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A day in the life of Ashok Pandita, 43
Camp Director, Baltal base camp for Amarnath yatra
Ashok Pandita's day starts at night. At 2.30 a.m., a call wakes him up. It is from the meteorological department informing him about the weather forecast for the route to the Amarnath cave shrine. In half-an-hour, he is ready to move towards Domel, the starting point for the yatra from the Baltal base camp where he is the Camp Director. A Joint Registrar in the state cooperative department, he has been deputed to the Shri Amaranth Shrine Board (SASB) for supervising the yatra. A number of officers from different state departments have been deputed to the camp, most of whom are Pandita's batchmates.
At 3.30 a.m., Pandita and his colleagues assemble at Domel for the first meeting of the day. "We have already received the weather forecast," he says. "We have to decide whether we should allow the pilgrims to go ahead or not. It's a difficult decision to make."
Besides the weather forecast from the Met office, Pandita and his team rely on weather updates from people stationed at many stopovers along the 16-kilometre steep, winding path that leads to the shrine at an altitude of 3,888 metres. "It is important because it concerns the lives of thousands of people," he says. "You never know when the weather will change along the route."
If weather reports are not favourable, Pandita and his colleagues have a tough time managing the thousands of pilgrims. "There are people who say they are willing to die and will leave for the cave at all costs. It is a matter of faith. We advise, rebuke and sometimes use police force to prevent them from moving on," he says.
On a normal day, when the pilgrims are allowed to move on, Pandita supervises the operations. The yatra begins at 5.30 a.m. He remains stationed at Domel till 10 a.m. when the gates are closed and no pilgrim is allowed to go ahead. It is then that he returns to his base, a temporary shed built at the base camp. His work doesn't end there. Pandita has to take care of the pilgrims, see that shopkeepers don't overcharge them, look into the problems of the pony wallahs and ensure proper food and water at the langars, the community kitchens set up by voluntary groups. "There is always one or the other problem," he says. "A pony wallah may have overcharged, there could be fights between pilgrims and the shopkeepers or there could be people complaining about improper facilities at the tent. We have to resolve these amicably to maintain peace and harmony."
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