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Retelling the story of communal harmony

Kashmiri Muslims walk hand in hand with Hindu pilgrims during yatra
04:00 AM Jul 08, 2024 IST | Irfan Raina
retelling the story of communal harmony
Fiel Photo
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Over the years Kashmiri people are known for hospitality and brotherhood and the same is showcased during the decade old annual Amarnath yatra particularly at a time when administration is on toes to ensure a smooth and peaceful pilgrimage. However, the help and assistance to Hindus by local Muslims paint a portrait of communal peace and Kashmir’s old syncretic ethos.

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With the beginning of the Amarnath yatra, the Baltal — the base camp of the pilgrimage in Ganderbal district of central Kashmir wore a festive look. Pilgrims from various parts of the country board their buses and travel on the 300-km-long Srinagar-Jammu national highway to Baltal and Pahalgam base camps in south Kashmir. The common sight at Baltal is of the Kashmiri Muslims who are the major local service providers to Amarnath pilgrims during the annual yatra. The local service providers mostly consist of those people who have installed their kisoks and tents for yatris and are seen eagerly waiting to receive them. The Kashmiri Muslims make a major part of the service providers who facilitate the annual Hindu pilgrimage every year showcasing the real Kashmiriyat and communal harmony. Besides, a large number of Community kitchens (Free meal Langars) set up by mostly the non locals have been serving Amarnath pilgrims over the years.

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Instrumental in the running of the annual pilgrimage is the role that the local Kashmiri Muslims have played over the years, whatever the situation. Thousands of Kashmir Muslims join the Yatra, offering pilgrims services as workers, ponymen and palanquin-bearers thus helping aged pilgrims in climbing the difficult trek of Baltal up to the cave. Hundreds of locals every year also put up stalls at the yatra base camps at Baltal in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district and Pahalgam in south Kashmir offering different kinds of materials for the pilgrims. Besides being a business provider for the locals, the Amarnath Yatra also showcases the bonding between Kashmiris and the pilgrims. Risking their lives and braving the difficult trek, rains, hot and humid weather conditions, mud, and what not, all along the route upto the holy cave, the local service providers manage to provide a safe and comfortable journey to the pilgrims.

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“We are coming here for years now to provide services to the Amarnath pilgrims who reach base camp and then leave for holy cave for darshan”, adding that “cutting across the religious lines we being hosts ensure that the guests don’t face any inconvenience and also ensure their safety and successful pilgrimage” Mohammad Akbar, a local service provider said. It doesn’t mean only business for us, however, besides earning livelihood it gives us an opportunity to serve and help the people of other religion; that gives us satisfaction”, another local service provider said. The Amarnath pilgrims also were all praise for the hospitality and helping nature of the Kashmiri people facilitating and providing different kinds of services to them to ensure a successful pilgrimage.

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“An impression is given outside that the situation is very tense in Kashmir and it is not wise to perform yatra. But coming over here, one comes to know that the situation is not like that and one comes to know about the hospitality of Kashmiris. The people living over here provided us every kind of help.” a group of pilgrims from Gujrat said. The Amarnath pilgrims said that the Yatra would be incomplete without local involvement. While sharing his views on the role of Muslims during Amarnath yatra, another pilgrim from Delhi, Mukesh Kumar, said that it is all due to the cooperation and support of the Muslim community that the religious journey has been successful. He says the Muslims have played an important role by providing all kind of services and other necessities to pilgrims all along the route to the cave.

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Well, once you reach baltal base camp after going through a couple of checking points you come across the festive fervour. Well lit and decorated langars with loudspeakers blaring bhajans greet you.

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At the base camp here is a full fledged market run by Muslims selling 'puja samagri and other stuff. You pass through and they say: ‘Bhole puja ka saman le lo, nahane Ka Garam pani free, saaman rakhna free’. The scene here is a real show of communal harmony. The pilgrims are seen freely moving around the base camp busy clicking pictures, buying different kind of things available in the market. The langars ( community kitchens) set up for the yatris by locals as well as non locals see a huge rush.

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Once you leave base camp to cave shrine, the shorter route to shrine cave is just about 14 km long, but has a very steep gradient and is quite difficult to climb. It starts from Baltal and passes through Domial, Barari Marg, and Sangam to reach the cave. The pilgrims reach cave shrine by foot or by chopper, with majority of the pilgrims preferring pony (horses) or palanquin (a kind of a bed carried by four people from four sides). Local Muslims are seen carrying pilgrims either on ponies or their shoulders. The treachrous route to the holy cave is abuzz with Yatris chanting ‘jai bhole’ and Kashmiri Muslim advising pedestrians to stick to the hill end and not move on the valley end lest they fall down. Enroute you also find many tea stalls with photographs of shiv lingam on the hoarding of almost every shop.

The Amarnath Shrine Board, civil and police administration have made all the arrangements for the annual yatra. Besides, heightened security arrangements have been made to ensure a peaceful yatra.

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