proved beneficial in handling the Yatra well but has not been credited for that till date.
* The Amarnath Yatra needs a serious social policy intervention on various fronts. A strong academic study can provide the necessary policy inputs in this regard.
* To look into the issues and challenges of a successful beginning and blissful completion maintained with professional skills along with the use of latest technology and keeping in view the human sensitivity, health conditions and dignity.
* To frame a stable plan by providing a definite time period of 15 days of Yatra, registered laborers with proper identity cards, rate list set for every kind of labour and more place to local people for work. In addition to this, pilgrims above 65 years of age should not be allowed for the yatra.
* To draft a stable policy of active engagements of all the security agencies with clear cut duty distinctions in order to make pilgrimage more efficient and convenience for Yatris.
* To look for adjustment ways for those who are working for pilgrims and looking into the hazardous sanitary system in the whole ecosystem.
* To identify the design and the need for developing a more efficient pilgrimage tackling mechanisms and frame a model for guaranteed lively -hood for local youth.
* To provide an effective suggestions and policy inputs to remodel the whole pilgrimage mechanism frame work by provision of new hygienic system and widening of the paths at vulnerable places, without any magdamization.
* The roads need to be widened and repaired so that the pilgrims can be saved from skidding and many health hazards. If a motorable road is not constructed in order to save rich environs but that does not mean roads should be left as such to let pilgrims die day in and day out. Now as the Supreme Court has ordered to lay pre-fabricated tiles (Order November, 22, 2012), the work should be started immediately but weather permitting.
* To look into the accounts of Dhaan (donations given by pilgrims) and use the amount for the welfare of local workers, pilgrims basic amenities at the place. Besides all Hindu and Muslim trusts should be made accountable and audited properly.
* Already packaged tours organized from New Delhi, the huge amounts spent by tourists mostly circulates outside the valley, proving fatal to Kashmir economy and to the livelihood of transporters, hoteliers, tourism affiliated workers, etc, which needs to be given a serious thought.
* There must be a stringent decision to reduce the number of pilgrims visiting the holy cave for efficient management, health concerns and care. Now the government has rightly taken a decision to allow a maximum of 7500 pilgrims per day per route. Also just 1600 pilgrims are now allowed to visit the cave via aerial route through helicopter service. Besides ample measures are likely to be taken to check pollution of water bodies and protect fragile eco-systems around the holy cave.
* The suggestion put forth by some mainstream parties earlier and now by some Separatists as well that, 'let kashmiri Pandits manage Amarnath Yatra', needs not to be paid much heed as such political stunts though seem public friendly but in reality are for petty interests. Given the fact that SASB is a board of credible members who are equally concerned about Yatris and other issues. Besides Shri Amarnath Shrine Board is an organization like the Muslim Waqf Board operating in the state. If there are no slogans against Waqf Board, why politics on Shrine Board, one fails to understand? It must be rejected though I do acknowledge that Kashmiri Pundits have equal rights upon it. Instead of such gimmicks, some practical and secure steps for Pandits home return must be taken that will actually bind them back to their home land. Hence will craft peace and brotherhood in this part of the world.
* Amarnath Yatra has never given a flip to religious hysteria or religious terrorism as argued by some vested interests. In turn it has always given boost to interfaith harmony, mutual understanding, peace, enriched local economy and worked for the tolerance among both the pilgrims and the locals. Therefore, Communal politics must be kept far from the holy Yatra and SASB, State government and local masses must check all such tendencies. Amarnath Yatra must be kept aloof from all the politics on Kashmir both in and outside the Kashmir valley. Hollow agitation over Shrine Board is nothing but a political stunt and must be understood by Pandits and general masses as nothing but yet another issue to destabilize the peace fragile Kashmir Valley.
* For handling Yatra efficiently there is a greater need of policy and planning both at micro and macro levels to make it more pilgrim friendly, locally benefitting and a sustainable faith tourism project.
* All the arrangements done for the safety and security for pilgrims must be updated and locals working for pilgrims must also be taken care of very sympathetically.
* Betterment of roads and Creation of more star hotels must be the priority of the government.
* The airport of Srinagar must be upgraded and equipped adequately with all necessary facilities
* Yatra needs a proper monitoring and evaluation every year so that the loopholes are addressed.
* The smooth road of tourism in the valley of Kashmir has to be chartered out immediately, by efficient policy, planning and the effective implementation on the ground otherwise; the tourism boom in India would be lost to other states.
6. Last Word
Tourism despite its benefits has certain dark sides and threats. it diversifies the economy, makes the poor less vulnerable by generating plentitude of opportunities aimed at both individuals and collective development. The economic activities are generated in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of the valley. Hence tourism generated employment may be classified into three major heads. One is direct employment that sells goods and services directly, e.g. hotels, restaurants, shops, etc. Second is indirect employment, which generally supplies goods and offers services to the tourism business and thirdly investment related employment in construction and other capital goods industries. Tourism seen in the holistic perspective is fragrant with functional socio-cultural discourses and is hence, more than an economic phenomenon. Given the niche, the tourism sector especially the pilgrimage tourism has created in the state and to the extent it has succeeded in addressing the grave unemployment; it has proved to be a premier sector in backtracking the ruined/shattered economy besides bringing about the reunification of the bridged communities and broken families. Amarnath tourism has been the mother of pilgrimage tourism for Hindus in the valley. Having with stood the acute turbulent times of conflict, it has emerged as a sustainable, spiritual and religious link joining holistic India by spreading and fostering brotherhood, cooperation, integrity and mutual interaction besides facilitating the inter-faith dialogue, sense of brotherhood and understanding the beauty of diversity among the different communities. Having the privilege of being located in the heart throbbing landscape of Himalayas, the holy cave of Amaranth shares the vicinity which is highly diverse in flora and fauna. Therefore any attempt to upgrade the related infrastructure must be in line with the delicate environs which add to the aesthetics of holy shrine. However, Yatra must be made more pilgrims friendly. Conversely, there is a need for synergy between all the levels from administration to pilgrims to local populace associated with the Amaranth pilgrimage, where shrine board headed by the His Excellency--the Governor of the state has to play a central role. The management system being hierarchical in nature has to ensure the utmost cooperation and participation of individuals in decision making process. only then the goal of all round social development aimed at fulfilling the needs and aspirations of the people and the pilgrims can be realized. Lastly, the significant order of the Supreme Court (19) issued on November 22, 2012, asking the Jammu and Kashmir Government to pave the passage from Panchtarni to Amarnath holy cave with pre-fabricated cement tiles to ensure that pilgrims do not slip on the way, must be obeyed in the interest of the Yatra and Yatris. But the duration of the Yatra must be shortened to 15 days only.
Pilgrimage tourism helps in building bridges, lessening hatred and maintaining peace and order in the conflict ridden societies like Kashmir. Besides being a potential ambassador of peace, it helps in doing away with the notions of prejudice, stereotypes, ethnocentrism and interfaith harmony. it is a vehicle for change in building peace, social solidarity, improving the inter-cultural understanding and contacts thereby fostering social integration.
Lastly, it will not be wrong to argue that faith tourism in the conflict ridden valley of Kashmir has played an instrumental role in national integration, communal harmony and peace building. Amarnath Yatra every year brings with it peace, love, harmony, interdependence, socio-cultural understanding, reflects Indian diversity and multiple ethos, etc,. Amarnath Yatra is the reflection of oneness of india despite a plethora of diversities and ethnicities. in making Amarnath Yatra an efficient system every year, the role of the Shrine Board (SASB) is commendable especially the visionary leadership and management skills of the Honourable Chairman-the Governor of the State Mr. N.N. Vohra. Observing other boards and trusts I can for sure say that Amarnath Yatra is the most efficiently managed and arranged Yatra in the state despite of the fact that there is always a scope for improvement. We need to see every pilgrimage as a binding thread and make it a tool for communal harmony and brotherhood and love. Amarnath Yatra reflects it every year.
E. Alan Morinis (1992) in his book 'In Sacred Journeys: The anthropology of pilgrimage, maintains, "Pilgrimage is born of desire and belief. The desire is for solution to problems of all kinds within human situation. The belief is that somewhere beyond the known world there exists a power that can make right the difficulties that appear so insoluble and intractable here and now".
This paper was presented in the 6th International Conference of Management and Behavioural Sciences, "An Interdisciplinary Conference" (1st-2nd December, 2012) at Ahmadabad (Gujarat), Organized by Society of Management and Behavioral Sciences (SMBS). i sincerely express my gratitude to the Chairman SASB and Honorable Governor of Jammu and Kashmir State-Shri N. N. Vohra for sponsoring my travel expenses to present this paper at SMBS international Conference. I humbly thank my loving teacher and supervisor--Dr. Arvinder A. Ansari from the department of Sociology, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi for her tireless guidance, encouragement and believing in my capabilities. I heartily thank my mentor Dr. Tareak A Rather (from CCAS, University of Kashmir) for moulding me into a sincere student by all his valued guidance, time, love and useful inputs in writing this paper. My special thanks to whole SASB especially to Mr. Inder Bhushan Bhat (Dy. CEO SASB) for recognizing my work. Lastly, I respectfully thank my boss-Dr Bulbul Dhar James (Director SNCWS-JMI, New Delhi) and colleagues Dr Firdous, Shreerekha, Aparna, Tarranum and Siraj for their support, love and care.
(1.) Kashmiriyat: An age-old tradition characterized by the philosophy of love, humanism, communal spirit, composite culture and syncretism which has been replete with cooperation rather than confrontation, reconciliation rather than retaliation. It is not a recent concept or merely a political slogan or in origin and fervor as believed by some scholars. Kashmiriyat is believed to have developed under the rule of Zain-ul-Abidin (Budshah) and the Mughal emperor Akbar. It is an expression of solidarity, we-feeling, Kashmirs' social and thical consciousness, resilience and patriotism. Kashmiriyat is not merely like Punjabiy at or Bihariyat but like Urdu word Insaaniyat is from the word 'Insaan' or 'Asliyat' from the word 'Asl'. The usage of the term has its roots in Kashmiri language like the famous Vogni's Vakh: Assi Aess, Assi Aasav (We have been and we will be). (Also see; Madan, T. N. (2008), "Kashmir, Kashmiris, Kashmiriyat: An Introductory Essay", in Rao, Aparna, The Valley of Kashmir: The Making and Unmaking of a Composite Culture?, Delhi: Manohar. Pp. xviii, 758, pp. 1-36.)
(2.) Kashmir is known as Pir-e-Vaer, Rishiwari (abode of saints or rishis' or Rishivatika, where Sufis and Rishis of yore meditated and attained God realization.
(3.) Temples like Shankaracharya, Amarnath Cave Shrine, Kheer Bawani, Mata Vashno devi, Raghunath Mandir, Baweywali Mata, Ranbireshawar Temple, Panchbakhtar Temple and a chain of other small temples in the State of Jammu and Kashmir attract tourists throughout the year. The Jammu province of the State is also called the Temple City due to hundreds of temples in this division of the State.
(4.) Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine is located in Katra, Jammu Division of Jammu and Kashmir State. It is managed by Shri Mata Vashnov Devi Shrine Board.
(5.) A beautiful stone-temple of Lord Shiva is situated on a hill in the Srinagar city commanding a magnificent view. The temple is managed by the Dharmartha Trust. It is believed that the first Sankaracharya on his visit to Srinagar meditated on this spot. (The whole description of the temple has been given by Prof. Chaman Lal Sapru in his article Glimpses of Kashmiri Culture Published by: Shri Parmananda Research Institute (REGD.)
(6.) Mata Khir Bawani temple is in the north of Srinagar about 28 kilometers from the city of Srinagar. Khir Bawani is a holy spring whose water changes colours it is dedicated to goddess Kherbawani (Ragnya Devi). Kashmiri Pandits come from all migrated places to attend every Astami on May 29. Twenty kilometers away from Srinagar a spring in which a temple is constructed dedicated to Mother Rajna. Annual festival held on Jyeshta Ashtami.
(7.) Travels in Kashmir and The Punjab by Hugel.
(8.) 'Bringesha Samhita is an old Sanskrit text. The Bhrigu SaChita is an astrological (Jyotish) classic attributed to Maharishi Bhrigu during the Vedic period, Treta yuga. it is said that it was compiled by the Sage out of compassion for humanity so that humanity could cope with the pressures of its existence and move towards a more spiritual nature. The Bhrigu Samhita is said to contain predictions on the current and future lives as well as information on the past life. These predictions will be accurate based on the actions (karma) of the questioner.
(9.) Purana--literally means old narrative or ancient stories, composed in Sanskrit. We have 18 maha puranas and 18 up puranas. Out of 18 maha puranas 6 are dedicated to Siva. (Gavin Flood, 1996.An Introduction to Hinduism. p. 109, Cambridge University Press). The Nilamata is a Kashmiri Purana referred to by Kalhana as one of the sources of the ancient history of Kasmira. Buhler, whom goes the credit of saving its manuscripts, states on page 41 of his Report, "It great value lies therein that it is a real mine of information regarding the sacred places of Kashmir and their legends which are required to explain the Rajatarangini and that it shows how Kalhana has used his sources".
(10.) Rajatarangni--text of vamsavali genre, more concerned with historicity than with mythology, is the 'history of the kings of Kashmir'. Compiled during 12th century by kalhana. It records the genealogies of the kings and brief descriptions of their exploits. (Gavin Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism. 1996, p. 21). The Rajatarangini acquaints us with kings, queens and ministers of 'Kasmira', the Nilamata generally speaks of common men in their homes, streets, gardens and temples. The life of the common people, the food and drinks they took, the amusements they resorted to, the currents of religious thoughts they followed and the rites and ceremonies they performed throughout the year are described therein.
(11.) Amarkatha means the secrets of immortality. As per mythology, Lord Shiva narrated Amarkatha to Parvati Mata at Amarnath, so that no one hears it out.
(12.) Travels in Kashmir, Ladakh and iskardo, the countries adjoining the mountain course of the Indus, and the Himalaya, north of Punjab. (Vigne, an English traveler visited Kashmir in 1835).
(13.) The Valley of Kashmir (1895). A famous book most cited in Kashmir. The book is written by Sir Walter Lawrence.
(14.) SASB was constituted by an act of the Jammu & Kashmir State Legislature in 2000 and Governor of the state as its ex-offico Chairman. The Board consists of a Chief Executive officer and eight other members. Presently Shri N.N. Vohra is the chairman of SASB. Shri Vohra was recently reelected as the governor of the State for his outstanding administrative skills and peace building efforts in the troubled valley.
(15.) Clifford Geertz's analysis of Balinese cockfights titled "Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight" (1972).
(16.) in the context of pilgrimage, communitas is a feeling of being one with other pilgrims, experiencing a release from all societal constraints, from class or creed. This lasts while the pilgrim is at the shrine.
(17.) Irfan, Shams. (April 30, 2012, Kashmir Life). Summer Time Kashmir. Kashmir Life: A weekly Newspaper. Vol. 04, issue 08.
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|Author:||Shah, Adfer Rashid|
|Publication:||The Tibet Journal|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2013|
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