A day after the government suspended the Amarnath Yatra amid security concerns in Jammu and Kashmir, the government also suspended the annual Machail Yatra pilgrimage. While the Amarnath Yatra is perhaps more widely known, the Machail Yatra too is an important event that draws tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over the country every year.
The annual pilgrimage takes place in Paddar area of Kishtwar in Jammu, adjoining the Kashmir Valley. The area is home to the Bhot and Thakur communities. As per the Government of Jammu & Kashmir website, Machail Mata is the shrine of Goddess Durga or “Chandi Mata”. The name “Machail” is derived from the village where the shrine is located.
The deity has had many famous devotees. It is believed that Zorawar Singh Kahluria, who was a general of the Sikh empire under Maharaja Ranjit Singh, had sought the blessings of Machail Mata in 1834, before crossing the mountains and the Indus river, on his way to fighting with the Botis of Ladakh and before crossing the mountains and the Indus river. His mission was successful and he became a devotee of Machail Mata.
In 1981 the shrine was visited by Thakur Kulveer Singh, serving in the government, who started the yatra in 1987. The yatra is held annually for a period of 43 days. This year it began on July 25 and was scheduled to end on September 3. Devotees may choose to go by road from Jammu to Gulabgarh, a journey of over 10 hours. Gulabgarh is the base camp from where devotees travel over 30 km by foot, a route that usually takes them about two days. Additionally, helicopter services are also available from Jammu and Gulabgarh.