SRINAGAR: With insurgency-related violence in Jammu and Kashmir at an all-time high in recent years, the annual pilgrimage to the Amarnath Cave shrine begins today on a sombre note amid intelligence inputs about the possibility of militant attacks.

The first batch of pilgrims was yesterday recieved at Lakhanpur, the first-entry point to the state on the Punjab-J&K border. The batch of 4000 pilgrims will reach Srinagar today and the pilgrimage will be flagged off by deputy chief minister, according to officials.

According to reports, 35,000 to 40,000 security personnel drawn from the J&K Police, the Army and central forces, including 24 rescue teams and 35 dog squads, will coordinate to ensure fool-proof security for the 40-day pilgrimage.

In a letter to the security forces by the police chief of Kashmir region, Muneer A Khan, there are intelligence reports that militants are planning to carry out attacks on the pilgrims and police personnel during the pilgrimage.

"Intelligence input received from SSP Anantnag reveals that terrorists have been directed to eliminate 100 to 150 pilgrims and about 100 police officers and officials," Khan says in the letter sent to the Army, the CRPF, and three DIGs in the state, which was leaked on social media.

Anantnag is one of the four districts of the restive south Kashmir region which are witnessing widespread protests, encounters and the subsequent law and order situations, resulting in over dozen civilian killings since the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani last year.

A senior police officer said the threat level is high also because the security forces have intensified the counter-insurgency operations in the last couple of months with over three dozen militants killed this year alone, many of them local youths, enraging the population which often breaks out in protests.

"Militants, especially in south Kashmir, enjoy support of the local population. In the backdrop of the polarisation in Kashmir after the lynching of a DSP in Srinagar, there are apprehensions that the yatra and our personnel might be targeted this year," the officer said, on the condition of anonymity.

The pilgrims will take one of the two routes - 28.2 km Pahalgam and 14 km Baltal - in south Kashmir Himalayas to reach the 3,880 metre high holy cave shrine located in a narrow gorge at the end of the picturesque Lidder Valley.

This year's pilgrimage will be eight days shorter against the last year's 48 days and conclude on Raksha Bandhan that will be celebrated on August 7.

(Cover Photograph BASIT ZARGAR: Some respite for Kashmiri children on Eid as families throng to a park)