The cave shrine of Mata Vaishnodevi in Jammu and Kashmir's Reasi district is expected to witness a foot-fall of two million pilgrims during this year's Navratri festival beginning from September 21, officials said.
The Tourism department in collaboration with various NGOs and private parties have planned a series of religious, cultural, sports and folk events over the 9-day festival period to attract tourists from across the country.
Minister of State for Tourism Priya Sethi is set to unveil the calendar of activities of a mega Navratra festival in Jammu region at the Sidhra Golf Course here today. The Navratra festival is an annual festival in Jammu region.
"We have put in place all the arrangements for a mega 9- day long Navratra festival in the region particularly at the Katra, basecamp of Cave shrine of Mata Vaishnodevi. After many years, this year's festival will be a mega one to attract the pilgrims and tourists from across the world," Sethi said.
"Last year, a total of 77 lakh pilgrims visited the shrine to pay their obeisance. This year, we have 57 lakh tourist arrivals at the shrine so far but we are expecting over 20 lakh more tourists during the Navratra festival," Director of Tourism Jammu Smita Sethi told PTI.
She said this year the department was expecting a record number of tourist arrivals in Jammu region but "we are trying to make them stay for a few days so that the local economy gets a boost".
Tourism department has been organising events during Navratra festival at Katra since 1996 and this time it has introduced 'Mata ki Kahani' (Mata's story) and a special package of 'Sampoorna Manokamna' yatra facilitating visits to nine deities, besides reviving 'Ram Leela' after a gap of over two decades.
The festival, scheduled to begin on September 21, would feature a grand 'Shobha' yatra on the first day, followed by various programmes, including an international wrestling competition for men and women.
Participants from Belarusia, Ukraine and Georgia besides locals and national wrestlers are participating in the competition.
"The festival provides us with an opportunity to project the tourism sector in a big way and the government has decided to cash on it to woo holidaymakers from outside the state," the director said.
"Tourists leaving the state in a hurry is affecting our tourism industry. Our main effort is that if a tourist comes here, he or she should stay back for a few days and for that we are projecting several places of religious importance," she said.
Sethi said the government wanted to revive the pilgrimage tourism in a big way and efforts are on in this direction.
"Hotel industry is also complaining that we are not getting enough guests. We have planned to address this issue through this festival as well," the director said.
Describing 'Manokamana' yatra as the biggest attraction during the festival, she said this is basically an attempt to attract people to the places where Mata stayed and the difficulties she went through and make them aware of the significance of these places.
"You are coming to the shrine for prayers but are unaware of the Mata's history. The yatra is an attempt to highlight the life of Mata and revive the old Vaishno Devi track," she said.
As per the Manokamana yatra programme, Sethi said the first 'darshan' will be at Kol Kondoli in Nagrota, where it is said that she converted her spiritual form into human form and played with other children.
Asserting that there are a lot of places worth visiting, Sethi said there are so many "pinds" (relics) and a visit to Dansar Baba and Dera baba Bandah provides an opportunity to enjoy rafting while Shahat Baba is famous for the waterfall.
She said the first of its kind 'Mata ki Kahani' is a three hour show which will shed light on the life of the deity.
"Ram Leela is again a new thing. The practice was abandoned about 21 years ago due to some internal reasons. We are reviving it again this time," she said.