Every year, the Amarnath cave shrine in India, located 3,880-meters (12,730 feet) above sea level in the Himalayas, hosts thousands of pilgrims who undertake a miles-long journey by foot to reach there.
Amid the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic unfolding in India, the local government in India-administrated Kashmir is now considering whether they should set up makeshift shelters and facilities for 600,000 Hindu pilgrims for the annual Amarnath pilgrimage.
According to DW, two base camps, called Baltal where the pilgrims will have to walk a distance of 14 km (9 miles) and Chandawari with 32 km (20 miles), will be set up.
'The situation is being monitored'
The authorities temporarily suspended online registration for the pilgrimage, which was canceled last year. The reason was the spike in daily COVID-19 cases; however, the website still states today the pilgrimage will take place as intended from June 28 through August 22, lasting for a total of 56 days.
In April, at least 30,000 people registered from different parts of India for the pilgrimage, according to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB), which is behind the pilgrimage, as reported by Hindustan Times.
"In view of evolving COVID situation in the country & (and) the need to take all necessary precautionary measures, registration for Shri Amarnath Ji Yatra is being temporarily suspended. The situation is being constantly monitored and it would be reopened once the situation improves," the SASB wrote in a statement.
The news of the pilgrimage is raising concerned voices among India, especially seeing opposition from health experts. Many fear that the Amarnath pilgrimage could worsen the situation in India and more specifically in Kashmir.
The variant B.1.617
On Wednesday, India lost 200,000 people to the coronavirus, marking a grim and scary milestone. The country's health care system is collapsing as at least 300,000 cases are being reported a day. 362,757 new infections were also recorded, setting a new global record. Many sources state the official government tally doesn't capture the full extent of the crisis, claiming that the numbers are even higher.
The culprit behind this tragedy might be a recent variant of the coronavirus, B.1.617. First identified in India on October 5, 2020, it is a "double mutation" variant which means it consists of two mutations on the spike protein of the virus. While existing vaccines are reported to be effective against B.1.617, over 90 percent of India's population hasn't been vaccinated yet.