Srinagar: For the past two years, 53-year-old ponywala Tariq Ahmad Bhat has been doing odd jobs to support his family.
After the cancellation of Amarnath yatra, he had no more money to feed his four ponies. He had to lend his two horses to a relative to transport tourists to Pahalgam
On June 30, Bhat hopes to make up for the losses as the yatra is expected to resume after two years.
“The situation has been very bad for the past two years. I had to lend my two horses to a relative to transport tourists to Pahalgam. I couldn’t feed them. When the flow of tourists was very low, I borrowed money to support my family and my horses,” he said.
Bhat decided to bring back his horses and use them to transport yatries from Chandanwari to the sacred cave. “We hope that a record number of pilgrims will visit Kashmir this year. It will breathe new life into the ponywalas,” he said.
Like Bhat, hundreds of ponywalas, taxi drivers, dandiwalas and other service providers are preparing for Amarnath Yatra this year.
Located at an altitude of 3,888 meters, the sacred cave of Amarnath is accessible from two routes in the valley of Kashmir. The 46 km Pahalgam-Holy Cave trek is an ancient pilgrimage route covered in five days. There is Lord Shiva’s ice lingam which naturally forms and waxes and wanes with the moon. The new 14 kilometer Baltal-Holy cave route is now preferred by pilgrims as it is shorter but steep and the trip can be completed in one day.
Last year the government canceled Yatra due to the second wave of Covid.
Ponywalas said they will put additional horses into service as it looks like a large number of yatris will be heading to Kashmir this year.
“The administration said that around 6 to 8 lakh pilgrims will visit the cave shrine. We may need more ponies to meet the rush of pilgrims. Dozens of new ponywalas have been put into operation on the Baltal side this year,” said Ghulam Mohammad Mir, a ponywala from Kangan.
Apart from ponywalas, taxi drivers, dandiwalas, palkiwalas and other service providers are also preparing for the yatra season.
“The process of setting up tents and langars will begin next week. Since yatra registration started, ponywalas, dandiwalas, palkiwalas and other service providers are also making arrangements for yatris,” said Mohammad Shafi Wani, a taxi driver.