"The pilgrimage would officially continue till July 25 and authorities are expecting 20,000 devotees."
Shimla, July 15 - The first batch of devotees Tuesday left for the arduous Shrikhand pilgrimage to pay obeisance to the giant natural rock resembling a Shiva Lingam at an altitude of 17,600 feet in Himachal Pradesh's Kullu district, an official said.
For the first time, no devotee would be allowed to scale the Shrikhand Mahadev peak, considered tougher than the journey to the Amarnath cave shrine in Kashmir, without medical examination, Deputy Commissioner Rakesh Kanwar told IANS.
He said rescue and medical teams have been deployed on the 30-km one-way trek, mostly vertical, to handle any emergency.
We have installed hyperbaric chambers to provide first-aid in case of any medical emergency, he said.
In a hyperbaric chamber, the oxygen pressure is above normal for the atmosphere and it used in treating breathing disorders at a high-altitude.
A rescue team of 21 people, comprising mountaineers, have been deployed.
Every year, people start their journey from Jaon, some 150 km from state capital Shimla.
After passing through rugged, cold and inhospitable terrain at least in three days, it concludes at the Shrikhand peak, where the devotees pay obeisance to 72-foot tall lingam.
The pilgrimage would officially continue till July 25 and authorities are expecting 20,000 devotees.
Devotees believe that Lord Shiva meditated in Shrikhand and the Pandvas too had trekked to the peak.