Ahead of the Republic Day and the burgeoning pilgrim numbers, security arrangements have been beefed up around the Vaishno Devi shrine in Katra, 56 Km from Jammu.
"Things are in control," Puneet Kumar, the Additional Chief Executive Officer, Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board (MVDSB) told Hindustan Times about the security arrangements around the shrine, considered one of the most revered Hindu shrines.
He said that various security agencies have been called up for further reinforcements in the wake of the Republic Day, which witnesses scaled up tensions in the state.
In the past insurgent outfits have attacked both pilgrims and the Republic Day functions. The insurgent groups operating in the state always try to make their presence felt during the Republic Day.
"Security has been tightened up around the shrine and the 13 Km trekking en route shrine from Katra, the base camp of the shrine, which devotees prefer to tread on foot," Kumar said adding.
This period marks the lean season of the pilgrimage as the pilgrims avoid visits around the Republic Day due to the threat of attacks.
However, Kumar said that this year till January 21, the pilgrim numbers visiting the shrine have been up by 19,291 compared to the same period in the corresponding year.
"The numbers are large. By month end we would already have received close to 3 lakh pilgrims. Last year by January end 2.59 pilgrims visited the shrine," he said.
Presently the shrine board authorities have also thrown open the natural cave of the shrine, which remains closed during the peak season.
The shrine every year gets pilgrims in lakhs and due to the huge rush, the MVDSB authorities allow the passage of the pilgrims through a man made cave constructed parallel to the natural cave, which is taller in height and broader as well.
The passage of the pilgrims through the natural cave, which is narrower and shorter in height, is stopped to evade stampedes.
The pilgrims have to kneel down to pass through the natural cave through which water from a natural spring in the mountains, considered holy, passes.
Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine is an abode of three goddesses - Durga (the goddess of power), Saraswati (the goddess of Knowledge) and Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth).
At the face of the cave are two idols of tigers, which are gold plated.
Midway from Katra to the Vaishno Devi shrine is another natural cave Garb Joon at Ada Kunwari, where, according to beliefs, the goddess Durga had stayed for nine months.