Amarnath cave is located in a narrow gorge on the farther end of Lidder valley at 3,888 m above sea level. The cave is 45 km from Pahalgam and 141 km from Srinagar. The trek begins in July-August. Despite being an extremely difficult trek, millions of devotees come to pay homage to Shiva in one of his Himalayan abodes.
The annual yatra to Holy Amarnath Cave, situated at 14000 ft. above sea level, is organised by the Jammu & Kashmir State Government during the month of July and August. The intending pilgrims are allowed to perform darshan from Ashard Purnimashi to Shravan Purnimashi which course spreads over a month or so.
The yatra, in its present religious form, commences with the ceremony of "Chari Mubarak," at the Dashnami temple, Akhara, Srinagar. After the prayers, the yatri acquires a sort of walking stick. It has both physical and religious significance: physically, it helps the yatri in steadying himself on a snow covered slippery path; spiritually it reminds him of his resolve at the temple at times when his faith begins to waver in the face of a long and arduous journey. Nowadays people travel to Pahalgam first and then undertake the onward journey of 45 km on foot, in batches. Overnight halts are in encampments that are set up at fixed distances and give the appearance of a military site. The return trek has to be covered in five days with night halts at Chandanwari, Wawjan and Panchtarni. The distance of 12.8 km from Pahalgam to Chandanwari is completed in five to six hours with the first night halt at Chandanwari. The trail is along thick and green woodlands of breathtaking beauty. The playful stream of Lidder meanders and dances alongside, showing its sparkling white foam with the pride and purity of a maiden descending directly from the lap of the perennial Himalayas. One main attraction of this trail is the bridge on the river Lidder, which is covered with snow even when the surroundings are bereft of snow.
From Chandanwari, there begins a
steep ascent to Pishu Ghati (3,171 meters),
reminding the yatris that the path to salvation
involves superhuman struggle and stamina. A
feeling of having reached an ethereal
destination overwhelms yatris when they reach
Seshnag (3,570 meters) so striking is the
beauty, the ambience and the very colour of this
great lake. Seshnag symbolizes the cosmic ocean
in which Lord Vishnu, the preserver of this
universe, moves, reclining on a seven-headed
mythical snake. The second night halt is at
Wawjan overlooking the deep waters of Sheshnag
Lake and the glaciers beyond it.
The third and the last camp en route to the cave is at Panchtarni. This 13 km trek gains height at 4,600 m and then descends to the green meadows of Panchtarni. The cave is 6 km from here. There are long queues waiting to enter the cave for a darshan before returning to Panchtarni. The return journey takes two more days.