The Valley unrest cast its shadow on the Kashmiri Pandits’ annual pilgrimage to the Khir Bhawani shrine in north Kashmir on Friday with visitors’ number falling significantly, but Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti used the occasion to ask the community to return “soon”. Located over 20 km north of Srinagar, there was a very thin presence at the shrine at Ganderbal’s Tulmul area.The shrine, housing goddess Mata Ragnya near a spring and under Chinar trees, is key ‘mela’ of Kashmiri Pandits, who faced a mass migration in 1990s due to raging militancy. The colour of the spring water, as believed by Pandits, foretell about the upcoming situation in Jammu and Kashmir. “The colour of the water carries a good omen,” said Sarla, a devotee. Over the decades, the shrine became a major attraction for displaced Pandits to return to the Valley from various parts of the country. Lowest in a decadeFrom 40,000 Pandits converging for the mela in 2010, this year the number has come down to around 1,000, the lowest in the past one decade. Officials put the number of visiting pilgrims to around 4,000 in the past 24 hours, which includes those living in Kashmir. Only 500 migrant Pandits managed to reach the shrine this year from outside the Valley.“It was a difficult decision this year. The prevailing situation here held back many from attending the festival,” said Sudhir Raina, a retired teacher. “I am a regular visitor. It’s a must for a Kashmiri Pandit to visit the shrine,” he added. The government in Srinagar had made special arrangements to ferry devotees. A few days ago, the PDP-BJP government made a special appeal to Pandits to visit the shrine.Chief Minister Ms. Mufti, also paid obeisance at the shrine and participated in the rituals by sprinkling milk, prayed for peace in Jammu and Kashmir.