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July 13, 2012

Amarnath: Journey to the shrine of a Hindu god

Each year, Hindu devotees make a pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, near Baltal, Kashmir, India. The Amarnath Cave has been a place of worship since times immemorial, with references found in many ancient texts. According a Hindu legend, this is the cave where Shiva explained the secret of life and eternity to his divine consort Parvati. The cave itself is covered with snow most times of the year except for a short period in summer when it is open for pilgrims. The cave is situated at an altitude of 3,888 m (12,756 ft). Hindu devotees brave sub-zero temperatures to hike over glaciers and high altitude mountain passes to reach the sacred Amarnath cave, which houses an ice stalagmite, worshiped by Hindus as a symbol of the god Shiva. More than 700,000 Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in this year's two-month pilgrimage, according to local officials, causing strain on the environment and political stability of the region, which has long fought for independence from India. -- Paula Nelson (46 photos total)

Indian Hindu pilgrims rest at the beginning of the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, near Chandanwari, 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Srinagar, India. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath at 3,888 meters (12,756 feet) above sea level to worship an icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, June 27, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press)

Hindu pilgrims, at a glacial campsite, proceed on the final stretch of their journey leading to the Amarnath Cave, June 27, 2012. Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims trek through treacherous mountains in revolt-torn Kashmir, along icy streams, glacier-fed lakes and frozen passes, to reach the Amarnath cave, located at an altitude of 3,857 meters (12,729 feet), where a Shiva Lingam, an ice stalagmite shaped as a phallus and symbolizing the Hindu God Shiva, stands for worship. (Strstrdel/AFP/GettyImages) #

Indian Hindu pilgrims bathe in a glacial stream during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath to worship an icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, June 28, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Indian Hindu holy man dries out his clothing after bathing in a glacial stream during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 27, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Indian Hindu pilgrims pray during a rest in the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, near Chandanwari, June 27, 2012.(Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

An Indian Hindu holy man walks with others during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 28, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

An Indian Hindu holy man wearing little clothing walks down a snowy hill during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 28, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Hindu pilgrims are carried on palanquins by Kashmiri bearers over a glacier near the sacred Amarnath Cave, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, June 29, 2012, near Baltal, Kashmir, India. Hindu devotees brave sub-zero temperatures to hike over glaciers and high altitude mountain passes to reach the sacred Amarnath cave, which houses an ice stalagmite, a stylized phallus, worshiped by Hindus as a symbol of the god Shiva. More than 700,000 Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in this year's two-month pilgrimage, according to local officials, causing strain on the environment and political stability of the region, which has long fought for independence from India. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu pilgrims makes their pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, on June 28, 2012. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu pilgrims walk along a mountain path as they make their pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, June 30, 2012. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

A Hindu pilgrim is carried on a palanquin by Kashmiri bearers over a glacier on her way to the sacred Amarnath Cave, June 29, 2012. More than 700,000 Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in this year's two-month pilgrimage, according to local officials. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu pilgrims cross a waterfall as they make their pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, June 28, 2012. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu pilgrims with the assistance of Kashmiri guides, make their pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, June 30, 2012 near Baltal, Kashmir, India. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu devotees brave sub-zero temperatures to hike over glaciers and high altitude mountain passes to reach the sacred Amarnath cave, JUne 28, 2012. More than 700,000 Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in this year's two-month pilgrimage, according to local officials, causing strain on the environment and political stability of the region, which has long fought for independence from India. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

A Kashmiri guide yawns as he and others wait with their horses to transport Hindu pilgrims to the Amarnath Cave at the camp in Baltal, June 28, 2012 near Baltal, Kashmir, India. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

A Hindu pilgrim is carried on a palanquin by Kashmiri bearers over a glacier on her way to the sacred Amarnath Cave, June 29, 2012. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu pilgrims walk along a mountain trail during their pilgrimage, June 30, 2012. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu pilgrims watch the lifeless body of a Hindu pilgrim, killed in an accident as he was thrown off a horse and off the side of the mountain, be carried by Kashmiri guides down to the Baltal Camp, June 28, 2012. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

A Hindu pilgrim is assisted uphill by guides as he makes his pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, June 28, 2012 near Baltal, Kashmir, India. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu pilgrims walk along a mountain trail, June 30, 2012. Hindu devotees brave sub-zero temperatures to hike over glaciers and high altitude mountain passes to reach the sacred Amarnath cave. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

An Indian Hindu man carries his child during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, near Shashnag, 115 kms (71 miles) from Srinagar, India. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath at 3,888 m (12,756 ft) above sea level to worship an icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

A young Hindu pilgrim cries as he struggles along the path as he walks with his family during their pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, June 28, 2012 near Baltal, Kashmir, India. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

An Indian Hindu Holy man gestures to well-wishers as he is carried down a trail during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 28, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath at 3,888 m (12,756 ft) above sea level to worship an icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Young Hindu pilgrims wait on horses during a traffic jam on a path as they are guided by Kahsmiri men during their pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, June 28, 2012 near Baltal, Kashmir, India. More than 700,000 Hindu pilgrims are expected to take part in this year's two-month pilgrimage. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu pilgrims cross a glacier during their pilgrimage, June 28, 2012 near Baltal, Kashmir, India. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

An Indian Army soldier directs Hindu pilgrims and their Kashmiri guides, as they make their pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, June 30, 2012. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

An Indian Hindu holy man stands near a statue of Lord Shiva during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, near Chandanwari, 100 kms (62 miles) from Srinagar, India. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Kashmiri laborers carry a Indian Hindu pilgrim on a trail during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 28, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath at 3,888 m (12,756 ft) above sea level to worship an icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Indian Hindu holy men smoke marijuana as they take a break during the traditional journey, June 27, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

An Indian Hindu pilgrim uses a flashlight as he arrives in the camp late during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 27, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

A Sadhu, finishes off a meal at a Lungar facility providing free food to pilgrims, as Hindu's make their pilgrimage to the sacred Amarnath Cave, one of the most revered Hindu shrines, June 29, 2012 near Baltal, Kashmir, India. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Hindu holy men and pilgrims celebrate at a campsite during their pilgrimage, June 29, 2012. (Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images) #

Indian Hindu pilgrims cross a bridge, June 29, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Indian Hindu pilgrims wait to enter the trails during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, near Shashnag, 115 kms (71 miles) from Srinagar, India. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

A Kashmiri horseman leads Indian Hindu pilgrims on horseback across a stream during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 28, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

A Kashmiri porter carries blankets to be used by Hindu pilgrims during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 29, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

An Indian security force officer lifts a young boy safely over a dangerous part of the trail as he leaves following the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 30, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Indian Hindu pilgrims cross ice and snow during the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 29, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Kashmiri porters carry an Indian Hindu pilgrim on a trail as they approach the Amarnath cave, June 30, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Kashmiri porters carry an Indian Hindu pilgrim, June 30, 2012. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Indian Hindu holy men react as they are held back by police as they line up to enter the Amarnath cave, JUne 29, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

A young Indian Hindu pilgrim boy tries to squeeze past police as he and others line up to enter the Amarnath cave, June 29, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Indian Hindu pilgrims line up to enter the Amarnath cave to view the icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, June 29, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

An Indian Hindu pilgrim helps others over a dangerous part of the trail as they leave following the traditional journey to the Amarnath cave, June 30, 2012. (Kevin Frayer/Associated Press) #

Many Hindu pilgrims continue to make their long journey to the Amarnath cave, July 7, 2012. (Channi Anand/Associated Press) #

Base camp of Amarnath cave bound Hindu pilgrims lies near Baltal, about 110 kilometers (69 miles) from Srinagar, India. Thousands of pilgrims annually go to the remote Himalayan shrine of Amarnath at 3,888 meters (12,756 feet) above sea level to worship an icy stalagmite representing Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction. (Channi Anand/Associated Press) #



 
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