Hindustan Times (Jammu)
11,400 pilgrims reach Katra, 71 travellers test positive
The nine-day Navratri festival began on a cautious note in the wake of the pandemic on Tuesday as 11,400 pilgrims reached Katra, the base camp to the holy cave shrine of Vaishno Devi in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday.
Earlier, around 25,000 to 30,000 pilgrims would throng the cave shrine per day. “From 5am to 6pm on Tuesday, 11,400 pilgrims had obtained yatra slips—4400 offline and 7000 online. The figures are definitely low when compared to the pre-pandemic time,”an official said.
Last year, the cave shrine had been closed on March 18 and re opened on August 16 after a hiatus of almost five months. A health official said 71 travellers had tested positive in Katra on the first day of the festival.
“On Tuesday, we detected 85 new cases in Reasi, which included 71 travellers, 11 locals and two staff members. So far, 498 people have tested positive in Reasi,” he said.
The travellers who tested positive were either sent back in specially designed cabs to Pathankot or kept in isolation.
“Largely, travellers who tested positive preferred to return home, for which the administration has kept seven to eight specially designed cabs that will drop them to Pathankot. For those, who want to remain at Katra, the administration has the provision of paid quarantine in Katra and government quarantine at Panthal,” the official said.
Invitation to singers questioned
It is learnt that the shrine board questioned the administration’s irrational move of inviting devotional singers while the second wave of the pandemic is sweeping through the UT.
“Considering the surge in cases, the morning and evening aartis should have been left to the priests and singers of the shrine board,” they said.
The pilgrimage at a height of 5,200 ft is considered to be one of the holiest Hindu pilgrimages. During the nine-day festival pilgrims from all over the country and abroad visit the cave shrine.
However, the administration and shrine board have put in place measures to ensure strict enforcement of all precautionary measures and guidelines. The administration has fixed a ceiling of 25,000 pilgrims a day.
The pilgrims arriving in trains to Katra will undergo rapid antigen tests (RAT) at the Katra railway station where Covid kiosks for testing have been set up. Those arriving via road will undergo a test at Lakhanpur—the gateway to Jammu and Kashmir.
Local devotees will undergo Covid RAT at Banganga and those coming by air are being tested at the Jammu airport.
However, it is advisable for pilgrims coming from outside J&K to bring their Covid-19 negative reports, preferably RT-PCR test, not older than 72 hours. The cave shrine was visited by 13,089 pilgrims on April 11. Last year, in August, the figures had dipped to 7,253 and 27,427 in September before picking up momentum in October when 1,21,661 pilgrims visited the shrine followed by 1,03,749 devotees in November and 2,07,533 in December.
In January, 4,08,061 pilgrims had visited the shrine, 3,89,549 in February and in March the count was around 3.5 lakh.
Meanwhile, shat chandi maha yagya commenced at the cave shrine on first day of the festival amid chanting of vedic Mantras and performance of other religious ceremonies. The maha yagya, which is being performed during navratras for peace, prosperity and health of humanity, will conclude with a purna ahuti on Ramanavami.
Board CEO Ramesh Kumar said elaborate arrangements have been made to facilitate the pilgrims who are expected to
visit the holy cave shrine.
Low devotee turnout at Kangra temple
There was low devotee turn out at temples in Kangra on the first day of the auspicious Navratri festival on Tuesday in the wake of the pandemic.
Deputy Commissioner Kangra Rakesh Kumar Prajapati said the first day was normal as the devotees paid obeisance at the temples as per SOPs issued by the state government. Kangra has three major shrines including Jawalamukhi, Chamunda Nandikeshwar and Bajrehwari Devi. Prajapati said the number of devotees visiting the temple was lower than previous years.