Will the Char Dhaam yatra be written off this season ?

Dehra Dun : Even as the Congress high command claims to have replaced former Uttarakhand chief minister Vijay Bahuguna with Harish Rawat to expedite the process of rehabilitation and restoration of works devastated in the ‘Himalayan Tsunami’ of June 16-17, the fact of the situation remains that the slow pace of work will be the reason that the char dhaam yatra this season will almost be a write off.

Added to this is the pathetic response of the Uttarakhand government in rescuing the thousands of pilgrims from all over the country who were stranded in the Kedarnath Valley and sending them back home, that has shattered the confidence of the masses from undertaking the pilgrimage to the four major Hindu shrines – Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamnotri and Gangotri – in the Garhwal hills.

Uncertainty over Char Dham Yatra
Uncertainty over Char Dham Yatra

Though the doors of the Badrinath shrine will be opened to the public on May 5 this year and the dates of the opening of the Kedarnath shrine will be declared as per custom on Mahashivratri (it falls on Feb 27 this year), there are hardly any feelers from tour operators across the country to the few hotels and service providers that have remained intact even after the June 16-17 deluge.

While there is still optimism amongst the diehards that the religious sentiments of the people of the country will eventually prevail over the fears of having lost many loved and dear ones in the ‘Himalayan Tsunami’, and they will eventually make a beeline for the ‘char dhaams’ as the season draws closer, but the not even luke warm response that it has got so far, is any indication that there will only be a trickle of pilgrims and the final number that turns over will be only be fraction this year.

If the stake holders of the char dhaam yatra are to be believed, the enquiries and bookings started for the season almost as early as December. “There are lakhs of pilgrims who visit the four major shrines and tour operators from across the country normally book rooms and other facilities well in advance for their groups, but this year there has been not a single booking so far”, lamented a hotelier.

The stakeholders feel that they were badly hit last year as the ‘yatra’ was called off immediately after the June 16-17 tragedy and the season was lost. Further those who have lost their hotels, rest houses, dhabas and guest houses have not been able to build them for shortage of funds and the lackadaisical response of the Uttarakhand government.

There are rounds doing the states, how the babudom rather than helping the stranded pilgrims and providing aid to the villagers and others who had been badly hit by the floods was exploiting the tragedy to make a quick buck by showing inflated figures of money distributed to even fictitious persons and  buying relief provisions at exorbitant prices. The worst part was that this ration procured at mind blowing prices never actually reached the needy and was later dumped into the rivers after it rotted.

Chief minister Harish Rawat claims that work will be undertaken at a war footing to ensure that the char dhaam yatra gets underway this season and all is not lost for the stake holders, specially the small time mule owners and dhaba owners, many of whom have yet to put their act together again.

While one does not question his intentions, the million dollar question is, whether he will be able to restore the confidence of the masses all over the country, in the ability of the Uttarakhand government to rise to the occasion should there be another such tragedy.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt is Editor Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish has worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, Jagdish is a recipient of many awards, latest being the 2011 Development Journalism Award. He lives in Dehra Dun.

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