The Vaishno Devi shrine along with other religious places across the Union Territory reopened for devotees on Sunday morning after remaining closed for almost five months due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The gates of the shrine reopened for the devotees around 6 am and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (SMVDSB) Ramesh Kumar was seen taking last minute review of the measures to ensure safety of the pilgrims from the dreaded disease.
“I used to come to the shrine at least once every month to offer my prayers. I feel blessed to be back on the first day of the reopening of the shrine,” said a 48-year-old devotee, Khushvinder Singh told a Press Trust of India.
“The Vaishno Devi pilgrimage was stopped on March 18 as a precautionary measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and now when the administration had decided to reopen the religious places, the board had taken all necessary measures keeping in mind the challenge posed by the dreaded disease,” said Mr. Kumar.
In the first week, there shall be a cap of 2,000 pilgrims each day, of which 1,900 would be from Jammu and Kashmir and the remaining 100 from outside.
Only the pilgrims who have registered themselves online are being allowed to undertake the pilgrimage. The pilgrims are directed to use traditional routes — from Katra to Bhawan via Banganga, Adhkuwari and Sanjichhat — to reach the shrine and Himkoti route-Tarakote Marg for their return journey.
Children below 10 years, pregnant women, persons with comorbidities and those above 60 years have been advised to avoid religious places for the time being.
A massive sanitisation campaign was launched by the shrine board right from Katra to Bhawan before the resumption of the pilgrimage.
“We were waiting impatiently for the reopening of the shrine and I am feeling good to be here. We are thankful to the Lt Governor administration for the decision,” Mohit Sharma, a resident of R S Pura area of Jammu, said as he set out for the Bhawan from the Bal Ganga entry point. (Inputs from PTI)