THE Char Dham Yatra began with the opening of the portals of Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines on May 16. The doors of both the shrines were re¬opened on the auspi¬cious day of Akshya Tritiya amid the chanting of Vedic mantras, shlokas and beating of drums and other local musical instruments. Thousands of pilgrims reached the shrines to offer prayers on the first day. First the doors of the Yamunotri shrine, situated at a height of 3,700 meters in the Uttarkashi district, were opened and then the doors of the Gangotri, situated at a height of 3,041 meters, were opened.
The Char Dham Yatra collectively comprises of the pilgrimage to Badrinath, Kedarnath, Gangotri and Yamunotri shrines. The portals of Kedarnath, which is situated in Rudraprayg district, was opened on May 18 and the portals of Badrinath, which is located in Chamoli district at a height of 3,133 metres, was opened on May 19. The Yatra usually spans six months but this time due to Adhimas (an extra month of Hindu calendar), during which no auspicious rites can be performed, the opening of the four shrines has got delayed by about one month.
The Char Dham Yatra is considered to be the backbone of thriving religious tourism in the State that attracts nearly 15 lakh pilgrims every year from within the country and across the world. The State Government expects that the rush of the pilgrims this year will be more than the previous years. More than 50,000 pilgrims visited the opening ceremony at Yamnotri this time. Despite the chilly whether conditions and light snowfall, thousands of pilgrims had darshan of idols at the shrine.
The Char Dham Yatra usually starts from Rishikesh, However, this time the State Government has made arrangements in Dehradun, Haldwani and Kotdwar also. To minimise the chances of accidents caused by a desire to complete the Yatra in a hurry, the administration has fixed the minimum time limit for the Yatra this year. The administration has identified 265 accident prone spots and has also set up 12 disaster management units.
Expressing happiness over the arrival of the huge number of devotees present at the opening ceremony at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” said, “We invite all to come and seek the blessing of the Lord at Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. Pilgrims should also try to visit other auspicious destinations like Tungnath, Rudranath, Madmaheshwar and Kalpeshwar that form the ‘Panch Kedar’ along with Kedarnath. The Government has made special arrangements for the safety and security of the pilgrims.”
Senior BJP leader Lal Krishan Advani and Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank were among the devotees who worshiped in the Kedarnath shrine on the opening day.
The Yatra was flagged off by former chief minister BC Khanduri from Rishikesh. He flagged off 2,500 buses of the Joint Rotation Yatra Committee. About 12,000 pilgrims embarked on the pilgrimage on the first day.
This year’s Chardham Yatra also assumes significance due to the fact that it is being held after the Mahakumbh mela which took place at Haridwar from January 14 to April 28. It is noteworthy to mention that the Chardham Vikas Parishad, which oversees the maintenance of the four dhams has sought Rs 400 crore from the Centre for the Yatra and 200 megawatts of free electricity.
Talking to Organiser Chief Minister Dr Nishank said the government is committed to peaceful conduct of the Char Dham Yatra and is making all efforts to make it more comfortable for the pilgrims. He said that 1,200 buses, 300 maxi-cabs and 200 mini-buses would be pressed into the Char Dham service during the Yatra season. To prevent accidents a minimum time period has been fixed by the government for the trips. For one dham the time period is 3 days. For two dhams it is 6 days and for three dhams it is 8 days. And for all the four dhams it has been fixed to 10 days. “This would not lead to a race against time by the yatra operators and the number of accidents would come down,” Dr Nishank said.
The Government is fully committed to making the Yatra more secure. That is why it has identified 234 accident prone areas where work is underway to make the spots safer and simpler to negotiate for the drivers. Around 40 EMRI 108 ambulances would be pressed into action during the Yatra season. Of them, 31 have already started operating along the Char Dham Yatra routes. In addition, 34 other ambulances would also remain in Char Dham service.
Most of the work has already been completed. Some 240 toilets were scheduled to be constructed for the current Yatra season and, of them, the construction of most of the toilets is complete. As many as 83 of these toilets have been made ‘pucca’. In addition, 451 stand posts and 479 handpumps have also been installed along the Yatra routes. Most of them have already been installed. In addition, 200 tanks of 500 liter capacity, each, are also being constructed along the Yatra routes. About 2,000 additional policemen and 8 PAC companies have been deputed on the Char Dham duty. All the Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam Guest and Rest Houses have been repaired and made fit for use.
The government has also directed that the prasad at all the four dhams be made from the locally available agri-produce. Use of polythene bags has been fully banned. The prasad would be distributed in jute and fabric-based bags only.
The transport operators would be given Green Cards after proper verification of the documents and the fitness of the vehicles to avoid rechecking and harassment of the drivers during the Yatra. The Chief Minister also added that the steps have been taken to ensure that the sewage did not flow into the Ganga anywhere in the State.
After worshiping the presiding deity at Kedarnath on the opening ceremony day Shri LK Advani said, observing the tenets of religion and pre¬serving culture with morals are the biggest virtues one can imbibe. He exhorted the people to imbibe religious and cultural values which would enable them to serve the interests of the nation in a better manner. Shri Advani carried water from the point of origin of the Ganga at Gangotri to the Kedarnath shrine where he ceremonially bathe the deity in the temple. Appreciating the environmental beauty of Kedarnath, he said that the Kedarnath shrine is a spiritu¬al and historical treasure of the nation and should also be con¬sidered as a world heritage site.
Speaking on the occasion the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank” said that the State Government is taking various steps to preserve the religion and culture of the State. He said that the State Government is according special attention to the organisation of the Char Dham Yatra.