Katra (Jammu and Kashmir): Over one lakh pilgrims visited the famous shrine of Vaishno Devi during the first three days of nine-day Navratri festival in the Katra town of Reasi district.
Located 42 kilometres from the winter capital, Jammu, along the Jammu-Srinagar National Highway, Katra — base camp for the pilgrims — was decked up to welcome devotees from across the country and abroad.
“During the past three days, over one lakh pilgrims have visited the shrine after trekking 12 kilometres from the base camp.
“Over 41,000 devotees offered their prayers on the first very first day of Navratra,” in-charge of the yatra registration centre, Mahesh Singh Jamwal told PTI.
The footfall had dipped to only 27,500 on Friday, a day after a grenade attack in Tral township of south Kashmir that left two civilians dead and 30 others injured, he said.
However, the count picked up on Saturday.
“Saturday again witnessed a heavy rush of pilgrims with over 40,000 making it to the cave shrine,” Jamwal added.
According to Minister of State (MoS) for Finance Ajay Nanda, terror strikes and natural disasters have made a dent in the number of pilgrims visiting the holy shrine in the past couple of years.
“There is a decline of 15 to 20 percent in the numbers over the past couple of years. Frequent terror strikes and 2014 disaster (floods) are among the many factors,” senior BJP leader and MoS Finance Ajay Nanda said.
And though the locals agreed on the low footfall, they beg to differ with the minster on the reason as they blamed “demonetisation” and “GST”, and not terrorism.
“Initially the demonetisation preoccupied the public and later GST.”
“Terror attacks had no impact on the arrival of the devotees as the people are fully aware that it is safe to visit the shrine, which is located in a militancy-free zone,” Kamal Sharma, a businessman, said.
He said that terror attacks had occurred earlier as well but the number of pilgrims were always increasing.
Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Department along with local administration, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB), non-governmental organisations and other private players including hoteliers have joined hands to make the festival a memorable one for the visitors.
To woo more visitors, an All India Devotional Song Competition and cultural programmes with varied themes based on local lifestyles and traditions are also organised during the auspicious festival.
“The tourism department has introduced ‘Mata ki Kahani’ (Mata’s story) and a special package of ‘Sampoorna Manokamna’ yatra facilitating visits to nine deities,” MoS for tourism Priya Sethi said.
Also, performance of Ram Leela, which was ended 25 years ago, was restarted to a positive response this time.
The festival is scheduled to end on 29 September.