BHDERWAH: The annual pilgrimage to the holy Kailash Kund lake located at an altitude of 14,700 feet has been cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an official said on Thursday.
The 10-day pilgrimage had already been cut short to three days, allowing only the 'Chhari Mubarak' (holy mace of Lord Shiva) procession to the lake through traditional Himalayan route, they said.
The 10-day yatra was scheduled to start via twin tracks of Chattargala and Hayan in Jammu and Kashmir's Bhaderwah on August 8 but was delayed due to the pandemic outbreak.
''Based on the circumstances and SOPs (standard operating procedures), the J&K administration, in consultation with Kailash Sewa Sangh, Sanatan Dharam Sabha, Dharmarth Trust and Vasuki Annapurna Langar, has decided that it was not advisable to hold this year's Kailash Yatra and expresses its regret while cancelling it," said Bhaderwah's Additional Deputy Commissioner Bhaderwah Rakesh Kumar.
"In deference to the people's sentiments, especially those of Nag devotees, we have decided to allow 'Chhari Mubarak' procession with priests to perform rituals en-route Kailash Kund (Holly Lake).
The traditional rituals shall be carried out as per the past practice," said Kumar.
"The 'Chhari Mubarak' procession, which will start from Bhaderwah on August 16 and reach 'Kailash Kund' on August 18, will be facilitated by the government," he added.
The holy mace procession of the serpent god, which will start from ancient Nag temple of Gatha, will be joined on the way by another Chhari Mubarak procession from Vaska Dera.
The Kund is a big lake of cold and crystal-clear water with a circumference of 1.5 miles, situated at an altitude of 14,700 feet from the sea level.
Locals believe that Kailash Kund was the original abode of Shiva, who gave it to Vasuki Nag and himself went to live at Manmahesh in Bharmour in present Himachal Pradesh.
As the government decided to open up religious places in Jammu and Kashmir from August 16, the Jammu divisional commissioner on Thursday held a meeting with representatives of religious organisations to discuss the standard operating procedures (SOPs) to be followed to combat the spread of COVID-19.
Divisional Commissioner Sanjeev Verma appreciated the religious heads for their cooperation in the containment of COVID-19 and said that they played a significant role by spreading awareness among people, an official spokesman said.
He also appreciated the general public for their cooperation in fighting the pandemic.
The divisional commissioner apprised the religious heads about the instructions and SOPs to be followed at places of the worship and also shared copies of the SOPs with the religious heads.
Among the general instructions for the religious organisations are the directions to set up coronavirus safety committees which may consist of volunteers, sevadars and employees, the spokesman said.
"These committees shall be required to ensure adherence to the SOPs. People above 60 years of age, persons with co-morbidities, pregnant women and children below the age of 10 years are advised to stay home," he added.
All visitors are required to maintain a distance of 6 feet from each other and they will be allowed to enter only if they are using face covers and masks.
Only asymptomatic people will be allowed entry into the premises, and it is necessary to wash hands and feet with soap and water before going inside, spokesman said.
All places of worship will maintain a list of people (with contact details) entering their premises which may be required for the purpose of contact tracing, he said.
"Touching of statues, idols or holy books etc. should not be permitted, large congregational gatherings should not be allowed inside premises and only individual prayers should be allowed," he added.
The divisional commissioner also stressed on the need to sanitize the premises on a regular basis.
The religious heads assured their full cooperation with the administration to contain the spread of the pandemic.