Jammu:With COVID cases started settling in Jammu and Kashmir like other parts of the country, the number of pilgrims has started swelling to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Cave Shrine situated in Trikuta Hills of Katra in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir.As per official figures, in the first six months this year, more than 18 lakh pilgrims have visited the Bhawan and paid obeisance.
“The number of pilgrims to the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi has started increasing with Corona cases taking a nosedive,” a Shrine Board official said.
He said that in the first fortnight of June, only 2000 to 3000 devotees reached the Bhawan but the 8000 to 9000 pilgrims are reaching daily at Katra—the base camp to Bhawan for pilgrimage.
In six months this year, he said that 18.88 lakh pilgrims visited the Bhawan.Sharing break-up, the official said that in January, 4.86 lakh pilgrims visited the cave shrine, in February 33.9 lakhs, in March 5.25 lakhs, in April 3.21 lakhs, in May 45,000 and in June, 1,98 lakh pilgrims offered prayers at the cave shrine.
“The number of devotees will increase further in the coming days because six new trains are also starting in the month of July,” said an official.
Chief Executive Officer, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Ramesh Kumar said that the devotees planning for undertaking the pilgrimage to Shri Mata Vaishno Devi have been advised to carry a valid and verifiable COVID negative RT-PCR report not prior than 48 hours from a recognised testing facility for entry into J&K UT.
“The persons who are not carrying such valid and verifiable negative reports will have to undergo a COVID-Antigen test through any of the prescribed methods as per the protocol of the J&K Government,” he said.He also directed Shrine Board staff to augment facilities for the pilgrims in view of the ensuing monsoon season.
He said that directions have been issued to make all arrangements like water and power supply, catering, healthcare facilities, sanitization, cleanliness and the expeditious clearance of track in case of any debris or landslides falling on the track due to heavy rains to ensure smooth movement of the pilgrims, was discussed in the meeting.
Other pilgrim-centric arrangements including pre-paid system for hiring of ponies, pithoos and palkis besides facilities of Battery Operated Vehicles between Adhkuwari and Bhawan as well as Bhawan-Bhairon Ghati Passenger Ropeway and the security and other aspects of the pilgrimage, have also been reviewed, he added.
“We have to further intensify our efforts to improve the yatra facilities on a continuing basis to meet the rising expectations of the pilgrims so that they go back with pleasant experience and happy memories of their visit to the Holy Shrine,” said Mr Kumar.
Mr Kumar stressed on maintaining adequate social distancing and strictly following COVID-appropriate behaviour and taking all other precautionary measures in sync with the protocols.