A youth from Punjab, Abishek Shahi, is relaxing in the premises of Yatri Niwas in city’s commercial hub Lal Chowl, after paying obeisance at Amarnath cave shrine.
“The hospitality that I received at Yatri Niwas and from people of Kashmir is overwhelming. It is totally opposite to what media tells us about Kashmir and its people,” said Abishek, in an emotional tone.
Instead of visiting Amarnath, with pilgrims from outside states, he preferred to travel with a friend from Jammu who had convinced him to visit Kashmir.
“I will return to the Valley soon,” he says adding that he travelled to Amarnath shrine on a strike day, but didn’t face any inconvenience.
“Kashmiris associated with Yatra are very welcoming and helpful and every arrangement is up to the mark,” he said.
He says that the historic Yatri Niwas at Srinagar has added to the value of his maiden visit to Kashmir.
Located in the heart of the city, few meters from historic Ganta Ghar, the century old Niwas has been a major attraction for Yatris who come for Amarnath Yatra every year.
The Yatri Niwas which is run by a nonprofit organization ‘Shri Sanatan Dharm Partap Sabha’ from decades was donated by Dogra ruler, Maharaja Partap Singh in 1915 as an inn for travelers and other needy people.
During Yatra season free Langar is organized over a period of 40 days of Amarnath Yatra every year. “We serve food to more than 120 persons for free on daily basis. Scores of people arrive on daily basis and we are all happy to serve them. Our menu is vegetarian which keep on changing on daily basis so that we can keep up to the expectations of the Yatris. Every year our free Langar caters to around 5000 Yatris,” said Inder Kumar, In charge of Yatri Niwas.
“The place caught fire in 1993 and was defunct till 2009. In 2009 we renovated it. Irrespective of religion we are here for people from every section of society. During floods and unrests over years many people stayed here and we served them without any charge for days,” said Anil Chawla, treasurer, Yatri Niwas.
“The small amount that we charge for rooms is not for any profit making but for the expenses like salaries of employees,” he said.
Yatri Niwas has 40 rooms and a dormitory that can accommodate more than 100 persons. It also has staff strength of around 25 people who work in administration, kitchen and other areas.
Every day groups of Yatris arrive here before leaving for Yatra and also while returning. Not only Yatris, people who come for other work stay at Yatri Niwas.
“I am here to attend to my business related work and I prefer this place. The reason is that the place is simple, economic and full of hospitality,” said other person who identified himself as a regular visitor.
The visitors at Yatri Niwas say that the place is not like any other lodging facility but it is like a spiritual experience.
In a small temple at the ground floor of Yatri Niwas, there stands a huge glittering idol of ‘Mata Durga’. Every day pooja is held there and whosoever is putting up in Yatri Niwas participates in it with zeal and zest.
“The temple was damaged during 2014 deluge but we renovated it,” said one of employee at Yatri Niwas adding that the Niwas will continue to uphold the tradition of serving Yatris and other visitors.