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Vaishnodevi Yatra resumes

By Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar
Last updated on: March 13, 2007 17:39 IST
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The pilgrimage to the cave shrine of Mata Vaishnodevi, suspended in the wake of heavy rains and snow in the last three days, resumed Tuesday afternoon with improvement in weather conditions.

"As the weather conditions have improved and the sun has come out, we have resumed the Yatra at 1545 hours," Puneet Kumar, the additional chief executive officer of Shri Mata Vaishnodevi Shrine Board, told PTI.

Earlier in the day, the board had announced suspension of the Yatra for 24 hours till Wednesday morning in view of the
snow and rainfall that had claimed five lives on Monday. There were heavy rains even Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, continuous snowfall coupled with rains hampered the road clearance operation on Jammu-Srinagar highway, the officials said, adding over 1,000 vehicles, including passenger buses which were on way to Jammu on Monday, remained stranded on the highway at various points.

Divisional Commissioner Basharat Ahmad Dhar said that work was on to clear the snow on main roads and inter-district routes on priority basis.

"We have pressed our men and machinery into action and sought the help of Border Roads Organisation as well for clearing the roads but the fallen trees are making the job difficult", Dhar said.

Three-feet snowfall was recorded since Monday for the first time in this season at bhawan -- abode of the Mata Vaishnodevi -- while over six feet of snow was recorded at Bhairo ghati and other adjoining areas in Trikuta hills since Monday night, Kumar said.

As a result of snowfall, uninterrupted rain and chilly winds, the temperature further dipped to zero degree, Kumar said, adding that over 8,000 pilgrims, stranded at Bhawan and Adhkuwari, have been housed in safe places and are being provided food, tea and blankets.

"In view of the situation becoming worse, we have decided to evacuate the stranded pilgrims from Katra," he said.

A special team of five doctors is providing medical care facilities to the ailing pilgrims at Katra. At Bhawan and Adhkuwari, where pilgrims are stranded, free medical care is being provided to them, Kumar said.

Kumar asked devotees across the country to suspend their pilgrimage for the next 24 hours in view of the weather conditions prevailing in the state.

The weather conditions have also brought about a statewide shortage of essentials. In addition, the snowfall has affected the fresh crops of cherry, apricot, and almond as well as apple orchards.

Heavy snowfall, which continued throughout the night and stopped briefly this morning, was recorded in almost all parts of the region with tourist resorts Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Qazigund receiving more than four feet of snow, officials said in Srinagar.

One person, Abdul Hamid Matoo, was killed when a tree fell on him in Pulwama district, while two houses collapsed under the weight of snow in Ganderbal area, they said, adding there were apprehension that many mudhouses in upper reaches of the valley might have collapsed as well.

All educational institutions in the valley, which had opened last week after three months of winter vacation, were closed for two days and all examinations, including entrance tests for post graduate courses in Kashmir University, have been postponed.

Meanwhile, all links between the valley and rest of the country remained snapped for the second day with the Jammu-Srinagar national highway remaining shut due to snowfall and landslides at some places.

No flight has taken off so far from the Srinagar airport today while just one, out of a dozen flights, could land on Monday.

Old willow trees, poplars and branches of chinars not only blocked the roads but also snapped electricity supply and telephone connections at many places, the officials said.

The power department suspended electricity supply as a precautionary measure to prevent any untoward incident due to snapped electric wires lying on roads, they said.

(With PTI Inputs)

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Mukhtar Ahmad in Srinagar