Post-tragedy, a few takers for Uttarakhand pilgrimage

Post-tragedy, a few takers for Uttarakhand pilgrimage

Ahead of the auspicious Char Dham Yatra in Uttarakhand, pilgrims and tourists reeling under fear of last year's catastrophe, which ended over 5,000 lives in the state's worst-ever deluge, are shying away from travelling on these religious circuit routes. 

Last year, around this time, hotels and guest houses were oversubscribed, with bookings confirmed several months in advance. But the unforgettable scars of the tragedy have brought the tourist-driven economy of the state to the brink of disaster, with not a single booking taking place till last week. Barring a few bookings, most of the hotels and guest houses on these routes have drawn a blank.

The Char Dham Yatra, which includes pilgrimage to Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri, is scheduled to begin in May. 

Lakhs of tourists and pilgrims, who each year travel to the state from faraway places to pay obeisance at Himalayan shrines, are considered the backbone of the economy, especially in the Garhwal region. 

After the change of guard in Uttarakhand on February 1, newly appointed Congress chief minister Harish Rawat said he was confident of smoothly restarting the prestigious yatra on schedule in May. While the fear factor is certainly taking a toll, the problem is also about the perception, claim and ground reality of the repair and reconstruction work.
 Nearly nine months after the calamity, the pace of reconstruction leaves much to be desired, but the state government has also reportedly failed to communicate that all’s not lost in the hill state. 

Garhwal Development Corporation regional Manager R D Uniyal said none of the 41 guest houses on the route have received any advance booking. 

Uttarakashi Hotel Association president Ajay Puri said tour operators hadn’t requisitioned a single booking till last week.  Hotelier Sajjan Lal said his hotel on the circuit got advance bookings for the next three months in December 2012. With February ending, he says, not one booking has been confirmed this year. Several hotels and guest houses were washed away in the flash floods. Restoration of roads, highways and bridges is slow, even as Rawat’s government has made it a prestige issue of sorts to ensure safe progress of yatra this time. 

One of the initial decisions Rawat took after taking over as chief minister from Vijay Bahuguna was to give financial power of up to Rs 1 crore to sub-divisional magistrates for expediting relief and rehabilitation work. The fallouts of the disaster and arguably the slow pace of reconstruction will impact electoral choices. The BJP's Ajay Bhatt, Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, said the attitude of the Congress will cost the party dear in the upcoming elections. 

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