With no habitation, except a very small Army Signals tented unit, the place was nature’s own preserve. A small green hillock around the middle of the valley had what looked like an abandoned bungalow. The Signals men passed on to us the local folklore about it. It seems, Indira and Feroz Gandhi had honeymooned in the bungalow – an ideal place, in the lap of nature’s extravagant bounty with hardly a soul around.
While lunching on their substantial fare we were told the Amarnath Cave was only eight miles away, high above across the mountains. Only a few adventurous tough jawans had been able to make it to the shrine. The climb, though very picturesque, was stiff, and the going treacherous on ice-sheets that, at places, were thin enough to crumble, often into what could be deep crevices. The round trip of 16 miles had to be completed during daylight hours.
Tourism – whether wildlife, beach, religious or whatever – strives for unrestricted growth. In the process, it creates vested interests that treat the activity as mere commerce and try to make a killing. Even governments and public bodies succumb to the temptations, seldom displaying any concern for such niceties as ecology – whether fragile or otherwise.
Apparently, to accommodate the fast growing traffic – now in lakhs – for the Shrine the authorities, instead of regulating and restricting the numbers, opened the alternate route from Baltal. Worse, the Yatra was later made a two-month long affair. And the result is there for all to see. The pictures that come across through the electronic and print media are those of a once-beautiful valley utterly ravaged, with the green of the meadows stripped, trees felled, structures erected, huge gatherings of people, numerous buses and helicopters in flight.