Amarnath Yatra { 79 images } Created 25 Aug 2012

Every summer several hundred thousand devout Hindus from across India arrive in the mountainous and disputed territory of Kashmir, to take part in an arduous pilgrimage to a revered mountain shrine: the Amanarth Cave. The cave contains a lingam, a phallus-shaped piece of ice, and is considered one of the most sacred places by Hindus.

The pilgrimage, or “yatra”, is by foot, pony and, occasionally, by helicopter. It takes place close to the line of control in Kashmir, beside the Pakistani-controlled part of the territory. The Indian army posts large numbers of soldiers along mountain ridges, to guard against attacks by Pakistani or Kashmiri militants. Given the high altitude, occasional bad weather, and the large numbers of pilgrims involved, many of them ill-prepared, each year sees dozens of people die en route. In 2012 over 90 pilgrims died.

The mountainous region is fragile and remote: the impact of so many visitors can be devastating for the local environment. Rubbish is strewn on glaciers, in rivers and half-burned or buried in heaps. The valley containing the Amanarth Cave is particularly badly affected, with acrid smoke from burning rubbish in the air, and waste underfoot.
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