The commencement of the annual Amarnath Yatra on June 29th has brought smiles to the faces of hundreds of ponywallas, who earn their livelihood by ferrying devotees to the holy cave shrine via the twin routes of Baltal in Sonmarg and Chandanwari in Pahalgam.

PAASH, Tourist: “Every year I come to Pahalgam for the Amarnath Yatra. I have come with my friend. There is no motorable road to reach the holy cave; the roads are narrow, and we take the kachha road. We travel on horses; it’s adventurous also. And when we come with the family, it feels good; the children also feel happy.”

Hundreds of ponywallas start their preparations in advance by registering with the Assistant Labour Commissioner for the yatra.

They transport pilgrims on horses and palanquins, or palkis, accompanied by pitthus, or porters, to the holy cave—a journey that takes about one and a half days to complete.

MOHAMMAD SHAMI, Ponywalla: “We get work only when the Yatra starts. During the Yatra, we ferry at least 30 people. The better the yatra, the better it is for us. It’s tiring, and we rest for a month. For the rest of the year we are idle; our sole employment is during the Yatra.”

Ponywallas, who typically come from poor families and have small land holdings, rely on the annual one-and-a-half-month-long pilgrimage for their livelihoods.

The yatra provides sufficient income for them to sustain through the rest of the year.

TANVEER SINGH, Tourist: “As far as I know, travelling on horses is the only way to go for the Amarnath Yatra. This also helps the local ponywallas earn some money. Their livelihood depends on the yatra. They have their families; their kids will also get an opportunity to go to school. They are not from our religion (Hinduism), but they respect our religion. They value us, and I see that as an inspiration.”

According to official data, this year over 1.3 lakh pilgrims embarked on the yatra in the first six days alone since it began on June 29th, breaking all previous records.

The 52-day-long yatra will end on August 19.