SRINAGAR, INDIA, July 1, 2010: The annual Amarnath pilgrimage in Jammu and Kashmir kicked off on Thursday with over 15,000 pilgrims beginning the climb to the cave shrine dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva.

“More than 7,000 yatris began their uphill 14-km trek at 8 am on Thursday from Baltal to the cave. Another batch of 1,100 yatris has also left the Manigam transit camp for Baltal,” a senior police officer said here. “All the pilgrims are safe. Adequate arrangements of security have been made at Baltal, Manigam and all along the yatra route,” he added.

The nearly two-month-long Amarnath Yatra (pilgrimage) ends on Aug 25.

Hari Prasad, 49, a resident of Haryana who left the Manigam transit camp for Baltal, said: “We shall pray for peace in Kashmir and the rest of the country when we reach the holy cave. This is the land of saints and rishis besides being the abode of Lord Shiva. The people here are nice and hospitable. This is my third yatra and I know the locals have always helped the yatris in times of emergency,” he added. While 1.5 lakh pilgrims have registered themselves so far, it is expected that the number of pilgrims will cross the half-million mark this year. The cave shrine has a natural ice stalagmite that is worshipped as a Shiv Lingam, a symbol of Lord Shiva.

Extraordinary security arrangements have been made for the pilgrimage this year because of the heightened tensions in the Kashmir Valley.