As per the legend, Lord Shiva chose Amarnath, an isolated and inhabited location, to render the secret Amar Katha to goddess Parvati who wanted to be immortal just like Lord Shiva. As they wanted absolute isolation with no one around, he left all his belongings stating with Nandi at Pahalgam, Moon at Moon at Chandanwari, Snakes at Lake Sheshnag, son Ganesh at Mahgunas Parvat and his five elements at Panjatarni.
Once inside the cave, Lord Shiva started the rendition by getting into Samadhi or the meditative state. Further, to ensure that no one is around to hear the Amar Katha, he created a rudra named Kalagni and ordered him to set fire around the cave so that everything living around that place could be destroyed. He then started narrating the story of immortality to Maa Parvati. But in spite of all these efforts, one egg remained protected under the deer skin on which the Lord was sitting. But it was considered as non-living. A pair of pigeons was born out of that egg and supposedly became immortal. Pilgrims can still see the pigeon pair while going towards the Amarnath Cave.
It is believed that a Muslim shepherd by the name Buta Malik discovered the cave when he chanced upon a saint at a cave while grazing his sheep. There he met a saint who gave me him a bag full of coal which turned into gold when he reached home. The saint was none other than the Mahadev himself and from then on hoards of pilgrims visit the cave where one can find icy shiv ling signifying the lord himself.
Traditional Route : Srinagar / Jammu – Pahalgam – Chandanwari – Pissu Top – Sheshnag – Panchtarani – Sangam – Amarnath Caves (minimum 3 days)
This is the most popular route as it passes thru all the significant places associated with the mythical tale of Amarnath. One can reach Chandanwari by vehicles and later need to embark on a challenging trek of 21 kms to reach Amarnath Caves. Enroute destinations include Pissu Top, believed to be formed out of the dead rakshasas slayed by Lord Shiva followed by Shesh Nag with its picturesque set up with a flowing stream with hovering seven peaks that resemble the head of Sheshnag. From Sheshnag one needs to proceed to Panchatarni which is the last base to Holy Amarnath Caves. Be prepared to face the cold winds and lack of oxygen from here onwards. From Panchtarni, the Amarnath Cave is located at a distance of just 6 km. As there is no place to stay, so pilgrims have to start their journey early in the morning so that you can come back to the base camp on time. The entire route is very beautiful and out of the world.
New Route : Srinagar / Jammu – Sonmarg – Baltal – Amarnath Caves (minimum 1 day)
This new route via Baltal is much steeper and challenging but is gaining a lot of popularity because of the ease of completing the yatra in just one day if done by helicopter. Else two days are quite sufficient if done on foot.
One can drive down to Baltal, located about 15 kms from Sonmarg and then trek for 14 kms to Amarnath. Alternatively one can take the helicopter to Panchtarni and then do the final leg of 5 kms to the holy Amarnath Caves