One Perfect Day to Amarnath Gufa from Baltal and back to the Kashmir valley, Srinagar
Baltal Amarnath and Srinagar in a Day
The two places in the state of Jammu and Kashmir that we visit on Pilgrimage are Amarnath Yatra and Vaishnodevi Yatra. Both Places are connected with airports nearby and it is possible to travel from south India. I have travelled to Jammu by train to reach Katra. Visiting Bhavan for the darshan of Maa Vaishno Devi yatra in a day. Returning home via Jammu airport to Hyderabad with a layover in Delhi. Similarly with my trip to Amarnath Yatra. I boarded the flight from home with a layover in Delhi for few hours connecting me to Srinagar. Past midday arrived at Srinagar airport. The taxi service would take us all the way to Sonamarg before the sun went down completely. This place has good hotel stays making it closest to the base camp Baltal. The trek to Amarnath Gufa in Kashmir valley begins in Baltal on this route from Srinagar.
Baltal is a small village, the base camp to Amarnath Yatra which is a tedious trek from there to the Pavitra Gufa. The 'gufa' is opened to the public only during the month of Shravan for about forty days a year. Reaching by four-wheeler arranged by the hotel in Sonmarg. It was a short ride less than 20 km away with the weather getting windy and cold in the morning sunlight. We had our breakfast at the hotel so quite prepared and fuelled for the day.
Amarnathji is Lord Shiva appearing in the form of Ice and Snow. Located in the Kashmir valley near Baltal Amarnathji is approached from Srinagar and or via Pahalgam from Jammu. The holy place is revered and the task of reaching is quite challenging. Every pilgrim visiting has to register before undertaking the yatra. It is available online and convenient for pilgrims to do it from their home state via the portal. Amarnathji is at an altitude of more than twelve thousand feet above sea level. Measured at about 3888 MSL. It is quite a tough task to reach the 'pavitra' gufa.
Helicopter Ride from Baltal to Panchtarni
We had pre-booked for our stay that night in tent accommodation. Upon reaching the campsite we noticed there were fewer people and several tents with hardly any occupancy. We dropped our luggage in our glamping tent which had an attached toilet. Sooner we headed to the starting point of the climb to Amarnathji. It became apparent that there was hardly anyone en route and most of the pilgrims preferring to take the helicopter ride. I too changed my decision and retraced my steps.
Retracting was the best decision I made that day. The ascend was steep I soon realised and the mountains although warm and pleasant seemed looming to tell me something. I quickly reached the booking counter requesting to release tickets for the ride up. It was going full and in high demand. I managed and sooner I was in the cockpit sitting aside with the pilot.
It was my first-time experience riding in a helicopter. Was I nervous? of course, yes. It only got more intense when I realised there was no seat belt. I had to hold on to a grab bar near me and also shoot a video of my short quick sortie. It was the most amazing thrilling ride of my life. The helicopter ride from Baltal to Amarnath passes through the mountains and valley almost rubbing and kissing them so close was exhilarating. It did not last beyond 15- 20 minutes as I recall. I should be having the ticket issued by the Air Deccan for the ride. Hope to upload the image as soon as I find it. As I recall the one-way fare was about INR 3000.
Amarnath Gufa Yatra from Panchtarni
Baltal to Holy Cave is about fourteen kilometres but the distance from Panchgani to Amarnath gufa is approximately two kilometres. This distance can be covered by foot or hire a pony. People not comfortable walking or ride of pony can avail the service of dandies. The makeshift palki is a seat and backrest resting on wooden poles. These long poles are held by four to six people. The carriers carry one or two pilgrims at a time depending upon the weight of the individual. The pricing for this service is prefixed by the board.
Darshan and route
Image courtesy: Shri Amarnathji Shrine.com
For quick, early darshan and returning back to Baltal on a day trip this route is preferred. I could see the route was wide to narrow. It was pebbled with different sizes of them not making it easy at all. The steep rise and fall kept me on the edge and was looking out for me, my pony and the horse owner.
Options to reach Amarnathji
Pony: I chose this option on my return from Amarnathji gufa. After a quick darshan, I was super energised with the excitement of beholding the vision of lord shiva in the form of ice linga. Bholenath Ji as 'barfani' (ice god) is the ultimate dream of any Hindu pilgrim. That being fulfilled the joy was boundless.
Palki or Dandies: This service is useful for people who are aged or handicapped. Especially because the terrain is wobbly and not smooth it is a good option.
Walk: Reaching the holy cave of Amarnath Ji by foot is the best. As you walk the slow uphill, it gets colder. The drop in temperature reduces the speed of reaching the site. In fact, the gufa comes into sight as we get closer making the whole experience special. The gradient is visible and I was raring to the summit.
Exploring the place around the holy cave after darshan was easy and quick. Few makeshift stores were selling basic items pertaining to a holy place. In fact, I got lucky. we were ushered into a Langar. At the langar, they served the most delicious 'kadi chawal'. I had a good helping of the piping hot food that was generously served. Made a modest contribution to the efforts made by the gurudwara volunteers. It is these moments that make all the more memorable. I was truly touched by this enriching moment.
Return trip from Baltal Amarnath and Srinagar
Slowly and surely I made few strides away from the langar by walk to get to the base camp at Baltal. On the insistence of the horse owner, I climbed onto the horse and started descending. We stopped a couple of times for resting the pony and or when the horse needed to drink some water. There was a place almost midway where we stopped for a chai break. It goes without saying one can’t avoid not having a cup of tea in a place amidst the surrounding hills, the cool breeze sending shivers. The pit stop only makes it even more interesting as you take note of the altitude and the natural landscape adding so much mystery to the holy place.
Base camp Baltal to Srinagar
It was about 3 PM in the afternoon when we sighted Baltal, a tent city of the Amarnath holy yatra. After paying the pony owner, went up to the tent accommodation. Looking at the time, the decision was made to head back to Srinagar. Freshened up collected the luggage and headed to the taxi stand to make a reservation. Shared taxi is not uncommon in the mountain region. By the end of another sunset, we reached Srinagar City safely. Checked into the Jammu and Kashmir tourism guest house located in the city centre. I found it a neat and convenient place close to the bus station that takes commuters to Jammu. Called for room service after a lovely day of adventure in the mountains.
I highly recommend this route to the holy cave of Amarnath.
Details of the visit to Baltal Amarnath and Srinagar
One perfect day to Amarnath Gufa from Baltal and back to Srinagar. The morning after breakfast, Sonmarg to Baltal by road. Baltal to Panchtarni by Helicopter. Please pre-book. Panchtarni to Amarnath gufa by walk. To soak in the surroundings. Amarnathji to Baltal by Pony/walk. Pony, Only because the time is taken to reach Baltal before daybreak is important and to be noted. Baltal to Srinagar by taxi.