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HindustanTimes Sat,19 Apr 2014

Pilgrim’s progress rough or smooth?

HT Correspondents , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, April 30, 2013
First Published: 00:00 IST(30/4/2013) | Last Updated: 01:50 IST(30/4/2013)

The sacred spots of India, shrines with their own calendars of auspicious days, attract an unbelievable number of devotees and tourists — both desi and foreign — round the year.

The shrines are old, revered and high net worth. But are the towns they patronise well governed? Can the tourist get his money’s worth when it comes to comfort and security?

Has the money generated through the shrines ever been ploughed back to make life easier for the devotee? Here’s a look at three prominent shrines and a twin temple town.

* Mathura-Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh
Peak season: Janamasthami (Aug-Sept), Holi (March) followed by Chhat Yamuna (April) and Sawan Ke Jhoole (July-Aug). The twin cities get about 15 million visitors every year.  

Accommodation: There are ashrams and six hotels with 3-star facilities, 15 with 2-star facilities, 40 budget hotels and numerous dharamshalas. Three of seven bungalows run by UP Tourism are closed.

Is it adequate? : No. With visitor inflows rising by 5-7% every year, more hotels and lodges catering to budget travellers are needed. 

Municipal, other facilities: Far from satisfactory. Power supply is poor and there is a lack of washrooms, particularly for women. Water supply too is poor and roads are in bad shape.

Connectivity: Mobile and internet connectivity are not good. Cyber cafes are located in shabby places.

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Security in peak season: Of the 1,500 constables, 250 are posted at Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi. At least twice these numbers are needed. Smart and efficient policing backed by effective crowd management is sorely needed.

Disaster management: Disaster management teams and civil defence personnel have been ineffective in handling stampedes and crowds.

Past Disasters: No big disaster but stampedes killed two in 2008 and six in 2012.

Steps taken: Some measures taken but an independent body needed to handle crowds on special occasions. Local police are strengthening their wireless network and temporary control rooms have been set up at temples where there is a big rush.
(By Hemendra Chaturvedi)

* Vaishno Devi, Jammu
Peak season: During the nine-day Navratras during March-April and Oct-Nov. Around 400,000 people visit the shrine during each Navratra.

Accommodation: Katra, the base camp of the yatra, has about 400 hotels, guest-houses and dharamshalas. The Vaishno Devi Shrine Board provides lodging and has a capacity of 5,000 beds.

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Is it adequate? : At peak time pilgrims face lodging problems when the yatra is stopped at Katra.

Municipal, other facilities: The shrine board, which collects about R400 crore annually, spends most of it on infrastructure. So facilities are available at Katra and along the 13-km trek to the shrine.

Connectivity: Mobile and internet connectivity is good in Katra and along the track to the shrine.

Security in peak season: Sufficient, with around 600 policemen deployed normally and 300 more in peak season.

Disaster management: Disaster management cell is in place and the police, fire brigade and shrine board hold regular exercises to be prepared for any eventuality.

Past disasters: There has been no disaster till now
(By Tarun Upadhyay)

* Sabarimala, Kerala
Peak season
Mandala and Makara Puja from mid-November to January, when 25-30 million pilgrims undertake a 5.5 km trek from the base camp to the shrine.

Accommodation
There are no private hotels. The Travancore Devasom Board, which manages the temple affairs, runs two guest-houses — one in Pampa, the base camp, and another at Sannidhanam, near the hill-top shrine.

Is it adequate?
Inadequate. Big concrete constructions are not possible in the ecologically fragile area.

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Municipal, other facilities: Drinking water and makeshift shops are available but washrooms are insufficient, forcing pilgrims to use open spaces.

Connectivity: Cellphone, net connectivity available but no cyber cafes.

Security in peak season: More than 8,000 policemen deployed but double the number needed.

Disaster management: Rapid Action Force and disaster management teams are present but their numbers are insufficient.

Past disasters: In 1999, 54 pilgrims died in a stampede and in 2011 more than 100 died in another.

Steps taken: Some measures taken but poor infrastructure is incapable of handling the influx. 
(By Ramesh Babu)

* Dargah Sharif, Ajmer, Rajasthan
Peak season: Annual Urs celebration of Khwaja Moinuddin Hassan Chisti celebrated in the first week of Rajab, the seventh month of the Islamic calendar. The Urs has no fixed month in the Gregorian calendar. Nearly 300,000 people visit the dargah during the six days of Urs.

Accommodation: There are enough budget hotels and inns. There are five well-maintained guesthouses run by the dargah committee. Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation also runs a hotel.

Is it adequate?: The facilities are adequate. The district administration sets up temporary camps during the Urs.

Municipal, other facilities: Drinking water is easily available around the dargah but there are no public conveniences.

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Connectivity: Ajmer has 3G internet connections and all major telecom service providers have networks here. It has more than 20 cyber cafes which are open from 8am to 11pm. The number is sufficient.

Security in peak season: 150 police personnel per day. 50 of them guard the dargah round the clock. The number seems sufficient.

Disaster management: A disaster management team is in place during Urs. At other times, the police personnel on duty are sufficient.

Past disasters: A bomb blast took place on the dargah premises on October 11, 2007 in which three persons were killed and 17 injured. The bomb, concealed in a tiffin box, exploded just after the evening prayers.

Steps taken: Security at the dargah was increased manifold. Police personnel were provided with metal detectors to check every visitor at the five entry ga tes.

An X-ray machine was installed at Solaah Thamba gate to scan baggage. Cameras are not allowed in the premises.
(By Zakir Hussain)

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