New Delhi: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday declared the Amarnath shrine a "silent zone", and barred the chiming of bells or chanting of mantras in the areas surrounding the famed cave shrine to preserve its eco sensitivity.

The Amarnath shrine, located in the Himalayas in Jammu and Kashmir, is visited by lakhs of pilgrims during the pilgrimage season in the monsoon.

The decision came following the tribunal's earlier hearing when it suggested that the shrine be declared a silent zone to prevent avalanches and noise pollution.
The bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar also directed officials to remove the iron rods and grilles installed inside the Amarnath cave so that pilgrims can get a better view of the shrine.

"All the parts of stairs and surroundings of the holy cave shall be declared a silent zone," the bench directed.

"No chanting of mantras inside the cave and surrounding areas shall be allowed," the bench said, adding that pilgrims shall be allowed inside the cave in a single file.

The bench directed the concerned authorities to ensure that mobile phones and food offerings like coconuts are not allowed inside the holy cave.

"No committee or authority can sit on the implementation of these directions," the bench declared.

The Tribunal, which on November 15 appointed a committee to look at environment protection during the annual Amarnath Yatra, asked the authorities to ensure that the directions come into effect before January 18, the next date of hearing.

This year the annual pilgrimage to Amarnath shrine saw over 2.6 lakh pilgrims over 40 days between June 29 to August 7.

Over 200 stairs lead to the cave from the base camp sites. Pilgrims take two traditional routes of 14 km and 45 km to reach the shrine situated at 3,888 meters above sea level.