In Hinduism the three most important Gods are Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Destroyer. Shiva is mentioned in the Rig Veda - one of the earliest religious books of India and continues to be worshipped to the present day. Shiva is depicted as an ascetic clad in a deerskin. He carries a trident and is accompanied by his consort, the female deity Parvati, and his son, the elephant- headed God Ganesha.
According to legend, Shiva was asked by Parvati to tell her the secret of immortality. He resisted for a long while, however her repeated insistence led to his agreeing to reveal the secret to her. They traveled to an isolated location in the Himalayas, where no one could overhear the secret. On the way Shiva left Nandi the Bull, at Pahalgam (Bail gaon). He released the moon from his hair at Chandanwari. At Sheshnag peak, he released his snakes and Ganesh was left behind at Mahagunas Hill (Mahaganesh Hill). At Panchtarni, Shiva left behind the five elements (Earth, Water, Air, Fire and Sky) and accompanied by Parvati entered the cave. Here he meditated seated on his deer skin. To ensure that no living creature heard the secret he created a fire to destroy all life around him and then began to disclose the secret of immortality to Parvati. However a pigeon's egg hidden beneath Shiva's deerskin remined unharmed by the fire. A pair of pigeons, who overheard the secret of immortality, were born from this egg and even today pilgrims who visit the holy cave can see a pair of pigeons nesting here. Since the secret of immortality (Amar Katha) was revealed within this cave, it came to be known as Amarnath.
The climate along the route to the Amarnath Cave is very cold. Though days may be sunny, rain or snowfall may occur at any time. The night temperature can drop to -5 Degrees Celcius.
All yatris must be registered with the Jammu and Kashmir Government and are issued a registration-cum-identity slip, which they should carry with them at all times.
The holy shrine of Amarnath is situated 145 km from Srinagar, the capital of the North Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. Located at an altitude of 3888 m above sea level, the Amarnath Cave is considered holy by Hindus. Every year a giant stalagmite or pillar of ice in the shape of a phallus, forms within this cave. This ice pillar is worshipped as a lingam - a symbol of Shiva - and thousands of pilgrims travel across the mountains to pray at the holy Amarnath cave shrine, in July and August every year.
Amarnath Yatra Route
Around 150,000 pilgrims undertake the Amarnath Yatra every year. A priest carrying the Chari Mubarak or holy scepter of Shiva, leads the yatris up to the cave. There are 2 routes to the holy Amarnath Cave. The routes are as follows:
The Amarnath cave is about 45 m (150 feet) high, 27 m (90 feet) long and faces south. Inside the cave, there are four to five ice formations resembling figures of various gods. According to the tradition, the largest one is worshipped as Amarnath or Shiva, one on the left side of the lingam is an ice formation worshipped as Ganesha, and on the right is an ice formation worshipped as Parvati. Inside the Amarnath cave is another small cave to the left of the image, from which a chalk-like substance is given out to pilgrims as Vibhuti or holy ash.