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Hinglaj Yatra Hindu festival brings mountainous region in Pakistan to life | Religion

Hinglaj Yatra Hindu festival brings mountainous region in Pakistan to life | Religion

The dramatic surroundings of Hingol National Park in Balochistan province are the setting for Pakistan’s largest Hindu celebration, Hinglaj Yatra, which started on Friday and ends on Sunday.

Muslim-majority Pakistan is home to 4.4 million Hindus, just 2.14 percent of the population, and the ancient cave temple of Hinglaj Mata is one of the few Hindu sites in the country that continues to draw large numbers of pilgrims every year.

The journeys begin hundreds of kilometres away, mostly from neighbouring Sindh province. Hundreds of packed buses set off from cities like Hyderabad and Karachi, travelling along the Makran Coastal Highway that hugs Pakistan’s south and southwest.

But there is scant parking and vehicular access to the holy sites, so many pilgrims disembark and complete their travel by walking over parched and rocky terrain, sometimes barefoot and carrying children or luggage.

It’s a few kilometres from the main road to the mud volcano and then, from there, almost 45km (28 miles) to Hinglaj Mata.

Kanwal Kumar, 28, was visiting the temple for the first time with her husband. “We have yet to conceive a child after six years of marriage, so we are hopeful for help from the goddess,” she said. “We believe that no one returns empty-handed. All wishes are granted by Hinglaj Mata.”

While there is no ban on Hindu worship in Pakistan, openly practising the faith is not routine, as ties between Pakistan and Hindu-majority India are riddled with animosity and suspicion.

Versimal Divani, the general-secretary of Hinglaj Mata, lamented that only Hindus in Pakistan can attend the festival.

“We can visit this temple in our beloved country whenever our heart desires,” said Divani.

“But this is not the case for the rest of the world’s Hindus. I would like the Pakistani government to issue them visas so they can come here and take blessings with them. It’s good for people-to-people contact and it’s good for the economy, too.”

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