Pilgrims and devotees from across India converged at this Shri Mata Vaishno Devi shrine’s base camp to be part of the annual Navratra festival which began here today amid religious fervour. The holy town donned a festive look as tableaus depicting spiritual and cultural heritage of the state passed through its ever-busy roads. The beautifully decked up Jhankis depicted the nine forms of Maa Durga.Minister for PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control Sham Lal Choudhary inaugurated this year’s Navratra festival by taking part in the Shobha Yatra taken out from Asia Crossing. Minister of State for Tourism Priya Sethi and Minister of State for Finance Ajay Nanda also participated in the Shobha Yatra which culminated at Bus Stand, Katra.During nine day festival, the visiting devotees would witness series of Shobha Yatras, Prabhat Pheris, Mata ki Kahani, Ramleela, All India Devotional Song Competition, poetic event Guldasta, wrestling competition, folk festival and cultural programmes.In his address, Sham Choudhary said that government would make every effort to attract maximum pilgrim tourists for this mega event. “For improved facilities and adding more festivity to the event, this year the government has increased the budget for the festival to Rs 70 lakh”, he added.He said taking the tourists to other potential places of Jammu region would remain the main focus of the government adding that border tourism is also being promoted at Suchetgarh in a big way.
While addressing the gathering, Priya Sethi said that this year’s festival would lay special focus on diverting the visitors to other spots of Jammu region.“To this end, the Tourism department has formulated a calibrated package to woo the pilgrims to other spots of Jammu which offer captivating natural beauty, attractions for adventure lovers, water sports like rafting and many other attractions” she asserted.She said Mansar, Surinsar, Patnitop, Sanasar and numerous historical shrines in the adjoining districts have huge potential. These are being showcased for the tourists under this package, she added.She said the thrust has also been laid on to present the diverse and rich cultural heritage of the state to the visitors through series of events. She said the tourism being the mainstay of state’s economy is receiving special focus of the Chief Minister, particularly in making Jammu as an Independent tourism destination.Ajay Nanda said that Navratra festival has emerged as a major event of north India and witnesses footfall from across the world. He said the government has laid special focus on development of amenities in the holy town of Katra for the convenience of lakhs of pilgrims coming here every year.Also present on the occasion were senior government functionaries including Divisional Commissioner, Jammu Dr Mandeep Kumar Bhandari, IGP, Jammu Dr S.D Singh Jamwal, Deputy Commissioner, Reasi Prasanna Ramaswamy G, Director Tourism, Jammu Smita Sethi, CEO, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Jitendra Kumar Singh, Additional Chief Executive Officer SMVDSB Anshul Garg, Joint Director Information, Jammu Manisha Sareen, CEO, Surinsar Mansar Development Authority Arvind Kotwal, Additional Secretary, Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages Arvinder Amn.