The Beacon of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has undertaken the task of restoring and improving the road to the sacred Amarnath cave shrine in Kashmir’s Lidder Valley. Situated in the snow-covered Himalayas, this shrine holds immense religious significance for many devotees.
Recently, the BRO shared a significant milestone on X (formerly Twitter). They announced that motor vehicles had successfully reached the holy cave for the first time after upgrading the Baltal road to the shrine. This achievement was made possible by the efforts of the BRO and the announcement made by Nitin Gadkari, the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, earlier this year, regarding the construction of a new road to the shrine.
Previously, pilgrims could reach the Amarnath shrine through either Pahalgam or Sonamarg in the Lidder Valley. With an altitude of 13,000 feet, the shrine houses an esteemed ice lingam. The journey from Pahalgam to the cave spans 48 km, with the initial 16 km being motorable. However, the remaining distance is covered either by trekking or riding a pony through challenging terrain, which takes around 3 to 5 days.
Alternatively, the route from Sonamarg via Baltal is much shorter. The 14 km journey from Baltal to the shrine can be covered on foot in approximately eight hours or on a pony in less than six hours. While most pilgrims prefer to stay overnight at Amarnath, some complete the round trip in a single day. Additionally, helicopters used to transport pilgrims from Baltal to Panchtarni, located 6 km away from the shrine. However, these services were halted due to environmental concerns, as the choppers were causing rapid melting of the lingam.
Taking into account the challenges faced by pilgrims, Union Minister Gadkari proposed an ambitious plan in April this year to improve access to the Amarnath shrine. With a budget of Rs 5,300 crore, the plan focuses on developing a 34 km two-lane motorable road from Chandanwari to Baltal. This includes the construction of a 10.8 km tunnel from Sheshnag to Panchtarni, the most arduous part of the Pahalgam route, passing through Mahagunus Top at an altitude of 14,500 feet. A 5 km concrete pedestrian track will further lead pilgrims from Panchtarni to the shrine. Additionally, a 9 km ropeway from Baltal to the shrine is also being planned, with an estimated cost of Rs 750 crore.
Gadkari has stated that tenders for this project will be issued by the end of the year, marking a significant step towards improved accessibility for pilgrims visiting the Amarnath shrine.
In September 2022, the responsibility for maintaining the pedestrian tracks from Baltal and Chandanwari to the shrine was handed over to the BRO by the J&K government’s Roads & Buildings (R&B) department. As part of their maintenance and improvement efforts, the BRO has widened the existing tracks on the Baltal route to a width of up to 15 feet. This development now allows trucks and pick-up vehicles to travel all the way to the cave shrine. However, tourist vehicles are currently not permitted to undertake this journey, as the widening of the tracks primarily aims to ease congestion for trekking pilgrims.
The work undertaken by the BRO to restore and improve the road to the Amarnath cave shrine is commendable. With the construction of the new road and the implementation of various measures to enhance accessibility, more devotees will now have the opportunity to embark on this sacred pilgrimage and experience the divine aura of the Amarnath shrine nestled amidst the majestic Himalayas.