The Picnic spot near the tapped pond called Baan Ganga is facing ecological degradation.
The presiding Goddess, Ma Trikuta as she is known, according to popular legends had appeared before a brahmin Sridhar and asked him to hold a feast for the entire village near the present-day Katra Town.
The Vaishno Devi Shrine situated at Trikoot hills in Katra town of Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most important Shakti Peeths and pilgrimages visited by Hindus from all over the world since centuries.
Bhairon Nath knew that Sridhar had no means to feed the whole village hence came there to see for himself if any divine power was behind all this. He demanded meat and liquor, which Ma, disguised as a little girl herself denied. Bhairon Nath on seeing this confident little girl who had the guts to speak up before him, got very annoyed.
He moved ahead to catch and punish her but the girl vanished. But he with his divine powers could see her and started following her. She ran towards Trikuta Parbat.
On the way she invoked Lord Hanuman to guard her as she wanted to meditate for nine months at Aardh Kunvaari.
The folklore also mentions her shooting an arrow(Baan) on the ground to bring out the river Ganga to quench Hanuman’s thirst. Hence the place came to be known as Baan-Ganga.
After that, she washed her hair in the river and climbed a rock to look back and see where Bhaironath was before taking a leap towards Aardh Kuvaanri, before finally going to her present abode the Bhavan where she finally beheaded Bhaironath.
Every year, thousands of devotees visit the shrine to get the auspicious darshan of Devi Ma since then and this number has been increasing exponentially.
Initially, the journey used to be very tough and challenging as the devotees had to march an uphill journey towards the Bhavan through dense forests, crossing numerous springs, and in the name of facilities, comforts, or accommodation there only used to be small huts en route the Bhavan where the devotees would prepare their meals and take some rest before moving forward towards the Bhavan.
People who visited the shrine decades ago have also narrated experiences of encountering wild animals during their journey.
It is also customary since then to take a bath in Baan Ganga to purify oneself before the devotees moved forward towards the Bhavan.
The Aardh Kuvaanri, Charan Paduka and the other halts in between shone in glory of Ma.
As the number of devotees started increasing, the redevelopment plans of the region started to cater to the needs of the growing number of TOURISTS.
Large-scale deforestation was done to carve out roads, build restaurants and hotels, etc. en route to the Bhavan.
The Bhavan itself was transformed from a small cave to a large magnificent structure that can be seen from a distance.
The construction of 5-star amenities en route and around the Bhavan by clearing large areas of land on the slopes of the hill.
Decades back when there were only a few snack shops en route the Bhavan, now the whole route is flooded with different restaurants to serve to the tourists probably clubbing the darshan with holidays.
Initially what used to be a tiring cumbersome journey by foot or on horses, now has become quite easy due to helicopter services, auto services, and ropeway trolly services.
What used to be a divine experience some decades back has now become a planned comfortable holiday journey.
At the base Katra town is flooded with buses carrying loads of tourists from various parts of the country who come to pay obeisance to the Mother Divine.
In fact, the whole town is overflooded with hotels and restaurants and other shops and markets to cater to the high influx of visitors.
This is a never-ending vicious circle actually wherein first some facilities are increased for visitors, then the inflow further increases leading to more development and so on.
The point worth mentioning here is at what cost. At the cost of the ecological balance of the area.
The felling of trees leads to a rise in temperature in summer and more than expected snowfall in winters and landslides in the rainy season.
The wild animals either have been called back by Devi Ma or perhaps have fled the region due to the fear of the wildest and most cruel so-called social animal.
And has vanished The Baan Ganga.
The Baan Ganga which was initially invoked by the Almighty Mother herself is said to start from the southern slope of the Shivalik range of Himalayas and is a tributary to the River Chenab.
This river originates from a 200 feet high cliff in the Samkhal area which is around five kilometers from Aardh Kuvaanri.
Earlier the river used to literally overflow from September till April but over the years because of drying out of The Samkhal pond due to scarcity of rainfall over the past few years, has resulted in the drying up of the meandering river.
Some people attribute it to the heavy developmental activities and the price that the area is paying due to the inflow of a large number of tourists. And some just blame poor monsoon.
Whatever the reasons may be the only fact is that the condition of the river is really dismal with hardly any water flowing in the river.
The locals who have been staying there for decades with a heavy heart say that the river is virtually dead.
Concerns have been raised time and again regarding the ecological degradation of the mountain range due to deforestation and rampant construction and other developmental activities which is directly affecting the river too.
The pilgrims are also disappointed and disheartened to see the Baan Ganga river drying.
But what have the authorities done?
Installed taps to tap the river water and created artificial ponds to ensure that the pilgrims are able to take a customary bath.
What initially used to be a rocky river has now turned into a splash pool for visitors to enjoy.
New bathing ghats have been developed for the convenience of visitors at the cost of destroying the natural surroundings and the irony is that even the pilgrims are not happy with this change.
The only people supposedly satisfied are the authorities who boast about the level of development that has taken place during the past couple of decades and reason out that for the development work the trees need to be fallen down and the mountains need to be cut and this results in ecological disbalance in the hilly regions.
The point here is what is the price that we are paying to enhance and facilitate ourselves with a comfortable life.
We are on the verge of almost ruining our atmosphere due to seasonal and climatic changes as a result of industrialization, urbanization, and modernization.
Some rivers are drying and some are dying with loads of effluents being poured into them.
Our rivers which were once considered to be the backbone of civilizations are now fighting for their own existence.
But how long will we be able to exist if one of the most important elements required to sustain life i.e. WATER either evanesces from our ecosystem or is rendered totally unfit due to ecological degradation?
Think about it ??????