Every year for about 40 days between July – August, lakhs of people travel to the Amarnath cave in South Kashmir to pay obeisance to an ice stalagmite, which is believed to be an embodiment of the Hindu deity Shiva. According to mythology, it is here that Shiva narrated the story of eternity to his consort Parvati, from where the cave gets its name Amarnath, meaning God of Eternity. While there is a lot of writing on the detrimental environmental impacts of the Yatra through researches on status and health of glaciers and rivers in Kashmir and in newspaper reports, yet, there has not been a detailed and comprehensive study with the aim of recommending the regulation of the Yatra.
This report documents in detail the history of the Amarnath Yatra, the stages of its evolution, environmental impacts of conducting the Yatra in high altitude regions, the State institutions that are involved and their role, and the nexus of the administration with the armed forces. It also deals with people and organisations who provide services in the Yatra such as non-governmental organisations who set up langars along the Yatra path, the tour operators and hotel owners, and the unorganised labour such as the tentwalas, ponywalas, dandiwalas, loadbearers and taxi drivers, and the power dynamics between them. The relationship between socio-religious institutions and the State in relation to the Yatra have also been explored and the controversies and conflicts have been documented. The Amarnath Yatra is one among several others which are receiving State patronage and the report explores the way in which the Yatra is being conducted on the might of the Indian armed forces along with socio-religious and langar organisations who are moblising people to participate in the Yatra. In addition, the other upcoming Yatras and their implications have also been documented. We believe that each of these aspects may be further studied for nuances which will also throw light on how religious tourism / pilgrimages are being used by the State to exercise control in areas that are in conflict with the State.