The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panicky pilgrims in Valley date

Jammu, May 27: Hundreds of Kashmiri Pundits are preparing for the annual pilgrimage to Mata Khir Bhawani. Some fear it may be the last time they make the trip from Jammu to the Kashmir Valley.

The Pundits have been scared ever since the Nadimarg massacre in the Valley in March last year, which triggered fresh migration. The Valley is becoming ever more distant for the Pundits, who, despite being the original inhabitants of the area, now live in camps and rented accommodation.

Eighty-year-old Sarla Devi has only one wish now: To offer prayers at the shrine. I dont know if I will be able to go there again. Sitting in her one-room windowless tenement in Mishriwala camp with temperatures outside touching 40 degrees Celsius, Sarla is sweating profusely. A decade ago, she had not experienced a summer in the plains.

Wrinkles crease her face as she says of her room: It is an oven, but then, I lost my home long ago. Sarla has lost all hope of visiting her home in Akoora village near Mattan in Anantnag district. But she wishes to go to Khir Bhawani, the most revered shrine for Pundits in the Valley. Sarla would visit the shrine every summer to pay her respects but has not been able to do so for the last 13 years.

It is not just the elderly who wish to make the pilgrimage. Even the young Pundits want to pray at the temple at Tulmulla in Ganderbal, Srinagar district, and discover what Kashmir looks like. They are afraid that the mass migration of Pundits from the Valley and the all-pervading sense of fear may ensure that they never visit the state and pray at their most revered shrine.

The government has made security arrangements for the pilgrims and this has weighed heavily with the community.

I have not seen the Valley though my parents keep talking about it, says Pinki. Keen to move out of the state, the teenager adds: I dont know where I shall be in a year or two. I have my faith let me go there (to the shrine) and pay my respects.

Community leaders are making transport and accommodation arrangements. The pilgrimage begins on June 6 with the festival taking place two days later.

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