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A piece of saffron cloth tied to his head and a prayer on his lips, an undeterred Amarnath pilgrim today said there was only solution to terrorism in Kashmir -- and that was to visit the state over and over again.
Among a group of five men from Madhya Pradesh on a trek to the holy shrine, the Shiva devotee said they would continue with the journey despite a terrorist attack yesterday on a group of pilgrims, in which seven people were killed and 19 injured.
"Bholenath ki kripa rahi to agley saal phir ayengay (If Lord Shiva wants it, we will be back next year)," the pilgrims said when asked if they were going to turn back after the firing in Kashmir's Anantnag district.
The men, between 40 and 55 years of age, started their two-day trek to the 3880-metre high cave shrine in the south Kashmir Himalayas from the Nunwan Base camp here early this morning, less than 10 hours after the incident.
The group chanted 'bum bum bhole' (hailing Lord Shiva) as they walked to the shrine, known for its naturally formed ice-lingam, revered by Shiva devotees.
An example of Hindu-Muslim harmony for more than a century now, legend has it that the cave was discovered by a local Muslim shepherd, Buta Malik, when he had taken his flock for grazing to the higher reaches of the south Kashmir Himalayas.
Pilgrim Sanjay Kumar, the youngest in the group, said though he felt for the victims of the attack, he also believed in destiny.
"Matters of life and death are in the hands of the lord. We just follow the path he puts us on," he said.
Another group member said the way "to defeat the terrorists" was by frequently visiting Kashmir.
"This will help foster a better understanding between the locals and people from the rest of the country while isolating the elements inimical to peace," the pilgrim added.
Kumar said they were happy with the arrangements made by the Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board and the local authorities, including security officials, for the yatra.
"The people of Kashmir are good but you cannot always stop terrorists who are on a suicide mission," Kumar, who works in a bank, said.
He said he and his friends had not made plans to join this year's yatra, but had suddenly decided to sign up for the pilgrimage.
"Nothing can explain our being here and setting off for the final phases of the yatra except that it was the call from the lord. And if he calls us again, we would love to be here next year," he added.
The five companions were among the 19000 pilgrims who left the base camps at Pahalgam and Baltal for the shrine this morning.
"The yatra is progressing smoothly and the terror attack has not dampened the spirits of the pilgrims," an official of the shrine board said in Srinagar.
Seven Amarnath pilgrims were killed and 19 others were injured when militants opened fire at a bus in south Kashmir's Anantnag district last night. The bus, bearing a Gujarat registration number, was on its way from Baltal to Jammu when the attack took place.
The bus was not a part of the Amarnath yatra convoy and was on the road after a 7.00pm-deadline imposed by security officials on the movement of yatra vehicles.
Meanwhile, security has been beefed up along the routes leading to the Pahalgam and Baltal base camps in Anantnag and Ganderbal districts respectively.
Additional police and paramilitary personnel have been deployed along the way to the shrine, a police official said.
He said investigations had been launched into the attack and a few people had been detained for questioning.