Uttarakhand readies for Char Dham Yatra, number of daily pilgrims may be capped

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As the Uttarakhand government prepares to start Char Dham yatra post-June 8 as per the guidelines of the Central government on opening religious places of worship, priests in the state are apprehensive that it might increase the chances of Covid-19 spread in the hilly regions.

Ravinath Raman, chief executive officer of Chardham Devasthanam Management Board said that preparations in terms of maintaining social distancing and limiting the per day number of pilgrims, has already started.

“We have started preparing from our end over the number of pilgrims that will be allowed for darshan at the shrines following the norms of social and physical distancing. Even if we keep a two-meter distance between the pilgrims for darshan, we have estimated that in one day around 1,800 pilgrims can be allowed at Badrinath and around 800-900 pilgrims at the Kedarnath shrine,” said Raman.

He added that a software has been developed for the pilgrims to register, following which they will be given a time slot for darshan at the temple.

“If the temples are opened for pilgrims then each devotee will have a limited time to complete darshan and no prayers requiring sitting and performing rituals will be allowed, as it is time taking. People will be given time slots at specified dates to manage the pilgrims. At present, the yatra is likely start only for people from the state as those coming from outside will have to first undergo quarantine,” added Raman.

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District administration officials have also started marking circles outside the Badrinath shrine for pilgrims to maintain physical distancing.

Deepak Semwal, secretary of Gangotri Dham Committee said that priests and the traders’ body of Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines are not in favour of starting the Yatra at this moment.

“No preparations have been done for starting the Yatra, be it opening of hotels or shops. The temple opened on the scheduled date and priests have been offering prayers but no other preparation has been done. If pilgrims come and they offer prayers, then we have to apply tika to them, give them the holy water, tie the holy thread on their wrists and all this is not possible if the priest has to maintain social distancing and follow the rituals too. It is not possible and that is why we request the state government to postpone the Yatra till the Covid-19 situation normalises,” said Semwal.

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The priest body of Kedarnath shrine also wrote to the secretary, tourism and culture department on Friday, requesting not to start the Char Dham yatra as of now.

Vinod Prasad Shukla, president of Tirth Purohit Samaj of Shri Kedarnath pointed out in the letter that the health infrastructure in the hilly and remote regions housing the shrines was not strong.

“If cases increase in the remote areas because of pilgrims coming to these shrines, then it will be difficult to control the outbreak. Currently, even the locals find it difficult to reach the shrines due to the lack of preparations on the roads and given the sharp increase in Covid cases in the state. So, starting of Char Dham yatra in the near future should be reconsidered and deferred till the situation improves.”

BD Singh, additional chief executive officer of the char dham board said while preparations are being made by the state government to restart yatra for pilgrims, nothing has been finalised yet.

“We have not received any final update from the state government on starting Char Dham Yatra for this year. Preparations must be underway from the state government’s end, but nothing has been finalised yet. Till now, only online pujas with no attendees are being undertaken at all the four shrines and the offerings are being couriered to the devotees,” said Singh.

Meanwhile, Madan Kaushik, state cabinet minister and government spokesperson said, “We are analysing the Centre’s SOPs on the opening of religious places and doing our homework. When we are assured of being in a position to follow the SOPs, we will gradually open the religious places.”

Chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat had said on Wednesday that the state was considering restarting Char Dham Yatra in a limited, controlled and safe manner following the centre’s permission.

The four Himalayan pilgrimage sites - Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath- collectively called Char Dham, are one of the most revered pilgrimage circuits in Uttarakhand. It attracts lakhs of pilgrims each year. Last year a record 29 lakh pilgrims visited Char Dham compared to over 27 lakh pilgrims the previous year, including 9.2 lakh to Kedarnath, 10.2 lakh to Badrinath, 4.4 lakh to Yamunotri, and 5.03 lakh to Gangotri.

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