The number of pilgrims visiting the Vaishno Devi shrine in Jammu and Kashmir is likely to cross 85 lakh this year. The figure is the highest in the last five years.
"We have already crossed 84.50 lakh and an estimated 50,000 pilgrims are expected to visit the shrine during the next 48 hours," Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board Chief Executive Officer Simrandeep Singh told news agency PTI.
He added that last year's figure of of 81.78 lakh pilgrims was crossed around 20 days ago.
The number of pilgrims visiting Vaishno Devi had dropped from 93.24 lakh in 2013 to 78.03 lakh in 2014 and further to 77.76 lakh in 2015 and 77.23 lakh in 2016.
Mr Singh said that the increase in the number of pilgrims at the Vaishno Devi shrine was due to several factors like a ropeway to cover the seven-kilometre Tarakote track.
Earlier this week, Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik had inaugurated the Rs 85-crore Bhawan-Bhairon passenger ropeway, which reduced the travel time between Bhawan and Bhairon Temple (one-way journey) from one hour to just about three minutes.
The alternate Tarakote Marg, which was completed in seven years at a cost of Rs 80 crore, was opened for pilgrims in May.
Mr Singh said that a three-day community kitchen will be set up along the new track to facilitate the pilgrims who are expected to come in huge numbers on New Year.
From 13.95 lakh in 1986, when the board took over the affairs of the Vaishno Devi shrine, there has been a steady increase of pilgrim footfalls every year, touching the all-time high of 1.04 crore turnout in 2012 against 1.01 crore the previous year.
The pilgrim arrivals at the Vaishno Devi shrine touched 31.15 lakh in 1991 and reached 74.17 lakh in 2007.
However, the number dropped to 67.92 lakh in 2008, which was attributed to the two-month-long Amarnath land row agitation, but again went up to 82 lakh in 2009 and 87.2 lakh the next year.