SRINAGAR, Aug 9 (2006): Militant attacks across Indian Kashmir and a controversial decision to a recreate a revered ice stalagmite after it failed to appear naturally, cut the number of pilgrims visiting a Hindu shrine, officials said.
Madan Mantoo, a spokesman for the two-month pilgrimage that ended on Wednesday, said less than 300,000 people visited the Amarnath Shrine, a cave deep in the Himalayas, against a record 400,000 pilgrims in 2005.
As well as a series of deadly attacks on pilgrims and tourists by suspected Muslim militants, Hindu visitors were also put off after authorities created a phallus-shaped stalagmite — considered to be a symbol of Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction — which usually occurs naturally, an official said.
“Intelligence inputs throughout the yatra (pilgrimage) revealed the nefarious designs of militants trying to disrupt the yatra,” said a statement from the Amarnathji Shrine Board.
“Repeated attacks on tourists acted as a deterrent,” it added.
During the pilgrimage, Hindus trek along a treacherous mountain path to worship the ice stalagmite in the cave, located at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,700 feet) south of Srinagar, Kashmir’s summer capital.
Pilgrims were outraged when authorities created an artificial stalagmite from snow as the natural ice formation failed to show up for the start of the pilgrimage.
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