Press Trust of IndiaKatra (Reasi), Oct 10:
Amid multi-tier security cover, the nine-day navaratri festivities began Wednesday with hundreds of pilgrims thronging Katra base camp ahead of their foot-bound journey to the cave shrine of Vaishno Devi.
Led by Divisional Commissioner Jammu Division Sanjeev Verma, the festivities began at 11 am at Asia Chowk here, followed by a 'shobha yatra' and a grand event showcasing the cultural heritage of the state.
"The navaratri festival has begun here. It has been held annually for the past 25 years, through which we aim to showcase the cultural heritage and tourism of Jammu", Verma told reporters here.
According to a police officer, security agencies are leaving no stone unturned for the peaceful conduct of the festivities.
More than 60 lakh pilgrims have visited the cave shrine in Reasi district till the end of September this year. Over 80 lakh had paid obeisance at the shrine last year, an official said.
Tight security arrangements have been put in place and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) have increased vigilance at Katra and the route leading to the shrine, an officer said.
Officials said the Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board and the Jammu and Kashmir Tourism Board have made extensive arrangements for Navaratri.
The track leading to the shrine has adequate water, power supply and proper sanitation facility. Further, special food for the ones fasting will be available at the bhojanalayas (eateries) of the shrine board, Verma said.
As in the past, the bhawan and the areas surrounding it have been decorated with flowers brought from across the country and abroad.
All the routes leading to the shrine have been renovated and the establishments have got a fresh coat of paint, he added.
According to Om Parkash Bhagat, director of the state's tourism department, various events have been planned during the festivities, including presentation of 'mata rani ki kahani', 'ram leela', 'prabhat pheris', devotional song competition, cultural programmes and wrestling competition.
The international wrestling competition is held every year by the Jammu and Kashmir Indian Style Wrestling Association, he added.
The municipal authorities have painted the walls with sceneries and images depicting the rich folk culture of here, he said.