|Location:||On Mount Amarnath, at the farther end of Lidder valley, Kashmir, Northern India. 45km from Pahalgam, 141km from Srinagar. Access from Panchtarni, 6km walk.|
|Open:||short time in summer|
|Classification:||Karst cave ice cave.|
|Dimension:||A=3,888m asl, L=27m, H=45m.|
|Bibliography:||The Hindu Holy Cave of Amarnath, The British Caver 1971 Vol 56 p 68|
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|AUG-1996||260 people died on their pilgrimage in the wake of a storm.|
Amarnath Cave is named after Mount Amarnath (5,486m asl), where it is located almost 4,000m high. Because of this height, the cave is covered with snow for most of the year. Only for a short period in sommer, the entrance is accessible. The cave is an ice cave, containing a certain amount of ice stalagmites. It was discovered by Bregish Reshi.
The cave is a holy place for Hindu pilgrims, because of its ice content. One very characteristic pillar of ice is believed to be an ice lingham, the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva. Two smaller ice stalagmites represent Parvati, his wife, and Ganesha, his son. The Hindu pilgrims also believe, that the height of the lingham increases and decreases with the phases of the moon.
A legend tells, that Shiva explained the secret of creation to Parvati in the cave. Two mating doves heard this and now live in the cave for eternity, being reborn again and again. This legend is confirmed (at least in the eyes of believers) by flocks of doves near the cave, with no vegetation around. Another legend tells that Kashyap Reshi drained a big lake, which became then the Kashmir valley of today.
Every year in Juli and August, while is accessible for a period of two months, thousands of Hindus go on a pilgrimage up to the cave. In 2008 it were about 544,000. The peak is in the month of Shravan, on the full moon in August, when the lingam is said to reach its biggest size. The pilgrimage ends with the arrival of Lord Shiva's mace, known as Charri Mubarak. A traditional puja is performed inside the cave formally bringing the annual pilgrimage to a close. Then the holy mace is returned to its seat inside the Dashnami Akhara temple.
The pilgrimage is a thread to the cave and the ice, as hundreds of people and their candles increase the temperature and change the climate of the small cave. The warmth causes the lingam to melt. Rumours of artificially enhanced lingams by adding cold water regularly cause disputes and are reported in Indian news. The pilgrimage is a great opportunity to make money by providing food, beverages, clothes, and any other kind of goods. This merchandising business is dominated by a few groups which regularly start fighting about it.
But the strangest aspect of the pilgrimage is the enormous death toll it causes every year, e.g. 45 in 2008. The big height and the low temperature, combined with the under-nourished state of many people, are responsible for dozens of dead pilgrims every year. Sometimes, like in 1996, bad weather increases the number of fatalities dramatically.