With thousands of pilgrims flocking Katra base camp of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine during Navratra festival the horse capital of this holy township is brimming with activity.
Pilgrims flock Katra to perform darshan of Mata Vaishno Devi
Every where you see colourful horse heads decorated with flowers and musical brass bells greet you as you begin an uphill climb.
For ‘ponny wallahs’ who own these horses it is just the beginning of a long summer season ahead as large rush of pilgrims have started trooping in the Katra township.
The economy of the region is totally dependent on the flow of visitors/pilgrims during the peak season.Last year more than 1 crore pilgrims performed darshan inside the holy cave giving a fillip to the local economy.
As per rough estimates over 10,000 registered ‘ponny wallahs’ earn their livelihood by ferrying pilgrims up and down the hilly trek of Mata Vaishno Devi shrine.
As pilgrims approach Ban Ganga amid chants of Jai Mata Di they are greeted by the musical sound of brass bells knitted round horse heads.
Loyal to their masters these horses slog all day long and ferry pilgrims to the cave shrine of Mata Vaishno devi, earning a livelihood for their masters and their families, living in far away villages.
Mohd Ramzan, a ponnywallah from Ramban district said, These horses are our life line.we are completely dependent on them for our existence. My horse earns my ‘bread and butter’ and help me sustain my family back home”,he added.In return i try and look after the needs of my horse. I feed him green grass and other items of his liking to keep him refreshed and in good health.
Like Ramzan thousands of unemployed youth from neighboring districts, with no other source of income, register themselves as ponnywallahs in Katra and earn their livelihood by ferrying pilgrims to the holy cave shrine.
The shrine board authorities have constructed shelter points,rest rooms at different locations in Katra and along the trek for ponnywallahs and horses so that they can relax and refresh themselves.