|Early Times Report|
Katra, May 23 : The Vaishno Devi Yatra, which has been witnessing an average footfall of 35,000 pilgrims a day due to summer season, was suspended on Wednesday afternoon following a raging forest fire in Trikuta Hills, about 50 km from here.
The suspension left 10,000 pilgrims stranded in Katra base camp while another 3,000, part of the 25,000 pilgrims who were registered by 3:30 pm for the day's trek, were moved to safer place near Himkoti Marg.
A shrine board official said that by 3.30 pm on Wednesday 25,000 pilgrims had registered at the base camp for their onward journey to the cave shrine and they had left for the cave shrine.
"After the incident, we immediately suspended the Yatra from Ban Ganga and Tarakote Marg," he added.
"Nearly 3,000 yatris have been moved to safety near Himkoti Marg in Adhkuwari area. Two MI-17 helicopters of the Indian Air Force and a light utility helicopter were pressed into service to douse the fire. It is being controlled by over 200 ground staff deployed by the CRPF and the Shrine Board. There are no injuries to the pilgrims or any adverse reports. They have been moved to safer areas," he said.
A police officer in Katra said that on average 35,000 pilgrims were pouring into Katra base camp.
"It was another average day today. Around 10,000 pilgrims are in Katra waiting for the resumption of the pilgrimage," he said.
"25,000 pilgrims were already on their way to the shrine when forest fire broke out around 2 pm and the call to suspend the yatra from both routes was taken at 3 pm. By that time majority of them had reached Bhawan", Katra SHO Surinder Samyal said.
Nearly 200 people including ground teams of the Shrine Board and CRPF jawans have been deployed to control the fire.
Surinder Samyal said, "The efforts are on to douse the fire which is away from the trek."
Vinod Kumar, 45, a pilgrim from Rohtak, said, "Though we didn't panic but there was a cause of concern when it was raging. At that time we were at Himkoti. The authorities have suspended the Yatra for our safety and we have to abide by their decision."