Hindu pilgrimage begins amid high security in Indian Kashmir

SRINAGAR, India — Thousands of Hindu pilgrims have begun the arduous trek to an icy Himalayan cave in disputed Kashmir with tens of thousands Indian government forces guarding roads and mountain passes.

The pilgrims, many of them barefooted ascetics, chanted hymns as they traveled through forested areas up in Kashmir's Himalayas on Monday.

More than 200,000 pilgrims are expected to visit the cave during the 45-day pilgrimage.

Hindus worship a stalagmite inside the hallowed mountain cave as an incarnation Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration. The cave lies 13,500 feet (4,115 meters) above sea level.

Muslim rebels fighting for decades against Indian rule in Kashmir accuse India's Hindu majority of using the pilgrimage as a political statement to bolster its claim on the Himalayan region.

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