Pilgrims keep away from Kedarnath

Pilgrims keep away from Kedarnath

Thinning of visitors has hit local people who depend on religious tourism

Pilgrims keep away from Kedarnath

As one leaves Rishikesh and hits the winding hilly road that leads to one of the holiest hindu shrines of Kedarnath, one is greeted by deserted and sometimes closed resorts, hotels and guest houses, that line the highway.

Even the roads, which used to be crowded by vehicles carrying pilgrims to the shrine, are almost deserted, something that is more than welcome for those, who have shown the courage to visit Kedarnath that had been witness to a devastating flash floods a year back killing thousands of pilgrims.

Notwithstanding the claims of the Uttarakhand government that all was now well and that all arrangements were in place to ensure a safe pilgrimage, an “unknown fear” has kept the pilgrims away. “So far, 22,000 pilgrims have paid obeisance at Kedarnath’’, said Rudraprayag district magistrate Raghav Langar.

The numbers are shockingly very small. Langar told Deccan Herald here that the number was around 25 per cent of the pilgrims who visited the shrine last year.

The state government has put in place an elaborate mechanism this year for those visiting the shrine. Every pilgrim has to get himself or herself registered and get their biometric identification done along with a health check before he or she is allowed to proceed. The government has also made arrangements for the stay of the pilgrim at Kedarnath.

The condition of the road has also been improved. Barring a few small stretches, the government has been able to construct a motorable road to Gaurikund.

The thinning of visitors has hit the local people, who depend for their survival on religious tourism. “The business has been hit hard. Many hotels have been forced to close shop. Those operating are almost empty,” says Virendra Patwal, a shopkeeper at Rudraprayag market.

Ramesh Bisht, a tour operator, said bookings were down by 60-70 per cent as compared to last year. Hotels were offering huge discounts but pilgrims were simply not grabbing them.

Last year’s flood fury had also affected other sections of the society in the hill state. The owners of the mules, the priests, porters and others, who used to earn their livelihood for the entire year from the “yatra season”, are facing difficulties.

Kanti Ram, a porter from Pithaur near Guptakashi, said he did not visit the shrine this year. “I am still scared,” said Kanti, whose roadside eatery was swept away in the floods.

There were thousands like Kanti, who have been rendered unemployed. “Our children are migrating to the plains in search of jobs,” said Gauri Lal, a resident of Divli, whose brother and his three sons were killed in the tragedy.

Recovery of skeletons near Jungle Chatti, which is on the way to Kedarnath, has come as another deterrence to the pilgrims. It may take many years for the yatra to gain its natural energy, they said.