Amarnath Temple – The Shiva Cave

Amarnath cave is a Hindu shrine located in Jammu and Kashmir, India. The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft), about 141 km from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir and reached through Pahalgam town. The shrine forms an important part of Hinduism and is considered to be one of the holiest shrines in Hinduism. The cave is surrounded by snowy mountains

Legend has it that Shiva recounted to Goddess Parvati the secret of creation in the Shri Amarnathji cave. Unknown to them, a pair of pigeons eavesdropped on this conversation and having learned the secret, are liberated from rebirth and have made the cave their eternal abode. Many pilgrims report seeing the pigeons-pair when they trek the arduous route to pay obeisance before the ice-lingam (the phallic symbol of Shiva).

Shri Amarnath Shivlingam
According to an ancient tale, there was once a Muslim shepherd named Buta Malik who was given a sack of coal by a saint. Upon reaching home he discovered that the sack, in fact, contained gold. Overjoyed and overcome, Buta Malik rushed back to look for the saint and thanked him, but on the spot of their meeting, he discovered a cave, and eventually, this became a place of pilgrimage for all believers. To date, a percentage of the donations made by pilgrims are given to the descendants of Malik, and the remaining to the Board which manages the shrine.

Far from the nearest road, in a mountain cave at Amarnath, a natural stone lingam becomes opalescently encrusted with ice and is believed to wax and wane with the phases of the moon. Seen as symbolizing Lord Shiva, it’s the destination for a vastly popular summer yatra (Hindu pilgrimage). Joining the chaotic swarm is an unforgettable experience but it’s certainly not a peaceful or meditative country hike. All prospective Yatri (pilgrims, hikers) must sign up through SASB (; July-Aug), be suitably equipped for potentially subzero conditions and be ready for intrusive security: both blizzards and Kashmiri militants have killed pilgrims in the past.

There are two approach routes. From Pahalgam, it’s a 16km taxi ride to Chandanwari then a 36km, three-day hike. Alternatively, from the vast Baltal Camp near Sonamarg (p239), it’s a 14km walk to the cave. Wealthier pilgrims complete the journey by pony, helicopter (₹7600 return) or dandy (palanquin).


Amarnath pilgrims en route the holy shrine

Devotees travel on foot, either from Srinagar or from Pahalgam. “The latter journey takes approximately 5 days”, BBC.

The State Road Transport Corporation and Private Transport Operators provide regular services from Jammu to Pahalgam and Baltal. Also, privately hired taxis are available from Jammu & Kashmir.

The shorter northern route is just about 16 km long, but has a very steep gradient and is quite difficult to climb. It starts from Baltal and passes through Domial, Barari, and Sangam to reach the cave. The northern route is along the Amarnath valley and all along the route, one can see the river Amaravathy (a tributary of Chenab) which originates from Amarnath Glacier.

It is believed that Lord Shiva left Nandi, The Bull, at Pahalgam (Bail gaon). At Chandanwari, he released the Moon from his hair (Jataon). On the banks of Lake Sheshnag, he released his snakes. At Mahagunas Parvat (Mahaganesh Mountain), he left his son Lord Ganesha. At Panjtarni, Lord Shiva left behind the five elements – Earth, Water, Air, Fire, and Sky. As a symbol of sacrificing the earthly world, Lord Shiva performed the Tandava Dance. Then, finally, Lord Shiva entered the Holy Amarnath Cave along with Parvathi.

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