Kashmir's holy stalagmite vanishes ... again

Last updated at 13:51 02 July 2007

An ice stalagmite that forms in a Himalayan cave and is worshipped as a Hindu god has melted away.

The phallus-shaped stalagmite draws pilgrims to the remote Amarnath cave in the violent region of Kashmir every year.

But the heat of crowds flocking there, as well as the energy generated by lights and helicopters, have caused it to melt for a second year.

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holy stalagmite

Officials announced the disappearance today as a pilgrimage to the site was suspended due to bad weather.

Hindu pilgrims see the stalagmite as a form of Lord Shiva, the god of destruction and regeneration.

"The Shivalinga has completely melted. It is unfortunate," said Arun Kumar, head of the Amarnath Shrine Board.

The two-month pilgrimage, one of Hinduism's holiest, started officially on Sunday amid tight security, although thousands have already visited the shrine over the past two weeks.

But on Monday, the pilgrimage - during which hundreds of thousands of people trek through treacherous mountain passes to reach the cave - had to be suspended due to rains and slippery tracks.

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holy stalagmite

Scientists say the melting is due to increased temperatures due to climate change and to the heat generated by increasing numbers of pilgrims flocking to the site, located at an altitude of 3,800 metres (12,700 feet).

"When I reached the cave on Friday, there was little of it left," said Sudarshan Rao, a pilgrim from Mumbai. "It is disappointing for every pilgrim."

Last year, when the stalagmite also disappeared, Hindu pilgrims angrily accused authorities of using snow to rebuild it.

Officials said this time they did not expect the absence of the stalagmite to deter pilgrims from visiting the holy site.

Separatist militants have targeted the pilgrimage several times since a rebellion broke out in the region in 1989.

Officials say more than 42,000 people have been killed in the revolt, but human rights groups put the toll at about 60,000.

holy stalagmite

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