Braving heavy snowfall and extremely cold weather, around 13000 pilgrims are visiting the cave shrine of the Mata Vaishno Devi daily, officials said Monday. Due to the rush, the shrine board has not opened the natural cave yet which is usually made accessible to the pilgrims by mid-January when the number of visitors decreases to around 7000 per day. "Despite snowfall and chilly weather conditions, pilgrims numbering between 12000 to 13000 continue to visit the shrine daily," Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) Simrandeep Singh told PTI. "The natural cave for darshan was not opened on Monday on Makar Sankranti because the rush of pilgrims is still as high as 13000," Singh said.
The cave shrine is likely to be opened next week once there is a dip in the arrival of pilgrims, he added. In 2018, the shrine located in Reasi district of Jammu and Kashmir recorded the highest number of arrival of pilgrims in the last five years, with nearly 86-lakh devotees visiting the temple. A total of 85,86,541 pilgrims visited the cave shrine last year as compared to 81.78 lakh in 2017.
The number of pilgrims in 2016 was 81.73 lakh, the board officials said. The number of visitors had dropped from 93.24 lakh in 2013 to 78.03 lakh in 2014 and further to 77.77 lakh in 2015 and 77.24 lakh in 2016, the officials added. In 1986, when the board took over the affairs of the shrine for better management, the annual footfall was around 14 lakh. Since then, there has been a steady increase of visitors every year, with the number of pilgrims touching an all-time high of 1.05 crore in 2012, the board officials said.
(With inputs from agencies.)