By Bunty Mahajan
Jammu: The pilgrimage to World famous Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine, located in the Trikuta Hills of Reasi district in Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed slump in the past two months due to surging cases of COVID-19 in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir like other parts of the country.
“The number of pilgrims per day visiting Katra town to perform pilgrimage has declined due to COVID,” an official said. He said that only a few hundred pilgrims, mostly local devotees from parts of Jammu and Kashmir, are visiting the cave shrine to pay obeisance.
“The tracks are wearing a deserted look and the eating points along the twin routes are shut,” said a local shopkeeper adding that the food points being run by the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board are operational. “The services like helicopter, battery car and cable car are also functional for the convenience of the pilgrims,” he added.
Chief Executive Officer, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Ramesh Kumar here said, “all facilities being provided by the Board are functional.”
“The Shrine Board is taking care of pilgrims with all safety measures in place including testing on their arrival,” said the CEO adding that the Board is following SOPs, guidelines being issued time to time by the Centre and the J&K Government including the Health Department.
On an average, 300 to 400 pilgrims are visiting the Cave Shrine daily, he added.
Amidst COVID, more than 16 lakh pilgrims paid obeisance at Shri Mata Vaishno Devi in the first four months of 2021.
In the first two months, pilgrimage increased and the per day figure reached 15000 to 20000 but with the second COVID wave, the number decreased and in the first four months, 16,45,333 pilgrims visited the Bhawan.
In January, a total of 40,8861 devotees reached the Bhawan, in February, 3,89,549 devotees, in March, 5,25,198 and in the month of April, 3,21,725 pilgrims.
Meanwhile, local people have demanded the Lt Governor Manoj Sinha to announce a special package for them as they are on the verge of starvation in view of continued closure of their establishments and other businesses.
President of the Hotels and Resturants Association, Katra, Rakesh Wazir said that earlier against 30,000-40,000 people daily reaching Katra for onward pilgrimage to the holy shrine, only 100-150 pilgrims were coming these days in view of the Covid pandemic situation. With all the establishments including hotels shut and most of the trains and road transport off the road, these pilgrims were locals, he said, adding that ponywallas, auto drivers, small shopkeepers etc have become jobless in the absence of pilgrims.
Rajiv Nag, a local businessman too said that people in Jammu were mostly dependent on rush of Mata Vaishnodevi pilgrims. Now, in their absence, everybody dependent on them like taxi and auto drivers, traders, hotel wallas, eataries etc., have become jobless.
Both Rakesh Wazir and Rajiv Nag demanded the Lt Governor to announce a special package for these people so that they can make their both ends meet during the pandemic period. Families of most of these people were at the verge of starvation, they pointed out.