SRINAGAR, JAMMU, October 11, 2012 (Economic Times): J&K is all set to create another autonomous board to manage the lesser known Machail Yatra (click http://www.paddar.com/machail_yatra.html for more on this Yatra) that is conducted yearly in the Chenab Valley. Around 350 thousands Hindu pilgrims trek a long distance to a high altitude Goddess temple set up not more than forty years back.
Ruling National Conference had reservations over the issue but the Congress lawmaker Naresh Kumar Gupta insisted the bill being of huge public interest has to be a law. He managed its passage with the help of party's erstwhile allies the PDP. The bill seeks improvement in the overall infrastructure between Bhadrwah and the temple located deep into the Paddar valley which lacks road connectivity.
If approved, J&K will have four boards to manage four Hindu pilgrimages. Unlike Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, one of the wealthiest shrines in north India, which has to take care of the yatra round the clock, all other boards have to mange smaller pilgrimages which take place once in a year. While Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) has a two month pilgrimage, the Shiv Khori Board manages a less-than-a-week yatra.
The 'Machail Yatra' is a comparatively newer Hindu pilgrimage in the state. It takes place in August and it starts from Bhadrwah's Chenote temple. Pilgrims leave in long caravans and reach Kishtwar and then to remote Paddar. From there, they leave on foot to Paddar where the temple of Mata Chandi is located at 11000 ft above sea level, not far away from the world famous sapphire mines. The entire yatra is a 175-kms trek and usually is open for around three weeks. 27 days. This pilgrimage owes its existence to a Bhaderwah cop, Thakur Kulbir Singh aka Mata, who started it during his posting in Paddar.
Congressmen who pushed the bill said the Board will help create the necessary infrastructure and organize the pilgrimage that otherwise taxes the government. The bill suggests the trust that is conducting the pilgrimage should have seventy percent reservation in its decision making as the rest can be government nominees.
Currently it is pilgrim tourism that is making most of the tourist arrivals to the state. Official data suggest that 9,519,170 pilgrims visited the state in 2012 till September. Of them 8,309,395 are pilgrim tourists - 7,688,291 to Vaishno Devi and 621,104 to Amarnath.
The balance 1,210,315 are luxury tourists. Of them 1,070,027 have visited Kashmir and 140,288 visited Ladakh. Though most of the tourists are backpackers, the high-spending foreign component is only 54,460 of which 27,596 had come to Kashmir and 26,864 to Ladakh.