Pony ambulances revolutionise medical care for Amarnath yatris

On Wednesday morning, Lakshmi (60), an Amarnath pilgrim, gasped for breath en route to the holy cave at Railpathri, six kilometres from Baltal base camp.

Soon after, a pony ambulance reached the spot, and a trained health worker promptly placed an oxygen mask on her face. Within minutes, the pilgrim felt better and resumed her onward spiritual journey.

The Directorate of Health Services, Kashmir, came up with a novel concept of pony ambulances to offer immediate health care facilities to the Amarnath pilgrims.

A pony ambulance is a small mobile medical facility where a pony is laden with an oxygen cylinder, medicines, and some life-saving drugs.

These pony-driven ambulances are operated by a three-member team, comprising a pony walla (pony handler), a pharmacist and a health worker.

There are two routes to the holy cave — Baltal in Ganderbal district and Pahalgam in Anantnag district. The health authorities have deployed the pony ambulances at both the axes.

The idea

The cave shrine is situated at an elevation of 12,756 ft from the sea level amidst imposing mountains and rugged terrain with varying elevations. The pilgrims, particularly the elderly, often suffer from altitude sickness or other medical conditions and require immediate medical attention. Although two hospitals, each with a 100 bed capacity, were set up at both Baltal and Chandanwari base camps, it is rather difficult to offer medical assistance to the pilgrims along the entire route to holy cave. To cope with this challenge, the health authorities in Kashmir rolled out the novel pony ambulances.

Dr Mir Mushtaq, spokesperson for the Directorate of Health Services Kashmir, told businessline that the idea was conceived in 2022 and later, some ponies loaded with oxygen cylinders and medicines were deployed at various locations.

“But this year, for the first time, we introduced the pony ambulances in an organised manner,” said the spokesperson.

He said that skilled paramedic teams were deployed with the pony ambulances.

“We have also imparted basic training to pony wallas on how to handle oxygen cylinders,” the spokesperson added.

More than 2,000 pilgrims have received the medical assistance offered by the pony ambulances since the beginning of yatra.

Jaffar Ali, a basic health worker deployed with pony ambulances, said that the initiative was proving very beneficial to the pilgrims.

“Besides oxygen cylinders and crucial medicines, we are equipped with micro equipment like oximeters to check the oxygen saturation of pilgrims and provide on-the-spot assistance, if needed,” he said.


The annual Amarnath Yatra began on June 29 and will conclude on August 19, 2024.

The government has made stringent security arrangements to ensure the safety of pilgrims, given a spurt in militant attacks in Jammu region. A total of 20,07,016 pilgrims performed the pilgrimage by July 7.

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